I’m not generally recommending that you drop everything and play Farmville, but there are some interesting business lessons to be learned from the game. Possibly this blog entry will save you massive amounts of time – i.e. you can simply read on, rather than playing.
If you’re on Facebook, you’ve probably already been pestered by notifications from a game called Farmville, created by a company called Zynga. Possibly you’re already playing the game yourself. Over the past few months, the number of people playing the game has exceeded 70 million – for comparison’s sake, this is roughly the same as the total number of people using Twitter. Clearly they’re doing something interesting.
Generally speaking, Farmville falls under the category of “viral applications”. A viral app is one that seems to spread uncontrollably – just like a cold or flu bug does.
The key to “virality” has been documented elsewhere to great effect (just visit your local library or favourite guerrilla marketing blog):
- create something that is going to keep people interested (what’s usually called “stickiness”).
- make sure that using it will work even better if the user tells their friends about it.
- seed the application, website, or whatever with an initial set of users – probably friends of the owner.
- watch it grow.
- deal with scalability issues
- figure out how to make money (!)
- reproduce / duplicate the effect elsewhere
Very few applications make it to the final step, and there is definitely at least some element of luck involved – I’ve seen some great ideas fall flat for no apparent reason.
What Zynga has done though is a very interesting example of a successful viral application, and there are a number of attributes that can be used elsewhere – not necessarily for games either.
1. Keep People Interested
The notion of keeping people constantly interested in an application is very helpful in building a virally marketed website or game. The longer a person’s attention is on something, the more opportunities the makers have to get them to tell other people about it, as well as there being more likelihood of selling the user something. Keeping people interested is not conceptually hard, but can be difficult to implement in practice; I’m seen a great many websites fall short in this regard. “Viral” without “sticky” often equals “flop”.
Zynga have done a few interesting things with regards to holding people’s attention. Some of them are general rules from the game builder’s playbook, and thus aren’t transferable to all products or services.
Some of the tactics include constantly changing items, seasonally based differences in the appearance of the game, new functionality as a user progresses in level, randomization (things like animals moving around on their own) – these are all things common to many successful online games. Maintaining a stream of new activity is actually quite difficult to carry out – as I’ve discovered in the past while working on other games. There’s a certain level of perseverance involved, along with rallying the developers – most of whom are probably feeling burned out at this point (again, past experience) and keeping the creative juices flowing.
Other interest-enhancing features include their gift exchange system – I’ll talk more about this in Part 2 – which a) ensures that certain things can only be accomplished with the help of friends, and b) provides a stream of requests to players inboxes to entice them to come back repeatedly.
Two last things of note:
By building a community, where players cooperate in longer term development with each other, Farmville makes it less likely that somebody will drop out. Community formation is a powerful tool to keep people coming back over and over.
Farmville also relies on people’s nostalgia for “the simple life” – not that farming is particularly simple in actuality. The nostalgia factor can be a powerful tool for marketing to particular market segments.
[To Be Continued…]