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Why can’t you stop playing Farmville?

The age of online social gaming has truly begun. The average online gamer today spends most of his time playing flash games on Facebook rather than on more traditional outlets such as or The main factor differentiating these two kinds of websites is that games on Facebook rely immensely on the social aspect of gaming, with the kind of connectivity that has only been possible recently due to immense broadband growth worldwide.

If you are a Facebook user, and there is a mighty good chance you are, then no doubt you have received a Farmville request. The requset may seem innocuous, sometimes downright amusing at first. Why would someone want you to water their “virtual crops” or feed their “livestock”? What fun could a person possibly have by building up a virtual farm? The answer is simple but also highly disturbing. You see Farmville is an example of a sociopathic application. To progress through the game, you need to at first spend a considerable amount of time building up crops and harvesting them on time. This harvesting period may have a window less than 8 hours. While this may seem trivial, multiply this figure across several different kind of crops and multiple farms and we have spent a sizable chunk of time taking our “baby steps”. The game actually becomes easier when you collect more coins (from harvesting crops) since you can use them to speed up harvesting time or rejuvenate withered crops. However therein lies the trap. Having spent so much time in the initial stages, you have become addicted to this game. Add to the fact that the game recommends having friends come over and water/harvest your crops, you now have a small social network built around this game which heavily relies on reciprocity.

The reciprocity factor becomes significant because your Farmville buddies are your real friends, not someone you just met online on a chatboard. Having communicated with this person in real life, you feel obliged to honor their Farmville request and they yours. You can also add the fact that a user may spend real money to speed up the progress on their farm, hence keep up with their friends. Farmville is proficient at extracting their competitive aspect between people. In fact, it makes nearly all of it’s money from in game transactions. For a company said to be valued between 1-3 billion dollars, that’s a lot of trading!

This network built on strong ties and reciprocity is a powerful motive to keep playing. Add to the fact that you can create custom avatars and “personalize” your farm, Farmville is a recipe for success. But at what cost?



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