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Six secrets of Farmville’s success – and 33 million people agree

By on September 4, 2009

Farmville may be the fastest growing Facebook game ever. It was only released in July and in August, over 33 million people played it. What’s the secret of its success?

Sponsored link: Learn inside secrets for Farmville success at FarmvilleMillionaire.com

Maybe it’s just because it’s summer, but we seem to have got farming on our brains. Look at the top 25 games on Facebook in August.

Top 25 Games on Facebook - August 2009

That’s four farming games in the top 25, with Farmville at #1 and Farmtown at #3. Farmville is only two months old, but it had 33 million unique players in August.

Yes, you read that right. 33 million players.

According to ComScore (via TechCrunch), Facebook had 340 million unique visitors in June (although Facebook only acknowledges 250 millon), which means that around 10% of all Facebook users played Farmville last month.

That’s a phenomenal success. I argued in July that Zynga may have overtaken Yahoo! Games to be the largest games “site” on the Internet. With this latest performance, I think that there can be no doubt that Zynga has claimed that crown.

The six secrets of Farmville’s success

Farmville came out at around the same time as Playfish’s Country Story which, while doing well, has only achieved 4 million users, 16% of the size of Farmville’s playerbase. Farmville has got six key elements absolutely nailed, and it’s reaping the rewards of its clever, viral design. So what are they?

1. The joy (and shame) of gifting

Gifting was one of Facebook’s earliest memes. When Facebook first emerged, it was about “poking” your friends and giving them virtual beers or dogs.

Zynga has cleverly picked up on this. When you visit your farm, the first screen you see is not a picture of your farm, but a list of gifts that you can give your friends. In many games, this screen would say “invite your friends to play this game”, a thinly-veiled attempt to get you to spam your mates. Zynga turns this on your head by asking you to send them a gift.

Gifting is particularly clever because it evokes an ancient anthropological need that is common to almost all cultures: the need for reciprocity. If someone gives you a gift, you have to reciprocate. It might be writing a thank you card, or getting your round of beers in, or taking a bottle of wine to a dinner party. Across all cultures, there has to be an “exchange” of gifts.

So if someone sends me enough Farmville gifts (and the default message asks me to send a gift back, to press the point), I’ll feel honour-bound to give them one back.

Much better than spam.

2. Farmville gifts have value

The objective of Farmville is to build a thriving farm. You spend money to dig plots, plant crops, buy animals and plant orchards.

Trees and animals are expensive. They look pretty but it’s hard to justify the investment compared with growing strawberries. But look! Your friends are sending you all these expensive trees and valuable animals. Aren’t your friends thoughtful?

Unlike the original virtual beer or birthday cakes, gifts from my friends in Farmville enhance my enjoyment of the game. In fact, the more gifts I receive, the better my farm looks and the more fun I have. So it is in my interest to:

  • Invite as many of my friends into the game as possible, so they give me presents
  • Give them all presents as often as I can so that they give me a present back

That’s viral marketing at its most brilliant.

3. Farmville gifts cost me nothing

Here’s where Zynga departs from the real world: sending a gift costs me zilch. I can only send them sporadically (I think it’s once a day), but it costs me nothing more than the time it takes to select an avocado tree and the friends I want to send it to. My cash reserves stay the same, but I have just asked a dozen people to send me something worth real value. Aren’t Farmville gifts wonderful?

4. Farmville doesn’t really bother with levels

There are levels in Farmville: you can’t buy certain crops or a combine harvester until you reach a certain level. But the real limitation is cash. And you can get more cash by playing more often. (In contrast, Playfish’s Country Story, which I generally prefer, has pretty strict limitations by what level you are, and you don’t level up very fast). So the size of my farm is dependent more on how many friends I have who are sending me gifts and how often I play. This makes it very easy for me to keep coming back to Farmville.

5. Choosing what crops to plant matters

Strawberries grow very fast in Farmville-land. Only four hours in fact (whereas wheat takes three days). But there is a quid pro quo. Strawberries wither and rot quickly too. If I don’t get back in time to harvest them quickly, then all my work goes to waste. So as well as choosing crops based on their in-game value, I choose them based on when I next expect to play. I vary them, so that I have fast-growing and slow-growing crops, because that way there is something to do every time I visit my farm.

In other words, I control my own gameplay experience which makes me feel a sense of ownership of my farm, and means that I want to return to check on it often.

6. If you don’t return frequently, your crops wither and die

With Country Story, you have to visit frequently to water your crops. If you don’t, they “pause” their growth, and won’t start again until you water them.

Farmville is harsh. Fail to harvest their crops and they rot. Gone. Money down the drain.

So you have to visit regularly, just to make sure that the game doesn’t punish you.

The moral of the story

There are two things that matter to making your social game a success: getting users to return frequently (stickiness) and getting users to invite their friends (virality).

Farmville has achieved this, and has 33 million users to prove it.

Sponsored link: Looking for Farmville secrets? Find them at FarmvilleMillionaire.com

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com
  • Johnwatkins12

    i would ike to be your neighbour we are sma ll but we have fun my email ia johnwatkins12@optusnetcom.au see u ater gator

  • Johnwatkins

    lisa my name is john we only hsve asmall group but we have fun and i poo on[fertilize takes too long] the fields every day and get the eggs and we all look after one another not like the three blind mice who run around in circles everyday making a spectacle of themselves my email is johnwatkins12@optusnet.com.au hope to hear from you.

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  • Tricia simmons

    just started would love to have new neighbors

  • Tammy_williams76240

    i play farmville everyday and would like to add neighbors and be neighbors to with whoever request it.this is a fun game and never gets boring.my E-Mail is tammy_williams76240@yahoo.com

  • http://twitter.com/farmvilleriches Farmer Dave

    Yes, it is an incredibly addictive game. Zynga really hit the nail on the head when creating this game!

    They have somehow found the ingredient to not only keeping current players involved each day, but they are sucking in thousands upon thousands of new players per day!

    I found this cool beginners guide to Farmville here for new players. It’s how I got started: http://farmville-millionare.com/beginners-guide-to-farmville/

  • Kadyur
  • Dartgod05

    yes its true..i have no life :) i’m on farmville at least 4 times a day and i’m looking for decent neighbours who just enjoy the game.

  • Joanne

    I too play everyday and am looking for neighbors. You can find me a mytropicaloasis@gmail.com.

  • Joanne

    Are you still looking for neighbors? I also play everyday and would love to be your neighbor.

  • Joanne

    I will be your neighbor. You can friend me on Facebook and then neighbors on Farmville. My email is mytropicaloasis@gmail.com. My name on Facebook is Joanne Kona De Costa.

  • Joanne

    Mark, I will add you as my friend and you can add me as your neighbor.

    Thanks, Joanne Kona De Costa

  • Joanne Kona De Costa

    Mark, there are many Mark Stinson’s on Facebook. How will I know which one is you?

    My name is Joanne Kona DeCosta and my email address is mytropicaloasis@gmail.com

  • Deborahanjo

    would you like to be my neighbor in farmvill

  • Deborah

    do you still need neighbors. add me deborah

  • Deborah

    i’ll be your neighbor in farmvill

  • Deborah

    i’ll be your neighbor, deborah

  • Youmailed

    You should look at Gamers Unite… You will find tons of friends there as well as tips to improve your game…

  • Youmailed

    Yes Farmville is having major issues which is nothing new anymore… Millions of gamers have also left the game….due to so many gaming issues they can’t play… besides being locked out of your farm for days or weeks on end gets old after awhile…

  • Youmailed

    For people looking for neighbors you should look at the Gamers Unite website… there are millions of gamers to add to your list and the website is a great way of learning how to improve your game, level up faster, post or view post on gaming….

  • Youmailed

    Not really anything the gamers can do about the issues this weekend or any other time really… If your locked out of the games your not alone….millions are dealing with the same problems… Zynga has major issues and have trouble dealing with them… once they notice a problem they shut the online chat off so they don’t have to deal the gamers… funny way to treat the “testers” of the game..huh….

  • Guest

    you may just lost your link.. try contacting the Farmville Issues Forum on Facebook and ask Sallie to help you… She can help with gaming issues and help you fix your problem

  • http://www.best-registrycleaner.net Best Registry Cleaner

    This game is fun.

  • http://affiloblueprint.org affiloblueprint

    yes i agree….the all ages applicability is brilliant

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  • Wholio12

    I am also looking for neighbours but didn’t know how to find them

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  • Tracyal6969

    i can use neighbors too

  • Tracyal6969

    lets be neighbors

  • Tracyal6969

    i need neighbors too my e-mail is tracyal6969@yahoo.com my name is tracy linn on facebook

  • http://onlineguitarcoaching.com Will Kriski

    thanks for affiliate link

  • http://onlineguitarcoaching.com Will Kriski

    What can a business do to penalize people who don’t keep coming back? eg. reduce points each day they don’t login (negative) or give points each day they login. What other negative things could happen? or increase the stickiness with email notifications when things happen (new forum, comment replies, etc).

  • Ankitvashisth

    add me as a neighbors

  • ankit vashisth

    add me as a farmville nightbors

  • Maaya Mm

    can we be neighbors too…. my id is maaya.mm@gmail:disqus .com

  • Lydiad02

    Hi, Norm.  I’m Lydia J Doplemore and I’m looking for faithful FV fans.  If interested, please send a neighbor request.

    Lydia
    “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life:  music and cats.”–Albert Schweitzer

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    New Cheats, Hacks & Guides http://cheating-games.blogspot.com

  • Blah

    why all of you ppl are asking to be neighbours and friends in farmville, what do you get after becoming neighbours?
    I bet if you meet these people in person you will not even bother saying hello.

  • Denise Kelly

    I’d like to be your neighbor, The F/V Fiends i have seems to me that they dont shear much with me . I shear all the time and it’s like there not giving back or if they do give it’s soomthing i dont need N i’m raly a’m getting sick of it becouse i like this game so much    Denise Kelly Look for me on F/V   THANKS……

  • Denise Kelly

    L’d love to play with you!!!!

  • Rosemariepelote

    For about two weeks now every time I go to Farmville and cityville I get a pop- up stating……..” Internet Explorer has stopped trying to restore this website, It appears that the web site continues to have a problem, CAN YOU HELP ME!!!

  • Shusha55

     I got 2000 Fb Credit from the page bellow.. it really works like a charm.. Try now because tomorrow may be too late.. http://goo.gl/r4TTI

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Greg-Quinn/672011812 Greg Quinn

    You get ‘pro’ Farmville players?