Tag Archives: Game

Business Lessons From Farmville – Part 2

Continued from Part 1 – http://lichtman.ca/articles/business-lessons-from-farmville-part-1. In Part 1 we discussed the idea that there are business lessons that can be learned from viral games such as Zynga’s Farmville.

2. Let Everybody Know

If you’re on Facebook, you are familiar with the extent to which Farmville pesters people who aren’t already playing it. I had actually blocked the application at one point, and only logged in after reading about how it had attracted 70 million users on a mainstream press website – which actually proves the idea that in advertising, repeating your message ad nauseum actually does pay off. Eventually.

What Zynga have done with Farmville is create a system that provides an immense number of opportunities for people who are already using the game to gain by telling other people about it. In addition to bugging people who aren’t already playing, it also provides – as mentioned above – innumerable ways of reminding people who are already playing it about its existence. This can be irritating, but it is clearly an exceedingly effective methodology for growing traffic.

A small number of the methods that they use to spread the news include:

  • Constantly requesting users to post announcements to their “streams” – every time a user achieves a milestone in the game – no matter how small – Farmville asks the user if they want to place a post on their stream (the list of updates shared between “friends” on Facebook). These announcements are essentially sales referrals – if somebody not playing the game sees hundreds of such announcements from their friends, possibly it may pique their interest.
  • Many posts from Farmville contain image “snapshots” of what a user’s farm looks like. These follow the notion of “show me, don’t tell me” – a picture is worth a whole lot of verbiage.

3. Build a Community

As mentioned briefly in Part 1, the notion of a community is very powerful in social networking applications. If the people that you are friendly with are all involved in a particular community, not only are you more likely to join, but you’re also much less likely to leave. Real world examples include religious institutions, multi-level marketing organizations, social clubs, charities etc etc. Many such organizations fulfill a social role in addition to any other role they may play, and for their participants this can be a powerful motivator.

The vast majority of online social applications pay lip service to the communal role – but in actuality they provide little incentive (or supportive functionality for that matter) for people to actually interact with each other.

One of the key reasons why Farmville has been so successful is that the communal aspect has been so well thought out – not only are there endless ways for people to interact in the game – it is difficult to progress without doing so. A few examples (and there are probably dozens of others) follow:

  • Neighbours – the game plays up the folksy notion of farmers chatting over a picket fence. Members can add other players as virtual neighbours in the game, and thereafter the game visually renders the neighbouring farms next to the player’s farm. Players are encouraged to visit their neighbour’s farms, and to participate in building up those farms via simple tasks (fertilizing their crops), for which they score points.
  • Many items in the game cannot be purchased from the “market” directly – they can only be given as gifts. Players are encouraged to give such gifts to their neighbours, and the receipt of such items triggers a polite request to send something back.
  • An interesting recent feature – barn raising. A player wishing to build a “barn” with which to store items can pay for the barn directly – or get it for free if ten of their neighbours are willing to help them. The process involves a large amount of voluntary messaging being posted to streams – and people’s in-boxes.

[To be continued in Part 3…]

Business Lessons From Farmville – Part 1

Day 312/365 - 8 Nov - FarmVille
Image by anshu_si via Flickr

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…]

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