Game Design and Farmville [ November 26th, 2009 ] Posted in » Business, Game Development, Personal

Juuso over at recently asked “Why the **** do people play farmville?

Aside from giving me flashbacks to a gawd-awful Roy “Chubby” Brown remix, it got me thinking.

You see I’ve been playing it for a while.

A FarmVille Farm in All Its Glory

A FarmVille Farm in All It's Glory - Sadly Not Mine

I think for the most part it entertains the desire to explore part of my subconscious.

There’s an entertainment value of seeing what’s around the next corner or getting the item further up the tech tree, or, in Farmville’s case, seeing what new stuff you can get as you progress through the game.

Marie, my wife, is in to it far more than I am but I think it was telling that when she has reached the point where the only way to proceed was to pay Zynga money to buy items, thus effectively halting natural progression through their tech tree, then my desire to play the game came to a complete stop.

The other game issue is the grind aspect which is also designed to make you pay money, you have to plow, sow, harvest by clicking on each tile individually.

You can buy tractors, harvesters and seed sowing machines that let you do 2 x 2 tiles at a time but they have a limited amount of fuel and don’t last for the whole of a big field.

Of course you could pay Zynga real cash for more fuel :-)

But then I guess I’m not the target audience, I can’t see me ever wanting to pay money to play the game which makes me wonder how many of the reportedly 60 million + players do.

Given that Zynga has, according to, reportedly 100 million unique visitors a month to it’s numerous Facebook apps, not counting its MySpace versions, and is estimated to make more than $200 million in revenue this year, although some estimates put that at over $1 billion, then there’s clearly enough people who do.

Other problems people are finding is that they’re getting lag.

I haven’t experienced too much lag when playing, but then I’ve been using a laptop that happily runs Fallout 3 with a hefty ftp transfer going on in the background (as I found out the other night ;-)).

However, my wife’s laptop chugs like a student at a beer-drinking contest while playing it, which also puts her off the game.

Going full screen helps because Flash can use hardware acceleration in full screen.

It does make me wonder though what the game’s doing in the background to cause that much lag though, even taking into account Flash’s complete lack of multithreading, and assuming it’s constantly maintaining server state, it’s really not that big a game to cause such an issue :-/

Still, I think it’s a good game for students of game design though, as it has everything pretty much boiled down to the essentials.

  • Fairly simple but effective game progression with obvious benefits.
  • Shows how the effect of grind can be used to drive player progression, in this case for the Dark Side of game design to encourage the player to spend money to avoid having to do it).
  • It’s a very simple to play.
  • It has a series of interesting choices: do you plant one type of crop and hope to come back in 4 hours to harvest them or plant the crops that take 48 hours to grow but you won’t make as much money in the same period of time. Not harvesting your plants then results in a ruined crop and loss of money.

It’s hardly the pinnacle of game design but it probably stands out most as a way to play socially without competing with anyone, which is known to appeal to female gamers.

As a good example of the emerging mass-market social game design.

  • You are encouraged to spread the game by asking your facebook friends to join as “neighbours”, and are rewarded with unlocking pre-requisites.
    Thus encouraging new players via word-of-mouth.
  • Secondly, you are encouraged to send gifts to your current neighbours, and them you, in return for unlocking achievements.
    This has the effect of keeping the game in peoples mind as the message of a gift waiting for them shows up when they next log on to Facebook.

With apparently 60 million + players on Farmville, it’ll be interesting to see if their simple mechanics can keep that going or if they’ll descend into a churn and burn approach of building simple games then marketing them to drive players, then letting them die once the player base starts to leave.

Time will tell…

The End

The story so far…

Well 2008 was a funny old year. It was the best of times… It was the worst of times…

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January 26th, 2009 | Leave a Comment

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