The inherent flaws with 'FarmVille-esque' social gaming

The inherent flaws with 'FarmVille-esque' social gaming

Summary: Zynga, on the face of it may be one of the largest success stories in the social gaming world, but is it nothing more than boom and inevitable bust?

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Honestly, now. When was the last time you checked the rolling green hills of FarmVille, or your burgeoning urban fortunes in CityVille?

Zynga, the creator behind the massively successful virtual world and role-playing games, including Mafia Wars and over a dozen more, does not appear to be held in the same light as once was.

But the finances of the company show otherwise. Not only has the company recently chosen Ireland to focus its booming customer relations center, Zynga is close to floating stock for the public offering.

The younger Generation Y and their innate passion for social networking spurred on the company's gaming platform with their most popular game to date, FarmVille.

There is no doubt that Zynga is growing from strength to strength, but its starting point games seem to show another story.

There is an inherent gamble with social games like FarmVille, CityVille, Mafia Wars and so on, and it revolves around the very social factor itself that made the games as viral as they are.

Since the inception of Facebook's application platform, games and applications have been growing from strength to strength.

For many, those with a vast number of friends on MySpace, Facebook and other social platforms, games are only a small fraction of the wider experience.

FarmVille, as the flagship game behind Zynga's success, has been dropping users month by month from a monthly high of 83 million down by half today to 42 million. But it still features as one of the highest contributors to Facebook's booming social contributions, accounting for 43 per cent of news sharing.

But it does not guarantee the return one would hope. One set of socially networked friends may be entirely different from another set of online friends; and here lies the problem.

The cash for goods or rewards is an excellent business plan, but does not necessarily guarantee that the audience -- vastly social networking users -- will either pay to unlock features due to their lack in social gaming friends, or to even pay at all.

Some are in it for the long haul; sociable gaming friends or otherwise. Many, however, simply give up and bail from what appears to be an unbeatable game.

I bailed. I'll admit it. Not enough of my friends were playing for my game progress to value any merit. But I spent totalling over £150 in the game over the course of the year to improve my progress.

Besides which, flaws and bugs, along with downtime and a persistent 'beta' tag leads one to believe that the game was initially rushed out there. It could be seen that Zynga was making its move on the social gaming world without much thought towards its all but inevitable viral success of its games.

But perhaps the first and foremost problem of social gaming is arguably whether it even works. I don't mean specifically on Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network where you can voice and text communicate with your friends. A pre-existing platform for which developers can plug into the social aspects, rather an in-built feature of many modern consoles.

There is without doubt that Zynga is immense company to aspire to; in particular for small start-ups that aim to use social networks as a platform to build on.

But 'throwing bodies at the problem' as one anonymous source claimed is the solution to FarmVille's woes may eat away the company finances in the long term.

FarmVille appears to me at least, as a short term game for a generation intrinsically focused on 'the next big thing', cannot sustain itself in the social gaming world.

Now, if you were to talk about a console version of FarmVille or CityVille, that could raise the stakes somewhat.

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22 comments
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  • RE: The inherent flaws with 'FarmVille-esque' social gaming

    From my own personal experience, the endless upgrades and upkeep and keeping up with sending gifts and requesting gifts to and from friends have all become more bothersome than fun.
    nothingness
  • RE: The inherent flaws with 'FarmVille-esque' social gaming

    I think the real story would be if Farmville's numbers weren't dropping. After all, it is just one game and we don't play one game for the rest of our lives. People get bored and move on. Zynga games in particular seem like more of an addictive grind than fun.

    Personally I would be happy with good riddance. I sort of abhor games that require you to make in-game purchases but I especially loathe social games that require in-game purchases so that you can keep up with friends.

    The only one I have found tolerable is the Blizzard model where you can buy "flavor" items that don't actually affect game-play.
    SlithyTove
  • "I tried Farmville but did not inhale"

    Love the Clinton reference ...

    Ludo
    Ludovit
    • RE: The inherent flaws with 'FarmVille-esque' social gaming

      @Ludovit My colleague Jason Perlow suggested it. I thought it was hilarious. Too tempting not to put it in ;)
      zwhittaker
  • RE: The inherent flaws with 'FarmVille-esque' social gaming

    I never played any of that crap. I like a clean Facebook page, and would prefer not to spam the hell out of my friends.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
  • Way off base

    Farmville isn't aimed at the younger set. My girlfriend is 48 and addicted to Farmville et al. She plays these games at least two hours every night and many hours on the weekends--and has since they began.

    And she's not alone. This style of games (and things like the Sims and Animal Crossing) appeal to an older demographic since you don't need the reflexes of a fighter pilot to enjoy them. At the risk of being flamed, they also have a higher appeal to women than FPS and the rest.

    You're a bit off target, Zack. :)
    wolf_z
    • RE: The inherent flaws with 'FarmVille-esque' social gaming

      @wolf_z I think initially it was targeted towards the Gen Y -- in particular, because we have this 'viral mechanism' to make things go global in such a short space of time. However, I do agree that it's open for everyone -- and so many of the Gen X are on Facebook, anyone and everyone can join in.

      I have friends in their 50's who are addicted to FarmVille, too. But taking into account the cash for virtual goods/items model, one suspects the business model is more focused at those with far greater expendable income.
      zwhittaker
  • RE: The inherent flaws with 'FarmVille-esque' social gaming

    I'm 68 and used to play farmville, but got fed up with all the gifts to send/receive and how things kept changing.

    Last time I had a look, my Farm had disappeared.
    kjrider9
  • RE: The inherent flaws with 'FarmVille-esque' social gaming

    I really like Frontierville - but you either have to constantly ask friends to send you 'needed' items, or pay to unlock. It's a game with unending fees. As soon as you finish one thing, there are umpteen others to finish. Getting sick of it.
    gonyea_linda
  • RE: The inherent flaws with 'FarmVille-esque' social gaming

    I still play everyday both FV and CW, but I'm not as involved as I used to be. I had a second username but deleted those games, it became a job. I did get bored with YoVille and went back to play again but they had made so many changes that I lost interest.
    They know what they have to do to keep us and they are doing it, little things, but things that matter. The one BIG BOOBOO is when you return gifts, they add names of any new friends you may have, and if you don't pay attention and send them the stuff, you will end up losing a friend. Even if it's a rt friend. Sometimes you just have to stop and ask yourself, do I really think that Ozzy Osbourne is playing Cafe World before sending the gift?
    d.stefano
  • RE: The inherent flaws with 'FarmVille-esque' social gaming

    I used to play farmville and liked it well enough to spend some cash and the next thing i knew face book kicked me off and banned me and wouldnt give me a reason.I think facebook sucks.
    dhorse4
    • RE: The inherent flaws with 'FarmVille-esque' social gaming

      @dhorse4 ... I wish they'd boot me off. I requested formally that they delete my account, and nearly a year later, it's still there. Contrary lot.
      justin.donie
  • RE: The inherent flaws with 'FarmVille-esque' social gaming

    I play Farmville and write a blog about it. I would not pay to buy Farmville cash though. I have 1,000,000,000 FV coins!
    Mike1061320009
  • Not Social Engineering

    Farmville isn't about social networking. It's about getting you to fork over your ?150 while you enjoy the game.
    cwallen198031
  • RE: The inherent flaws with 'FarmVille-esque' social gaming

    Games used to be designed to be fun for the people who played them. Virtual games are ever-more consistently designed to boost the ego of the designer (see how slick and un-winnable my games are?) and to hook the players into addictive and expensive playing patterns which never deliver a truly satisfying experience ... thus the addiction.

    Why do people play such games? Boredom, mostly. When life itself provides little enjoyment, and we're convinced for some reason that it never will, virtual reality tempts with the promise of excitement, danger, adventure and virtual status. While games of the past were just enjoyable ways to spend some time with friends, today, gaming is a commercial industry driven by the same passion for insane profit as the rest of the entertainment industry. Promise a lot, deliver little, and charge through the roof. Like professional sports, virtual gaming is getting bigger and bigger while at the same time less and less satisfying. I used to love watching pro sports. Not any more. I used to enjoy PC, video and online games. Not any more. And you know what ... I'm glad. It turns out that real LIFE ... is a lot of fun. Leave the keyboard and console behind and make your fun out there where the real adventure is. Yeah, in real life, you can get really hurt, even killed. But talk about a rush ...
    Trep Ford
  • Do the math -- there is gold in them virtual hills!

    You seem to be suggesting that Zynga will turn out to be just a fading fad unless they move to console gaming platforms. I think this misses the point -- it is much more likely that Facebook as the primary platform for Zynga games will become more like a console environment. Zynga has done a good job of adapting their games to the ever-changing Facebook environment and it is not so far-fetched to expect more advanced chat functions to be offered in the not too distant future (e.g., voice, video, in-game). Many Zynga players already do this by sharing Skype usernames with their Facebook/Zynga friends and running both simultaneously. As for the economics and the observation that players often do not "pay-to-play", just do the math. Take Farmville - you note that currently they have 42 million players a month. Assuming that only 10% are paying players, spending an average of $10/month -- that amounts to $42 million dollars a month -- and over $500 million a year -- just by selling "0's and 1's" in the shape of a duck on Farmville! That is a lot of dry powder with which to develop innovative new ways to capture social networking audiences, particularly for a shop that has demonstrated such strong creative chops as Zynga.
    goldmind333
  • RE: The inherent flaws with 'FarmVille-esque' social gaming

    I resisted when a friend tried to get me interested, but finally caved and became a farmville fanatic. Not to the extent of spending real money, though. In turn, a friend who resisted finally joined (I needed neighbours.) I finally got a dwelling, just a small cottage but it meant the world to me. Then H1N1 hit and there was a long period of illness. Once everyone recovered, I found I had zero interest in farmville and that was that. Also, I use facebook, successfully, as a networking facility and pestering people I'd been lucky enough to become fb friends with to come to my farm etcetera seemed like a bad move. Now the friend I convinced to be my neighbour is so obsessed she has named her animals. She sent me countless gifts until I deleted the app because, just as I feared I was pestering others, she was pestering me.
    madeline moore
  • RE: The inherent flaws with 'FarmVille-esque' social gaming

    I certainly don't like the pay to unlock model with games on social networks, nor the bother my friends aspect. There's nothing inherently wrong with Farmville or Cityville etc in fact they could be quite good games but I fail to see why they can't just run like most time-management games without having to unlock features, or trouble friends.

    They are a good 'extra' to have on sites like FaceBook and an incentive to visit FaceBook regularly but I don't see why FaceBook can't subsidise the game authors and just let the games be fully playable and without any cost.
    chaz15
  • RE: The inherent flaws with 'FarmVille-esque' social gaming

    "The cash for goods or rewards is an excellent business plan"

    No, it's a pretty crappy one. And the article you linked to doesn't convince me otherwise.

    "but does not necessarily guarantee that the audience ? vastly social networking users ? will either pay to unlock features due to their lack in social gaming friends, or to even pay at all."

    And that's exactly why it's not a good business plan.

    "There is without doubt that Zynga is immense company to aspire to"

    LOL. That's a good one. Any other jokes you want to tell? Nobody should be aspiring to be like them.

    The whole idea of forcing you to be social to make progress or to buy a virtual currency with real currency for the sole purpose of making progress in a game - is frankly insane. I don't see why anybody spends even a penny on these things.
    CobraA1
    • RE: The inherent flaws with 'FarmVille-esque' social gaming

      @CobraA1 I deliberately left it open to interpretation... :)
      zwhittaker