Why is my sister attached to an Alien Green Cow?!

“Why is my sister attached to a green alien cow?” he asked, with an exasperated look on his face.

Farmville's Green Alien Cow

Farmville's Green Alien Cow

I shrugged, running over in my head the countless times that my own friends and family rushed to the computer after a day out, with an earnestness that puts a die-hard Brangelina fan to shame. “If I don’t harvest my farm right now,” my 13-year-old cousin told me last month, explaining why exactly she needed to use my computer RIGHT AWAY, “my strawberry crops would die.”

Her terribly rendered pixel strawberries, with the shiny strobe effect that would put a dentist to shame. Her hot red strawberries, that smell like nothing and taste like nothing. They would die.

The beauty of pixel starwberries on FarmVille

The beauty of pixel starwberries on FarmVille

Ouch.

Of course, I let her use my machine, but several months on, I am still trying to understand what exactly is it that has managed to attract 70-fricking-million users to Farmville, the Facebook-based real-time farm simulation game developed by Zynga.

All Hail Pixel Crop Farmers

The concept behind Farmville is quite simple: you start a game with six plots of land,  two of which are fully grown. The player can then purchase items using coins, including trees, seeds, animals, buildings, and vehicles. The player can also purchase special seeds, fuel for his/her vehicle, and special “decorations” for cash, which is naturally, micro-money.

3*2 plot of land that you start with

3*2 plot of land that you start with

The player plows, plants, and harvests his/her farm, increasing its size and the amount of crops. Increased size means a WHOLE lot of time spent plowing, planting, and harvesting, one plot at a time. To understand the absurdity of the situation, let’s say that a Farmville addict has say, 350 plots of land (400 is the maximum). To get them up and running, you will have to plow with 350 clicks, plant with 350 clicks, and harvest with 350 clicks. That’s 1050 clicks of pixel crop maintenance.

(Remember, 70 million users!)

Farmville’s Happiness Fix

We usually play games to gain psychological reinforcement from the process of becoming experta at a certain game, which releases dopamine, a feel-good chemical in our brains. Dopamine is a natural response to good experiences, such as eating good food, partaking in a fun activity, or listening to favorite music.

Somehow, Farmville’s reward system (gaining coins by selling crops, expanding one’s farm, and beating your Facebook buddies) manages to fix its players with enough dopamine to make the game so popular. I would like to believe that their reward system is extrinsic, meaning that players find pleasure from “fitting into the crowd” and reigning supreme over their buddies in Farmville Kingdom, rather than from the game itself. It would be a dark, dark day when users are finding pleasure in pixel cultivation via excessive clicking. It would be an even darker day when dopamine is released at the “pleasurable” site of a green, alien Farmville cow.

That’s possibly the lamest excuse ever for a happiness fix.

Pay a Penny, Make a Million

Lame or not, Farmville is probably the smartest online business model ever. Capitalizing on its users absurd addiction, Zynga have incorporated a form of micropayment that is referred to as “cash” in the game. With 70 million users, the prospect of how Farmville cash can change the way internet entrepreneurs think of digital money is quite fascinating. If a measly 1.5% of Farmville gamers decide to spend a dollar on Farmville cash, Zynga will instantly make $1,050,000.

Chew on that for a minute.

What Do You Think is the Secret Formula?

Have you ever played Farmville or any other real-time flash games? Have you ever invested real money in digital goods? Although I’ve tried on several occasions, I have never really managed to get myself to get into the flow of these real-time games.

I’d love to here your thoughts on why you think Farmville is so addictive, and why its players are fascinated by the most random things, like an alien green cow.

Comments and Reactions

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com/ Beiruta

    Great realizations Roba! It's kinda scary what these games can do to you! Travian, for example, is even a less graphically challenged game, yet, even men over 30 years seem to be addicted to it to a point where they neglect other important chores in their lives!

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com Amer Kawar

    The entire topic of game addiction fascinates me. If it's the components to a challenging and rewarding game like our article 2 days ago, or reading a case study like you have here.

    Even though it's not a game precisely, I recall reading about an iPhone app which allow user to draw on a “foggy” window – the iPhone screen in this case. If my memory serves me, I recall the app was sold for less than $1 USD and made more than $1 million in 6 months. Amazing!

    Thanks for the interesting read…

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com M.Bamieh

    still i don't really get it, since like that restaurant game or mafia wars is pretty much the same thing. why don't they become as popular?

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com/ Roba

    Guys, thanks for your comments :) |You're quite right, the addiction factor is really disturbing, giving that t he reward is quite lame. You don't even proceed to levels. I guess people love unchallenging things..?
    Mafia Wars is quite popular, no? :)

  • http://oeliwat.jeeran.com/ Ola

    I think this has profound psychological connotations, it has to since those farm look reallyugly and depressing (at least for me), so there should be something more to this game

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com Amer Kawar

    What could that be? I also don't really see why a person would be attached so much to such a game, but I'm sure we're missing something that 70 million people are experiencing!

    On Farmville's side, it does provide 1) competition between Facebook friends, 2) false feeling of importance, as the farm's survival “depends” on you, and 3) if you have the highest score you get to brag to friends.

    Not sure if those are the underlying reasons for its success though!

  • http://writingtoexhale.com/ jangeronimo

    I've outgrown my virtual farming. It's so over for me, which makes me a little smug and self-righteous right now. :)

  • Valerie

    I wish I truly understood my fascination with Farmville. I am a 60yr. old retired teacher and I just adore this game. I spend hours on cold winter afternoons deciding which crop to plant, when to plant it and even where to plant it. I think Farmville taps into many of my subconscious desires. It is certainly a creative activity, however I think it goes deeper than that. I am creating a perfect little world. A world that I completely control – a world that I can manipulate at will. Its a peaceful, idyllic little haven, that I can visit and arrange according to my desires. I feel like a little child in a Disney world but nothing is left to chance. There are no risks. I am the God-like creature arranging all the pieces of a beautifl whole. If only life was as serene. I don't know if I am making sense to you because I have not analyzed why I enjoy this game so much. I just go with it. I was thinking of playing Cafe World, but that seems to be too much like real life. And, who needs more real life? It's too stressful. Don't you agree?

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com/2010/03/facebook-a-penny-for-your-thought.html Facebook: A Penny for Your Thought? | Thoughtpick Blog

    [...] Virtual Goods Economy is All About Green Cows Facebook [...]

  • http://www.dentistrybyerin.com/ dentist lexington ky

    Ahahaha. I guess Facebook got those lucky good charms to the fact that their games are addicted and really makes us wants to visit it everyday.

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    [...] to plant and harvest their farms and maintain crops and animals that live in the farm. The game is highly addictive, has managed to attract over 80 million active users of the app and has a huge fanbase. The game [...]

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com/2010/10/barn-buddy-game-apps-using-social-media-brilliantly.html Barn Buddy Game — Apps Using Social Media Brilliantly

    [...] 1,948,750 monthly active users and 1,429,112 likes, Barn Buddy Game seems to be gaining in on Farmville, Frontierville, Cafe World and other Facebook applications that fall into that [...]

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