Farmville has become the most popular Facebook application ever created. How and why did this one game rise to such popularity amongst a sea of competitors? The truth is, Farmville has an interconnected past that dates back to the initialization of the Facebook Application Developer platform. Learn how FarmVille rose to become a cultural phenomenon.
Introduction to Facebook Games
In the months after the launch of the Facebook Application Developer platform in May 2007, hordes of developers from around the world worked tirelessly around the clock to develop applications that engaged the rapidly growing Facebook user-base, and the creativity that stemmed from those applications lives on today. “Poke”-style apps, music apps and dating applications ruled the charts. Games were in their infancy, but game ideas like Mob Wars claimed early leads. These were games based heavily on statistics and text-based activities.
(Lil) Green Patch
Enter (Lil) Green Patch, a game about growing your small garden by sending and receiving Garden-based utilities. The game was simple, with all actions revolving around selecting items at a store, clicking to send, and receiving text feedback about the results. In early 2008, the game had 350,000 Daily Active Users and was in the top 15 Facebook Applications. The gameplay was simple, and the graphics considered primitive. Working in the Social Games industry at the time, most analysts understood that this was something akin to the Atari before the NES – The game ideas were present, but a graphics overhaul would revolutionize the market. Furthermore, Facebook applications have repeatedly demonstrated transience in their popularity, and are usually uprooted by an improved version of their basic game engine. This occured with the transition from Mob Wars to Zynga’s Mafia Wars and would likely happen with the gardening/farming genre.
Slashkey’s Farm Town
In early 2009, Slashkey developed a game called “Farm Town”, where you grow a farm by sending and receiving gifts to other farmers, with the purpose of designing and maintaining a farm. The core gameplay engine was very similar to that of (Lil) Green Patch, but the graphic interface was completely overhauled. With a full, customizable animated avatar moving around the screen and physically cropping and harvesting, the game had a ‘virtual world’ feel to it, and was in fact accused of stealing the graphic style from Zynga’s YoVille. The game was initially released privately to 12 people. The app went from ” 12 users to 3 million users, with 1 million users playing in a day”, and when it was released to the public Application Directory in June, debuted at #4 out of all Facebook applications.
Zynga Releases Farmville
In June 2009, a few months after Farm Town rose to its popularity and just after it released to the public Application Directory, Zynga launched FarmVille. The game had a nearly identical graphical layout and the same play pattern. The game had a few key improvements to gameplay that facilitated a quicker, easier play session for users. The graphics and more elegant experience, FarmVille Coins and Farmville Cash currencies made the game a more linear and understandable progression than its predecessor. That said, Farm Town maintained a high level of social interaction, with various ‘meeting places’ available to chat within the game.
Inevitably, the game itself was excellent, but it was Zynga’s massive existing user-base across its other games and advertising spend that allowed it to really drive significant traffic to Farmville. Zynga announced it was gaining 1 million players per week, and quickly surpassed the 10 m Daily Active Users mark by August, breaking it into the top 20 . The game has continued its meteoric rise and is still growing, with a current user-base of 74 million Monthly Active Users, with 27 million Daily Active Users .
There have been a few controversies with Farmville, with many accusing the company of scamming users with its offer system. Zynga took a financial hit to remedy this, with GM Bill Mooney announcing that “First we turned everything off, went through and cleaned out offers that we had concerns about that provided a bad user experience, and we’re working basically to improve the quality of those offers”. There have also been the inevitable comparisons to FarmTown, which looks and plays nearly identically to FarmVille. This has not amounted to legal action, and the truth is that the entire Facebook application world walks a fine line between imitations, iterations and plagiarism – Most games have other games that they have borrowed from, but very often the popular games are the ones that iterate and respond to their users better.
Zynga’s Farmville, like many Facebook applications, borrows a lot from its predecessors. That said, the game is a phenomenon that attracts players of all demographics, and keeps them engaged. It’s growth continues to rise, and the game continues to innovate. Most recently, we can see that Farmville is about to integrate with the Facebook credits system. This could mark an even more striking turning point, as the barrier to making microtransactions is reduced even further, and the profitably of the application could increase.