There was a time when Facebook was reserved for students. Then Facebook grew, offered new features, and became overran with applications. By this point in time it seemed like Facebook users didn’t want to be students; they wanted to be farmers.
In 2009, Farmville became a surprise internet sensation. Released on Facebook, the game had over 30 million active users by the end of the year. Anyone who got caught in the craze remember their weeks of planting crops, watering them, and watching them grow. They’re more likely to remember the years of notifications, advertisements, and requests that bloated Facebook after the game accumulated more users.
At the very end of 2020, Adobe pulled the plug on Flash. After Dec. 31, 2020, Facebook no longer supports games requiring Flash. While it’s likely that you haven’t touched your Farmville farm in about a decade, there’s no denying the impact of the game. Its structure would be imitated by other applications and games years after its success. There were moments when Farmville brought joy into our lives. Now that the game is gone, its legacy will likely be defined by the ways it ruined Facebook and laid the blueprint for freemium gaming.
Why Was Farmville Popular?
Farmville gave users a simple plot of land and allowed them to grow virtual crops. They would grow in “real time,” meaning you might need to wait a few days before they could be harvested. This enticed users to return to the game time and time again.
As users completed tasks and advanced, they’d unlock coins and level up. Higher ranking users were given access to new crops and animals, larger plots of land, more style and design elements, and a more vibrant world. Users who kept returning to the game would make progress and have more gameplay options.
The game also encouraged social interactions and incentivized users with in-game currency if they completed tasks. Farmville players could visit their friends’ farms to harvest crops and leave gifts. They could also earn money if they viewed advertisements or invited new friends to play. As annoying as this was, it allowed the game to spread like wildfire. Facebook Walls would be filled with Farmville accomplishments, and notification from the game would plague inboxes.
If this wasn’t enough, users could spend real money for additional in-app currency. With this, they could buy exclusive items and advance faster than players who refused to spend real money. This made the game addictive and expensive for the most dedicated players.
The Impact of Farmville
The Farmville model seems commonplace in 2020. There are dozens of other games allowing users to pay money and connect with friends to adance. In 2009, this was less common. Farmville took a sandbox-style game and threw it into a social atmospehere. As mobile and “freemium” games became more popular, they seem to use a template established by Farmville.
There was a time when Apple didn’t allow free apps to host in-app purchases. Many of the most popular mobile games of the era would offer a paid version and a “lite” version. The App Store would often offer two variations of mobile games, like Angry Birds for example. The full version allowed access to all levels, while the lite version would be a free sample with a handful of levels. If users wanted the full game they’d have to delete the lite app and install the full version.
Apple’s announced their change to developers on Oct. 15, 2009. This was nearly three months after the release of Farmville, which debuted on Facebook in Jun. 19, 2009. Within one month, Farmville had over 10 million active daily users. In hindsight, it seems obvious the success of Farmville influenced Apple’s gaming model. There was money to be made with the freemium model, and Farmville ignited a phenomenon by getting users to harvest crops.
Zynga (Farmville’s developer) would have a string of successes with Facebook and mobile games. Farmville might have been their breakthrough, but their brand would become associated with other addictive and spammy games. Among their successes are games like Cityville, Words With Friends, and Zynga Poker.
Farmville was one of the first games to rely on social networking as a way to advance and share successes. Facebook friends could then become friends on Farmville and visit each others’ farms. They’d send gifts and could “poke” their friends to get their attention.
At the beginning of the 2010’s, Facebook users were complaining about the number of application notifications appearing on the service. It became an issue for many users, but there were also conveniences associated with the game. Users logged in with Facebook, a feature that has been integrated onto many sites and applications over the past decade.
The Legacy of Farmville
Like most fads, the allure of Farmville faded. While its demise is ultimately a result of the lack of Flash support, Zynga has been losing users for years. The company does not categorize its users by app, but the company saw sharp declines after Farmville’s rise to popularity.
When people remember Farmville, it’s probably with a laugh or an eye roll. Most people enjoyed it for about a week but had to endure the lingering effects of its presence for years. It forced us to learn Facebook’s notification settings and taught us to uninstall the apps we weren’t using. The frustrations lasted much longer than the fun, but the craze does have its place in gaming history.
We can thank Farmville for being a trailblazer in the “freemium” world. On its surface, this may sound unappealing until you consider the alternatives. Without ad-based games and in-game currencies, there would be no free apps. We’d either have to pay (which is still an option) or settle for the lite version.
Farmville also allowed us to share our games with our friends via social media. It certainly wasn’t the first game to go online, but it was one of the first to force users to have a social media presence. We now have game consoles with dedicated social media features built into them, and almost any game can validate your identity using Facebook. For such a mundane game to get popular on Facebook proved the platform’s ability to work within the gaming world.
Most of us are way past Farmville. In fact, many of us are past Facebook. However, Farmville is not truly dead. Farmville 3 is available on Android and iOS in case you need more farming in your life. If you want to leave Farmville in your past, you’ll be happy to know it’s no longer supported by Facebook and can’t creep back onto your timeline.
Now we’re left the memories of our virtual farms and the trends it spiked online. Farmville was really a catalyst for other mobile and social media games to become relevant. It designed a freemium system that was addictive, frustrating, but kept gaming free. You can’t be too mad at Farmville for its contribution to gaming. After all, millions of people spent their quarantine growing virtual crops and sending gifts to their friends… in Animal Crossing: New Horizions. Perhaps people will never want to stop growing virtual crops, and Farmville was just one of many virtual farming desitinations.