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Confessions of a Dirty Farmboy

Farmville is a plum with 11 million dailies, but does it produce mostly sheep?

Eric Hardman, Blogger

August 27, 2009

3 Min Read

A "dirty farmboy" is what one friend called me when I admitted to being a little ashamed about playing Farmville recently. I realized I felt this way when I impulsively thought to switch the browser window the other night when my wife came in to say goodnight. Now, she has seen me play MMOs and Total War through periodically obsessive periods and I've never had that reaction, so... what's up with that? 

I think it's partly because I feel dumber with each click, and hesitant to ask friends to join. The gameplay, or activity-doing?, is so simple that there really isn't a challenge other than maybe coming back to visit at the right time. I suppose the most basic economic lessons can be derived, like "you can only spend as much money as you have," but that's a stretch and really not a challenge for folks past 1st grade at best. 

All that said, there is a micro-thrill of dopamine with every harvest and really no risk whatsoever in playing. It's not like there's any antagonist to this story, just the familiar ravages of time and mortal coils.

And, as trumpeted today by Farmville developer, Zynga, 11 million daily players can't be wrong, right? I do find myself doing math periodically, to min/max my crop choices vs. how much time I'll have before I can check my crops, but that is the outside bleeding edge of strategic thinking for me in this game. 

On a cognitive theory level, the dopamine should kick in with successfully completing a task which has been mastered. Normally, that requires a task that's within a flow zone that exists between "too easy" and "too hard." But these tasks are all painfully simple, it should be beneath almost anyone, cognitively.

It is like the MMO grind broken down to its most basic 1-click level. One thing that keeps a person somewhat interested is curiousity about what crops and animals will yield and cost as you gain access to them. The developer was wise to hide these values until the new items become unlocked, as curiosity is a powerful driver of human behaviour. 

I have heard anecedotally that there is a strong Christian following of the game in which the trend is to plant crops like a crucifix, then post snapshots to your Facebook wall. This is pretty creative and has gotten me thinking about how you could combine colors of crops, time their fruition, and create full color images with lovely shading. So on that level, this is a user content creation tool. Certainly not what I expected.

On a social gaming level, Farmville is much lower pressure than other Zynga games, a trend I appreciate. It's more of an opt-in socialization rather than one which gates your progression or feels coerced. Honestly I find that kind of "gameplay" crassly manipulative and hope there is a backlash against it. SPPLLAaaaaaCK! <--- there's my backlash. 

A few final questions: Does it make money? Is it the cute graphics? Is it the Illusion of Accomplishment? 

If anyone else has sampled this loamy little bit of flashcrack, I'd be curious to hear your impressions of why it seems to work so well. I am still kind of trying to figure it out. Wish my peppers were ripe so I could post a screenshot of my farm with this...

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