In early 2009, when Facebook was still swallowing as much of the internet as possible, online gaming was not yet the plan it would become.
Then, in June, came Farmville. If you were not one of the tens of thousands of millions of people who posted a cartoon on Facebook every day and piled up an endless stream of cute collectibles, you still got a lot of hugs from your friends to ask for help. The game has drawn Facebook users into an obsession or repeatedly reminds them that they are missing one.
The Flash-based game created by Zynga, which is designed to be played within Facebook, will be turned off on Thursday – yes, there were still people playing it – although the sequels that can be played through mobile applications will survive. But the original FarmVille lives on in the behavior it instilled in everyday Internet users and the growth-breaking techniques it perfected.
At its peak, the game had 32 million active users daily and nearly 85 million players. It helped change Facebook from a place where you went to check for updates – mostly in text form – from friends and family in a destination itself.
“We saw it as this new dimension in your social, not just a way of getting games for people,” said Mark Pincus, who was Zynga’s CEO at the time and now chairman of its board. “I think: “People just hang out on these social networks like Facebook, and I want to give them something to do together.” ‘
This was achieved in part by pulling players into loops that were difficult to pull themselves off. If you do not report every day, your crop will wither and die; some players would sound the alarm so they would not forget. If you need help, you can spend real money or send requests to your Facebook friends – a source of annoyance to non-players who are besieged by notifications and updates in their news feeds.
Ian Bogost, a game designer and professor at Georgia Tech, said the behavior that FarmVille normalized made it a fast-paced car for the 2010s Internet economy.
He did not mean it as praise.
The game encouraged people to recruit friends as resources for themselves as well as the service they use. It has increased attention and encouraged interaction loops in a way that is now being followed by everything from Instagram to QAnon, he said.
“The internet itself is this bazaar of obsessive worlds where the goal is to get you back there to do the thing it offers, to get your attention and advertise against it or otherwise derive value from the activity,” he said. he said.
While other games tried many of the same tactics – Mafia Wars was Zynga’s best hit at the time – FarmVille was the first to become a mainstream phenomenon. Mr. Pincus said he regularly dined with Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, and that he had given advance notice in early 2009 that the platform could soon put games in a user’s news feed. He said Mr. Zuckerberg told him that Zynga should flood the zone with new games and that Facebook will sort out the reason.
Although farming was not a popular game at the time, Mr. Pincus saw it as a relaxing activity that would appeal to a wide audience, especially among adults and women who have never spent hundreds of dollars on a console like the Xbox 360. , PlayStation 3 or Nintendo Wii. It would be a preview of the mobile gaming market that is about to explode, with casual gamers moving away from the computer like smartphones taking over.
The gaming industry, despite its success, has always been cold for FarmVille. A manager of Zynga was yelled at when he accepted an award at the Game Developers Conference in 2010, and Mr. Pincus said he had trouble recruiting developers, who thought their peers would not respect them because they were working on the game.
In 2010, Time Farmville magazine named one of the “50 Worst Inventions” and acknowledged how irresistible it was, but called it “barely a game.”
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For many people, the game will be remembered more for its presence in people’s news feeds than for the game itself. Facebook was well aware of the complaints.
After Facebook heard from non-players that the game was spammy, Facebook restricted how many games’ could post to news feeds and send notifications. Facebook now only wants to send fewer notifications when it is more likely to make an impact, said Vivek Sharma, a Facebook vice president and head of games.
He attributed FarmVille to much of the increase in social gaming, saying the “saga” about excessive notifications taught Facebook some important lessons.
“I think people started working out some deeper behavioral issues that needed to be adjusted so that the applications could be self-sustaining and healthy,” he said. “And I think it’s the idea that people actually have a limit and that the limitation changes over time.”
Even though people were irritated by the notices, there is little doubt that it worked. Scott Koenigsberg, a product director of Zynga, noted that the requests were sent by players who decided to send them.
“Everyone has seen a ‘lonely cow’ notice at some point, but everyone is shared by their friends who played the game,” he said.
Mia Consalvo, a professor of game studies and design at Concordia University in Canada, was among those who saw FarmVille constantly before her.
“When you sign up for Facebook, it’s like, ‘Oh, 12 of my friends need help,'” she said.
She questioned how social the game actually was, arguing that it did not create deep or sustained interactions.
“The game itself does not promote a conversation between you and your friends, or encourage you to spend time together in the game space,” she said. “It’s really just a mechanic clicking a button.”
But those who went back every day said they had contact with friends and acquaintances and gave them something to talk about.
Maurie Sherman, 42, a Toronto-based radio producer, said he and a receptionist played together and that he went to her desk daily to talk about it. “She would tell me about the pink cow she got,” he said.
He enjoyed it as an escape, a virtual stress ball and a soothing activity that would make his mind wander. He said that over the years he has spent more than $ 1000 – that is real money – to improve his farming or to save time.
And he was absolutely guilty of sending the notices, he said – but they always managed to get him the help he wanted.
“There are people who will make you dumb or unfriendly just because they were tired of hearing that you need help with your cows,” he said.
Jaime Tracy, 59, of Lancaster, Pa., Said she was “one of the annoying people” who regularly made requests for help until her friends and family members told her to ward it off.
But she loved the game, which she saw as a form of meditation, and played for over five years. With her children growing up outside the home, “I had nothing else to do,” she said.
“You can just turn your mind off and plant roots,” she said.