Farmville: The Lost Weekend of Thanksgiving 2009
Have you ever played Farmville, by Zynga? If not, don’t start now! It’s arguably the most popular social media game on Facebook. I recently retired from Farmville, but it took me 1-1/2 years to finish “farming.” No, nobody held a gun to my head and forced me to fritter away 1-1/2 years; the game is extraordinarily “sticky.”
(And, apparently, I have no will power.)
It began innocently enough during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend of 2009. A friend and fellow web developer asked me to join her in Farmville. In case you don’t know, in Farmville, each player receives an electronic plot of land, upon which one grows electronic “crops” — everything from gardening standards such as tomatoes and broccoli to nachos during the Super Bowl. It’s estimated that 72 million people play Farmville, every single day. Just think about it — 72 million misguided people, all playing FV for usually one to two hours at a time. Why, we could cure cancer with all that misdirected energy. Find the fountain of eternal youth. Pay off the national debt (Never mind, wishful thinking on that one.).
Now, having mastered all crops, there’s little to do. Why would I want to plant the same crops all over again? Wrinkled Randy was smarter — He played Farmville for a couple of months and then announced: “I have a real garden,” and went outside to work in it, never looking back at his online faux farm.
Zynga created Frontierville, toward the end of my stay down on the farm, but it was…boring. It was a rehash of the same ideas: Plow, plant and harvest crops, perform certain chores, “master” crops and missions for yet more mastery points and get “paid” in make-believe coins with no actual value. Ho-hum. Then came a re-skinned version of Farmville — English Countryside — with similar mechanisms and goals. Same game, different country. Zynga’s Vice President of Product Development, Mark Skaggs, said: “English Countryside aids in creating a long term game play experience for those who might want a slightly different flavor of the same game.” Long-term commitment? The same game? Noooo, I was just vaguely looking for something to do once upon a time.
And this game is a cash cow for San-Francisco based Zynga, which was founded in 2007 by Mark Pincus. The company is still privately held, although Google invested between $100 million and $200 million in it last year, in an attempt to get a toehold in social games. Zynga is making noise about an IPO. Revenues for 2010 were $850 million, and are projected to be at least $1.0 billion in 2011. The money comes in part from advertisers and the rest comes from people who exchange real money (via PayPal, credit card or game cards sold at retail outlets) for pretend money — Farm Cash. With the fake money (game credits), one can buy fake merchandise: log cabins, fanciful mansions and all sorts of gewgaws that don’t exist, other than as a series of electronic pixels. Supposedly, Zynga is PayPal’s biggest customer. In 2010, Zynga estimated that more than 10 percent of Americans had created Farmville online homesteads. Maybe we are yearning for simpler times?
Time magazine’s 2010 list of the 50 Worst Inventions of All Time includes Agent Orange, subprime mortgages, DDT, Red Dye No. 2, Snuggies for dogs, tanning beds, pop-up ads on the Internet, plastic grocery bags, asbestos, pay toilets, spam email and…Farmville. According to Time, FarmVille earned its spot on their worst list because of its addictive nature and, basically, for being an enormous time suck.
So, adieu Farmville. And speaking of time, at least I didn’t kill someone during the throes of my FV addiction. Which can’t be said of Alexandra Tobias, 22, of Jacksonville, FL, who pled guilty last fall to the second-degree murder of her three-month-old son, Dylan Lee Edmondson. His crime? Crying while Mommy played Farmville. Ms. Tobias, who was sentenced to 50 years in prison, shook the infant, stopped and smoked a cigarette while regaining her composure, and then shook the boy again, bashing his head in on her computer screen. Then she called 911, amidst faux tears, to report that her son wasn’t breathing.
Read about the hidden perils of not replacing your office chair, after way too many hours at the computer.
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