Peer Pressure 2.0: Farmville

I have to admit, I’m afraid to try Farmville. After only recently escaping from a (delightful, if) crippling addiction to Plants vs. Zombies, I have learned not to casually dismiss the pull of “casual games.” With more monthly users than twitter (!), the cutesy facebook game Farmville appears to be the grandaddy of them all. Mark Newheiser at Gamasutra provided some analysis of the design features that have made the game a success. Here are some salient bits:

Farmville exists with a very different business model than most video games: you don’t pay by the month to play it, you don’t even shell out a one-time payment to play: you play for free, and then the game tries to sell you in-game perks and a chance to skip the grind to unlock all of the game’s content by spending money rather than time.

Farmville locks you out of some content unless you have enough friends playing Farmville with you, and having friends in your network playing Farmville is a reliable source of coins, experience, and gifts, the main resources of the game.

The game is also more than happy to bribe players for participating in its viral spread: cute lonely animals will show up on your farm periodically and as a player you face a dilemma in sentencing them to virtual abandonment and death unless you post on your Facebook wall that you need one of your friends to start playing Farmville and “adopt” the adorable little self-promoter.

The genius in how Farmville has succeed in getting so many people addicted comes down to how it handles commitments on a player’s time: every time you play Farmville and plant a crop, you’re making a commitment to come back during a 12 hour window or so to harvest your crop, or else you forfeit your investment.

There’s some more surprising and clever stuff that has been baked into the social design of the game, but even the points above would seem to make for an addictive (and viral) experience.

nGenera just hosted a conference in Memphis (kudos to FedEx for graciously hosting it at their World Technology Center) where I gave a presentation on gamers as employees and customers. I argue that gamers are more than a bit self-interested, and are focused on generating smart, efficient solutions to problems that let them sail through the rest of the game with relative ease and speed. Gamers also want to feel engaged with their virtual worlds, and in certain cases have emotional connections with in-game characters and the game itself.

Farmville seems to have taken these constructs to a new level, allowing gamers to pay (real money) for tools that speed them towards completion and give them competitive advantage, and putting gamers in situations where their emotional involvement with the game is leveraged to encourage friends to start playing (and spending their own money for in-game advantages).

While writing this post I’ve had the facebook connect installation screen sitting in a background tab in my browser, I think I have to go try the game out for the sake of research. Are there any Wikinomics readers who play the game? What do you think of it? What should I expect?

Hopefully I won’t get completely swallowed up, and will post again soon!