In early 2009, when Facebook was still budding in its effort to swallow up as much of the internet as possible, online gaming weren’t the behemoth they would become.
Then, in June of that year, came Farmville. If you aren’t among the tens of millions of people who curate a piece of cartoony Facebook every day, where an endless stream of cute collectibles accumulates, you still get loads of alerts and mentions from your friends asking for help. Either the game drew Facebook users into an obsession or constantly reminded them that they missed one opportunity.
Zynga’s flash-based game, designed to run within Facebook, closed Thursday – yes, there were people still playing it – although its sequences that could be played through mobile apps remained. But the original FarmVille lives on the behaviors it instilled in everyday internet users and the growth hacking techniques it perfected, now baked into nearly every website, service, and app vying for your attention.
At its peak, the game had 32 million daily active users and nearly 85 million players at all. It helped transform Facebook from a place you went to check for updates – mostly in text form – from friends and family to a time-eating destination itself.
“We thought of it as a new dimension in your social life, not just a way to get games to people,” said Mark Pincus, who was Zynga’s CEO at the time and is now its chairman. “I thought: People just hang out on these social networks like Facebook, and I want to give them something to do together. “
This was achieved in part by luring players into loops from which they would hardly pull themselves. If you do not check in every day, your crops will wilt and die; Some players set alarms so that they don’t forget. If you need help, you can spend real money or send requests to your Facebook friends – a nuisance to non-gamers who have been caught up with notifications and updates in their news feeds.
Ian Bogust, game designer and professor at Georgia Tech, said the behaviors normalized in FarmVille made it a fast car for the internet economy of the 2000s.
This was not intended as a compliment.
Mr Pogost said the game encouraged people to attract friends as sources of themselves and the service they were using. He said that sparked attention and encouraged engagement rings in a way that is now imitated by everything from Instagram to QAnon.
“The Internet itself is the bazaar of obsessed worlds where the goal is to get you back to it in order to do what it offers, to attract your attention and display ads against it or extract value from this activity,” he said.
While other games tried many of the same tactics – Mafia Wars was Zynga’s most successful at the time – FarmVille was the first to become a mainstream phenomenon. Mr Pincus said he used to have dinner with Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, and that in early 2009 he received advance notice that the platform would soon allow games to post to a user’s news feed. He said Mr. Zuckerberg told him that Zynga should flood the region with new games and that Facebook will sort out the games that reverberate.
Although farming was far from a hot type of gaming at the time, Mr. Pincus considered it a relaxing activity that would appeal to a wide audience, especially among adults and women who did not spend hundreds of dollars on a console like the Xbox 360. or PlayStation 3 or Nintendo Wii. It will be a preview of the soon-to-be exploding market for mobile games, as casual gamers move away from the desktop with smartphones taking over.
It was the gaming industry Always cool to FarmVilleDespite its success. A Zynga executive was booed when accepting an award at the Game Developers Conference in 2010, and Mr. Pincus said he had a problem recruiting developers who they thought their peers would not respect because of working on the game.
In 2010, Time Farmville magazine ranked one of50 worst inventionsWhile acknowledging how attractive it is but describing it as “hardly a game.”
For many, the game will be remembered more for being on people’s news feed than for the game itself. Facebook was well aware of the complaints.
After non-gamers heard the game was spam, Facebook restricted the number of games that could post to its news feed and send push notifications. Vivek Sharma, Facebook’s vice president and head of games, said Facebook now aims to send fewer notifications only when they’re most likely to have an impact.
He credited FarmVille with much of the rise of social gaming, and said that the “saga” of over notifications had taught Facebook some important lessons.
He said, “I think people are starting to discover some deeper behavioral things that need to be modified in order for these apps to be self-sufficient and healthy.” “And I think part of that is the idea that people do indeed have limits, and that limit changes over time.”
Even if people get annoyed with the notifications, there’s no doubt that it worked. Scott Koenigsberg, Zynga’s Product Manager, indicated that the orders had been submitted by players who chose to submit them.
He said, “Everyone saw the ‘Lonely Cow’ notice at some point or another, but it was all shared by their friends who were playing the game.”
Mia Consalvo, a professor of game and design studies at Concordia University in Canada, was among those who consistently saw FarmVille in front of her.
She said, “When logging into Facebook, it looks like, ’12 of my friends need help.'”
I questioned how social the game was, arguing that it did not create deep or sustained interactions.
“The game itself does not promote a conversation between you and your friends, or encourage you to spend time together in the game space,” she said. “It’s really just a button-clicking mechanism.”
But those who came back every day said they kept them in touch with friends and acquaintances, and gave them something to talk about.
Maury Sherman, 42, a Toronto radio producer, said he and he played with a receptionist together and that he went to her office daily to talk about it. He said, “She was telling me about the pink cow that she got.”
He enjoyed it as an escape, a virtual stress ball and soothing activity that allowed his mind to wander. He said he has spent more than $ 1,000 – and that’s real money – over the years to improve his farm or to save time.
He said he was totally guilty of sending notifications – but they always managed to provide him with the help he wanted.
He said, “There are people who might hide you or reject your friendship just because they are tired of hearing that you need your cows’ help.”
Jaime Tracy, 59, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, said she was “one of those annoying people” who made repeated requests for help until her friends and relatives asked her to stop her.
But she loved the game, which she saw as a form of meditation, and played it for more than five years. “I had nothing else to do,” she said with her children who had grown up and walked out of the house.
“You can just turn your mind off and plant some carrots,” she said.