On New Year’s Eve, FarmVille the game, which was popular a decade ago, was discontinued. But its influence extends beyond games, for better or worse.
At its height, the game had 32 million daily active users and approximately 85 million total players. This was in the beginning of 2009, when Facebook was just beginning its efforts to eat up a. It contributed to the evolution of Facebook from a site you went to check on text-based updates from friends and family into a time-sucking destination in and of itself.
Then-CEO of Zynga and current chairman of its board of directors Mark Pincus said, “We viewed of it as this new layer in your social, not just a method to bring games to people.” “I reasoned that I should give them something to do together off of these social networks like Facebook.”
That was partly accomplished by trapping players in loops that were challenging to escape. Some players would set alarms so they wouldn’t forget to check in every day because failing to do so would cause your crops to wither and die. For assistance, you could pay real money or message your Facebook friends, which annoyed non-players who were constantly bombarded with messages and updates in their news feeds.
FarmVille became a pacemaker for the online economy of the 2010s, according to game designer and professor Ian Bogost at Georgia Tech.
That wasn’t meant as praise, though.
According to Mr. Bogost, the game pushed players to enlist their friends as resources for both themselves and the service they were utilising. According to him, it gamified attention and promoted interaction loops in a way that has since been copied by everything from QAnon to Instagram.
He remarked, “The internet itself is this bazaar of obsessive worlds where the purpose is to pull you back to do the thing it offers, to catch your attention and serve advertising against it or else derive value from that activity.”
FarmVille was the first game to gain widespread popularity, despite other games having used many of the same strategies (Zynga’s biggest hit at the time was Mafia Wars). Mr. Pincus claimed that he routinely dined with Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and that in early 2009, he was informed that games will soon be able to publish to a user’s news feed. According to him, Mark Zuckerberg advised Zynga to saturate the market with new games, and Facebook will filter them out based on how well they performed.
Even though the agricultural game genre wasn’t particularly popular at the time, Mr. Pincus thought it would appeal to a wide demographic, especially to adults and women who hadn’t previously spent hundreds of dollars on a machine like the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, or Nintendo Wii. It would be a foreshadowing of the explosive growth of the mobile gaming business, as casual players shifted away from PC as cellphones became more prevalent.
FarmVille never received much love from the gaming community, despite its popularity. At the 2010 Game Developers Conference, a Zynga executive was jeered as he presented an award. Mr. Pincus claimed he had difficulty hiring developers because they believed their peers would disapprove of them for working on the game.
Despite how hard it was to resist, Time magazine selected FarmVille as one of “The 50 Worst Inventions” in 2010, referring to it as “barely a game.”
For many, the game’s appearance in people’s news feeds will be more memorable than the game itself. The issues were well known to Facebook.
Facebook limited the amount of updates and notifications that games may post to news feeds after learning from non-players that the game was spammy. According to Vivek Sharma, a Facebook vice president and head of gaming, the company now wants to send fewer alerts only when they have a greater chance of having an impact.
He said that FarmVille was largely responsible for the emergence of social gaming and claimed that Facebook had learned some crucial lessons from the “saga” over excessive notifications.
In order for those applications to be self-sustaining and healthy, he said, “I think people started to find out some fundamental behavioral things that needed to be changed.” And a big part of that, in my opinion, is the notion that humans do, in fact, have a limit, and that limit shifts through time.
There is little doubt that the notifications were effective, even if some people found them annoying. Zynga’s Scott Koenigsberg, a director of product, pointed out that gamers had opted in to send the requests.
At some point or another, “everyone received a ‘lonely cow’ notification, but those were all being shared by their friends who were playing the game,” he said.
One person who experienced this was Mia Consalvo, a professor of game studies and design at Concordia University in Canada.
“Oh, 12 of my pals need help,” she said, when she logged into Facebook, she said.
She argued that the game didn’t foster meaningful or long-lasting interactions, casting doubt on how social it actually was.
“The game itself isn’t encouraging you to have a dialogue with your pals or to spend time together inside the game space,” she claimed. Really, it’s only a matter of pressing a button.
However, individuals who frequented the location daily claimed that having something to talk about had helped them stay in touch with their friends and acquaintances.
A 42-year-old radio producer from Toronto named Maurie Sherman claimed that he had played with the receptionist and that he frequently visited her desk to discuss it. He remarked, “She would tell me about the pink cow she got.
He took pleasure in it as a diversion, a digital stress reliever, and a calming hobby that would allow his mind to wander. He claimed that over the years, he had invested more than $1,000 – actual money — in order to enhance his farm or save time.
And he admitted that he was entirely to blame for sending the notifications, but they were always successful in getting him the assistance he needed.
People who were sick of hearing that you needed help with their cows “would mute you or unfriend you,” he claimed.
Jaime Tracy, 59, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, claimed she was “one of those obnoxious individuals” who frequently asked for assistance until her friends and family advised her to stop.
She played the game for more than five years since she adored it and considered it a sort of meditation. She said that she had “nothing else to do” now that her kids were adults and living away from home.
You might just stop thinking about things and plant some carrots, she suggested.
Online games were not yet the giant they would become, but they did take up as much of the internet as possible.
Then, in June, FarmVille appeared. You would still receive a lot of nags and prods from your friends asking for assistance if you weren’t one of the tens of millions of individuals maintaining a cartoon plot of land on Facebook every day and accumulating an endless supply of cutesy souvenirs. Users of Facebook were either drawn into an obsession by the game or were constantly reminded that they were missing out on one.
There were still people playing the Flash-based Zynga game that was built for Facebook on Thursday, but its sequels that can be played through mobile apps will continue to exist. (The game’s software, Flash, shut down at the conclusion of the calendar year.)
However, the original FarmVille continues to influence modern internet users through the habits it instilled in them and the growth-hacking strategies it developed, which are now ingrained in almost every website, service, and app vying for your attention.