Saturday, January 22

How FarmVille and Facebook Helped Cultivate a New Audience for Games | Zynga

TTwo deaths that you may have missed in the past week, for the simple reason that you have better things to do with your time than monitor the tech industry. One was the end of Farm, a simplistic time-wasting online game that has consumed the attention of millions of Facebook users over the years; the other was the long-delayed launch of Flash, the animation tool that powered countless games and a variety of website cheats for two decades, but will no longer be supported by most web browsers or its manufacturer, Adobe.

As it happens, both deaths are related, because one app used the other, but both were ubiquitous for different reasons. the Farm The story is about human nature and the dynamics of addiction, social media, and surveillance capitalism, while Flash is only about technology and the evolution of the web.

Farm It was an agricultural simulation game created by San Francisco developer Zynga. It was launched on Facebook in 2009 and for two years it was the most popular game on the site. At its peak in 2010, it had 34.5 million daily active users. Ponder that number for a moment as we contemplate what it takes to play the game.

It started with a virtual farm and a fixed amount of the virtual currency, Farm Coins, that you could add by harvesting crops or visiting your neighbors. His virtual farming career involved plowing the land, planting seeds, and harvesting. If you weren’t diligent, your crops would wither and die after a set amount of time, depending on how long each one took to grow. In that terrible eventuality, redemption was available by purchasing Farm Cash (using your own real money) to get a “discontent” to revive the crops or to pay for a biplane to spray “instant growth” on them. (I’m not making it up).

The intriguing thing is that at one time more than 34 million sentient beings were doing these things every day. “We think of it as this new dimension to their social media, not just a way to get games to people,” Mark Pincus, the original CEO of Zynga, said to New York Times. “I thought, ‘People are just hanging out on these social networks like Facebook and I want to give them something to do together.’

If you are a psychologist (or you are in marketing), the characteristics of this virtual agriculture are immediately obvious. The idea is to lead people into cycles that are difficult to escape. If you didn’t check your farm every day, your crops would wither and die. If you need help, you can buy easy solutions with Farm Cash or ask your friends for help. And since all of this meant “user engagement,” the holy grail of surveillance capitalism, you can see why Facebook loved Farm.

So did many other entrepreneurs, who saw the ingenuity of the Zynga developers in exploiting human predilections and borrowed their ideas. It also attracted the attention of insightful and astute observers such as Georgia Tech professor Ian Bogost, who saw that behavior Farm encouraged he made it “a safety car for the internet economy of the 2010s”. Bogost, a distinguished game developer and academic, created a delightful satirical game, Cow clicker, to make your point. The objective of the game was to gain “clicks” by clicking on a cow object every six hours. Adding friend cows to the player’s pasture allowed the user to also receive “clicks” each time their cow was clicked. A premium currency known as “Mooney” allowed the user to purchase different designs of cows and skip the six hour interval between clicks.

But all good (and bad) things come to an end. Farm It was based on Flash and since Flash was up to the task, his time had come. Regardless, the app had done its job: making Zynga and Facebook earn tons of money. Pincus, now president of Zynga, published a nice twitter thread to mark your step.

Flash’s fate was sealed by Steve Jobs many years ago (in 2010 to be precise) when he announced that Apple would no longer approve its use on iOS devices due to security vulnerabilities in the software. So he has effectively been on death row for a decade.

It started in 2000 as a nifty trick to overcome some of HTML’s shortcomings and for a long time provided a convenient way to create animated web pages and play video content. When YouTube was founded in 2005, for example, it used Flash Player as a way to display compressed video content on the web. But the arrival of HTML5 in 2014 confirmed Jobs’s death sentence. And now all that’s left are your obituaries.

However, in a way, even though Flash turned out to be a dead end, Farm it can be seen as a harbinger of what was to come. In its heyday, it was looked down upon by the games industry as it focused on expensive specialty game consoles and DVD franchises. Sierra Pincus Farm as a relaxing activity that would appeal to a general audience, especially adults and women who would never have spent a lot of money on a PlayStation or Xbox 360 and yet could still enjoy playing a game. Now that most games seem to move online, it could be said that he saw the future before the industry.

What i’ve been reading

Value added
Economics with a moral compass is a excellent transcription from a conversation between two Nobel laureates (Amartya Sen and Angus Deaton) on the moral dimensions of economic theory. It is very long, but it is worth it.

Takeover bid
Monopoly Versus Democracy: How Ending a Golden Age is a sobering essay in External relationships by Zephyr Teachout on previous progressive movement lessons.

Influential thinking
The teacher and the prodigy. By Bill Janeway review essay on biographies of John Maynard Keynes and Frank Ramsey.

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