Business Lessons From Farmville – Part 2

Continued from 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…]

8 responses on “Business Lessons From Farmville – Part 2

  1. Elie

    Sounds very much like a cult, and in fact, if you replace the word Farmville with [nameless cult – editor!] or what have you, you would have to change few other things in the post to keep it just as accurate and insightful!

  2. jeremylichtman

    It demands a little less of its players than the average cult. Less weird stuff involved too. All social interactive activity could really fall under the same aegis though – think business networking groups (and their often odd rituals), working for Walmart (the infamous morning cheer) etc.