Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Developer: Zynga
Publisher: Facebook
Release Date: June 19, 2009
System: PC
ESRB Rating: N/A
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: 75 million players can't be wrong... or can they?

0:00 My main exposure to this game comes from two places. One is the roughly 5 billion unwanted Facebook updates from my friends and family telling me they just got a new chicken on their farm or something. The second is the Game Power conference at this year's CES, where the overnight success of Farmville is all anyone could freaking talk about! I figure if it's making this big a splash in the industry, I should at least see what the heck it's all about.

0:01 I type "farmville" into the Facebook search box in the upper right corner. The top result is a group called "Not Playing Farmville." I... don't think that's what I'm looking for. The group has over 2 million fans... maybe this game isn't as popular as I thought?

0:05 The actual Farmville application is a little ways down. It has "74,256,278 monthly active users" I strike my comment about the popularity. 11,326,674 of those players are "fans" of the game, and it's currently rated 4.1 out of 5 with over 4,000 reviews. Ho. Lee. Shit.

0:09 "Howdy Ya'll! Come on down to the Farm today and play with your friends. We got plenty of land for everyone. Come and see what everyone is hootin' and hollerin' about." That's the idea!

0:10 I click the little "allow" button to lt Farmville post stuff to my Facebook "wall"
and access my friends list. I'm always a bit worried when I do this that someone is gonna come and demand to remove my kidneys, which I just legally signed away.

0:11 Almost immediately I'm looking at a little blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy in the middle of a largely empty green field. No installs, no noticeable downloads, just a peppy little guitar and piano tune.

0:11 "Harvest your crops. Plow two plots." I do the first by simply clicking on the "harvest tool" and then the fully grown crops that are in my started field. I do the second by clicking the "plow tool" and clicking on afew pieces of fallow land. Then I buy some soybeans from the store and plant them on the newly plowed area just as easily. The game tells me they'll sprout in a day. Like, real time? Who has that kind of time. I want my soybeans NOW!

0:12 The tutorial is already done. "Great job! That's farming for ya. Come back tomorrow to harvest your crops before they wither." That's it? That's the entire game? Really?

0:13 Clicking around, I find I can ask my friends to be my "neighbors" and help them with their farms. I look to connect with people who are already playing, but the entire list seems to be people who aren't playing yet. I don't want to spam people!

0:14 I go back to the main game, where I'm told there's limited time promotional pricing on Fuel. Oh, and I won 30 coins in a daily raffle. So this is a game like a slot machine is a game, then?

0:15 I have 233 coins and 5 Farmville dollars. That means the biggest thing I can afford right now is a cherry tree. I get 5 experience points just for planting it near my strawberry patch.

0:16 MAN, this music is incredibly catchy. I think it forms at least half the appeal of the game.

0:19 Ah, I was looking in the wrong place for my existing Farm-villian friends. When I look in the right place, I find 59 people I know are already signed up. This includes current friends, college friends, ex-girlfriends, game industry PR contacts, fellow journalists, family members and more.

0:24 "Gus is currently away from his farm and weeds have grown. Would you help remove them?" That's Gus Mastrapa, a colleague from my time at Crispy Gamer! I think it's a bit presumptuous of the game to ask me to do work for someone else, but Gus is a nice enough guy, so yeah, sure, why not.

0:25 Gus' farm is kind of sad looking... all overrun with brown weeds. I get 20 coins and 5 experience points just for agreeing to help out. That gets me up to level 2, "kinderfarmer," which unlocks some new trees for purchase. I'm prompted to share the news on my wall, and I do, with the accompanying message: "Yup, apparently I'm doing this now."

0:26 I click a single button and the weeds are magically gone from Gus' farm. Wow, that was easy. Now the game wants me to share gifts with Gus, "to show him how you really feel." Like weeding his farm wasn't enough? Sheesh! I give him a whitewash fence, because they seemed so fun to wash in Tom Sawyer.

0:28 Every time I try to add a new friend, I'm sidetracked by a message at the top of the page about someone who's away from their farm and needs my help. All these farms are overrun by gophers or ravens or need fertilizer or what have you. It's a mess!

0:30 Of my 59 player friends, 10 are at still at level 1. 9 more haven't broken level 5. Seeing as I'm already at level 2, this doesn't speak well of their engagement with the game. I wonder how many of those 70+ million people are really "active" players, and how many just checked it out and never came back.
0:32 I'm sending a neighbor request to a random selection of friends who seem to be pretty high level at the game, even the people I don't know too well. The worst they can do is deny my request, right? And after all, "You can have a lot more fun by visiting and helping your Neighbors."

0:39 I finally exhaust my 24 neighbor invites for the day. The system is incredibly cumbersome, requiring multiple clicks per invite. Seems like something they'd want to streamline, no?

"Click here to give your friends great free gifts." I try to send some collectible gloves, in an effort to entice my potential neighbors to be nice to me, but I've "run out of requests for the day." At least the game does something to limit the Facebook spam it sends, I guess.

0:42 My strawberries have gone from 55% grown to 64% percent grown. It's like watching plants grow...

0:43 I have a decent bit of money now, so I decide to plant some more crops. For some reason, I lose money just by plowing the field, for some reason. That's in addition to the money I'll have to pay for seeds. I get a one time bonus of 300 coins when I go bankrupt, at least.

0:45 I arrange my plowed plots to sell out a nice, friendly "Hi!" to any potential neighbors that might look in. That's the whole point, right?

0:47 Not much else to do but plant seeds, right? Strawberries only cost 10 coins and sprout in four hours! Wow! I fill up my "Hi!" with seeds and get up to level 3.

0:48 I post a little signpost next to my plowed "Hi!" message. The sign says "Hi!"

0:49 I can't seem to figure out a way to customize my freaky looking, blonde-haired avatar. I find this incredibly surprising.

0:50 Not much else I can afford to do on my own farm, so I go about clearing weeds from my cousin Carly's farm. There I find a sign-posted message from one Shani Dabush, which I assume is one of Carly's friends. "...and your farm is still ugly even after I helped get rid of your foxes." Harsh I feel so voyeuristic! I leave a note too. "You are an inattentive farmer!" Buuuurn!

0:53 I go visit the farm of Escapist colleague Susan Arendt, and it's a wonder to behold! "Oh, Hai!" is spelled out in hay bales. There's plenty of fallow land in the center, and plenty of colorful fruit trees in the corner. A few cute animals meander in another corner, making occasional noises There's a dairy farm and even some "spooky bats." My farm feels inadequate now.

0:55 I help Jess chase off some raccoons and get the "High Roller yellow ribbon," which gives me 500 gold and 50 experience points. Her farm is snowy and also full of animals packed into the corners. But no actual crops! Whaaaaaa?

0:57 "Colin Torretta commented on your post." That'd be the one announcing my second level. 'Haha, well done. Join the dork side... We have tasty veggies here!"

1:01 OK, that's it for me for now. Although maybe I'll come back in a few hours to pick my strawberries...


1 comment:

Gus said...

You're lucky I didn't catch you on my farm, boy. I have a shotgun loaded with rocksalt with your butt's name on it.