What started as a small San Francisco online gaming company three years ago has now grown into a 600-employee company.
Zynga, Inc. created a slew of online games on Facebook that give people the power to create their own farms, restaurants, Mafia gangs and more. FarmVille in particular has become one of the company’s most popular games. Over 25 million people play the game daily, said Zynga marketing communications manager Lisa Chan in an e-mail interview.
Zynga has hit Internet gold – literally. The company makes half its revenue from virtual games: People pay real money for virtual goods, such as fuel for their harvesters, seeders and plows.
FarmVille initially gives players a plot of land and online money to buy their first set of crops. Harvesting crops they grow takes real time – an hour in FarmVille equals an hour in reality. The player generates more coins, allowing the player to then buy more crops, rest tents, cattle, trees or anything else they can afford at the online market.
With more harvesting experience, players advance to new levels in the game. Each level offers more crops and products available at the market. Additionally, players can win awards for “friending” numerous “neighbors,” planting a row of peach trees or simply milking enough cows.
“With FarmVille, we wanted to create a game that was light, easy and fun to play with your friends,” Chan said. “Farming is familiar to everyone, which is part of why we think the game is so popular.”
And popular it is.
Online blogs have sprouted across the Internet such as the FarmVille Freak blog, where people post more efficient methods to gain farming experience or explain updates and changes concerning the game. On the online social networking site, Facebook, which hosts FarmVille – along with Zynga’s other popular games such as YoVille, Mafia Wars and most recently FishVille – over 500 groups and fan pages have been created for FarmVille.
Not all commentary is positive about the addicting online farming game.
“I was wasting too much time. It was pointless,” said senior communication major David Horwitz.
Initially, Horwitz said the game quickly sucked him in.
“I would do anything to get to the next level,” he said. “It was a waiting game, so that was intriguing. You had to go [online] later.”
FarmVille players’ demographics range across the board. Children to senior citizens are glued to their computer screens, harvesting corn and fertilizing their neighbors’ crops. The key demographic is 18 to 40-year-olds, Chan said.
Dr. Paul Salitsky, exercise biology lecturer with an emphasis on sport, exercise and motor learning, is an expert in attention. For addicted students, games such as FarmVille pose a threat to their learning when they feel compelled to harvest their virtual raspberry crop during lecture.
“You are degrading your ability to attend to information,” Salitsky said. “To do deep thinking, you need your whole brain to do that.”
Though FarmVille is just a game, Salisky said obsessions and addictions start with anything like gambling, exercise – or FarmVille.
“Is the virtual world filling in what’s missing in our reality world?” Salitsky said.
Horwitz said he predicts the game will lose its popularity soon, especially at UC Davis, where the quarter system is too rigorous to spend hours clicking plots of land to plow.
Zynga disagrees. FarmVille, which launched in June 2009, should not be going anywhere anytime soon, Chan said.
“We don’t think this is a fad,” Chan said. “It’s a great way for people to connect with friends and family, no matter where they are around the world. We’re going to continue to innovate on the game to keep it interesting.”
In a new wave of technological fundraising, players can buy crops with real money. Through the online fundraiser, FarmVille players raised $580,000 that went to non-profit organizations in Haiti.
FarmVille’s 35-member team updates the game about twice a week with nuanced methods, such as buying online seeds to help real people around the world. Zynga hopes to keep FarmVille popular and fun.
“Zynga’s mission is to connect the world through games,” Chan said.
SASHA LEKACH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.