Friday, October 23, 2009

Genius of Farmville

I feel kind of stupid, blogging about Farmville. It's not like you don't know, I mean, it's all over my Facebook profile. I'd like to say that I am doing it for the kids, but I think we all know that it's like watching SpongeBob. It might start by being something you do with the kids, but not really. You know you really wanted to do it yourself.

As the Farmville craze started, I knew this was something I needed to stay away from. People were posting their achievements on Farmville on their FB profiles in the middle of the day. My thoughts were, "Ok, you are playing this game. We all play games at work sometimes, but don't you have the common sense not to post your achievements where your workmates can see them?" Or, "Great, you play a game, but don't you want to keep it a secret."

This is part of the genius of Farmville and its genre of games. Your friends get benefits when you publish your achievements. So you are a good citizen and you publish. So far so good.

Actually, I did protest when my kids asked me to join, but I didn't protest too much. And of course, once I had joined, I had to be "better" at it than the kids. And of course, I had to get "better" status than my friends, either. I couldn't be stuck down at level 5 when I have friends at level 35. Level 35, man, I don't want to think about the time invested to get to that level. (I gotta find some way to do that, I can't have people being "better" than I am...)

Of all the online games I see my kids playing, though, I have to admit that Farmville is one of the better ones, really. You plant different crops. Different crops have different costs and different payoffs and different ripening times. I found some nice spreadsheets online that someone had done with all the ROIs for all the crops. I showed them to the kids, and we actually have discussions about what is the most worthwhile thing to do with the space.

Eventually, you figure out that the percentage of profit doesn't matter, because money stops being an issue, and the actual scarcity is space on your farm and time that you have to invest on the crop. The spreadsheets can also help you calculate that, because they tell you how much space your crops take up. You can also have trees and animals on that same space. Different animals have different yields and take up different amount of space... you get the idea. It's actually not bad, if you are going to waste your time on something. Which, apparently, I am.

The other thing that I find useful as a learning exercise is the whole thing about how you handle your money. Generally speaking, you only get more money by investing it. The bank doesn't give you interest. These days, that's a fine lesson for my kids -- invest the money because it's useless just sitting there. Despite that, my daughter would rather have lots of money spare in the bank. She has a kind of a fear of spending it. So that's another thing that we can talk about and get some insight.

The second interesting thing is how I am behaving with money at the higher levels of the game, when I really have more money than it is possible to invest (because land becomes a scarcity, so you can't invest any more). I've found my spending habits interesting to observe. Even when I think I want to save for the big thing, I figure, eh, it doesn't matter, I am going to earn more (true on the game, less true in life). When I have nothing I want to buy, I probably fool around and go shopping anyway, because, whatever, it's fun, you know. In this particular case, it's not real money, but it is real time. It's also just interesting to observe myself when it's not real money and say, OK, I get how easy it is to just buy stuff because the money is in your pocket. So that's been a good exercise in awareness for me.

The best thing for me about Farmville is that there is only so much you can play it. Crops take hours or days to mature, so I make sure to plant things that take a couple of days to grow, so I won't spend all my time on the stupid game. Lord knows I'm capable of it, so I like that built-in protection of having to wait. The kids, meanwhile, have installed a bunch of other games to fill up their time, but they're kids, and it's their job to play games. I think I know myself well enough to stay away from the temptation to try the next new thing.


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Rebecca Rachmany said...

Just to reinforce the genius of these games. Michael Arrington has put up a great post on how Farmville and their ilk make money. Although he is outraged at the scam (OK, so, Mike is always outraged, I am kind of just chuckling to myself at the cleverness of the whole thing.