Archive for November, 2010

Goodbye to My Farmville Hobby

November 16, 2010 1 comment

On weekend mornings, I’m up early–before everyone else. The kitchen is quiet, and I enjoy working peacefully–making a pot of tea, emptying the dishwasher, folding laundry, and then plotting an elaborate brunch. Things slowly get more orderly, and eventually everything is in its place. It’s relaxing and satisfying work at a leisurely pace.

When I started playing Farmville, something was added to my routine: before I went into the kitchen, I’d tend to my farm. Mornings are fun on Farmville. Crops are often ready to harvest. And it’s time to see what bushels you can get from your friends’ market stalls. Do I have enough roses to make rose petal water? Yes! But I’m still short of cucumbers for cucumber wine. I should plant some.

Working on my farm only took ten minutes. But I discovered something odd: after that, I looked at the kitchen with dismay. Ugh, I need to unload the dishwasher. There’s clean laundry in the dryer to fold. I don’t think I feel like baking muffins. After my Farmville work, my real work somehow seemed less relaxing and fun. My Farmville work was so perfect–bountiful grape fields, mastered with one click of my level four combine.

The more I reflect on it, the more I believe what I wrote in my post Farmville as Hobby. It really is a hobby. A more satisfying, voluntary version of work. Simple efforts are rewarded, and something new to strive for is added every few weeks. And all those things are attainable, with just enough delayed gratification to make the accomplishments feel significant.

On Saturday, I declared my farm closed. I have my level five winery and have expanded to Mighty Plantation. I have nothing else I want. Part of the impetus to declare “enough is enough” came from the impending apocalypse of Farmville Christmas cheer. To keep players engaged, Zynga has designed more and more elaborate ways to earn festive decorations for each holiday. For halloween, we all got candy buckets and you could build your own haunted house. Haunted houses give you candy for your bucket, and if you collect enough you can trade it in for halloween decorations. You can also get candy by visiting your friends’ houses. It was all quite elaborate, and by the time the real holiday arrived I was already tired of halloween everything. So when I saw Farmville had given me a fruit cake with a teaser message about things to come, all I could think is “bah, humbug!”

Playing Farmville doesn’t take much time. After ten minutes, there’s nothing much to do. If you don’t do something insane like grow raspberries (time to mature: 2 hours) you don’t have to check in that often.  Except ten minutes here and ten minutes there starts to add up after a while. And the ten minutes can happen at inconvenient times in your real life routine, which can be disruptive.

I have no patience with anti-Farmville snobbery. Because snobbery is what it is, filled with unexamined class and gender biases. This is a fun game. Or hobby. It’s got a number of really insightful design features, and I’ve learned a tremendous amount by playing it seriously for a few months. There are reasons why it’s wildly popular, and those reasons are worth understanding. But it is indeed time for me to move on–before the elves and reindeer take over.

I am happy to have my small clusters of minutes back. And over the weekend, I’m planning to make apple spice muffins.

Categories: games, social computing

RIP Small Etailer

November 11, 2010 2 comments

In July, an employee at a small etailer where I like to shop was kind enough to answer a few questions for me by email about how the etailing business is going, and how big stores like Amazon are affecting them. I wrote this up as a post Hard Times for Small Etailers. The etailer is a specialty toy store that enhanced their bricks-and-mortar business by having a nice website.  Sadly enough, I got mail earlier this week that they are closing.

Categories: business

Product Placement in Games Done Well

November 4, 2010 2 comments

I’ve heard for a long time that product placement in games was coming. I know there have been a few Coke machines in shooter games here and there, but I haven’t seen a lot of it. The latest is product placement in social games. This seems to me like a great business idea, because the placement doesn’t have to be negotiated before game launch. You can launch your game, and then roll out a product placement as a special event.  Which is what Zynga has been doing with Farmville lately–to great effect.

There have been three events over the last few months. The first was somewhat mixed: McDonalds was added as everyone’s friends for one day. If you visited the McDonalds farm, you got a free decorative McDonalds blimp and a McCafe.  Drinking the McCafe makes you move really fast for one session. Sorta cute, but no big deal.  The second placement was much more fun–crop insurance from Farmer’s Insurance. Everyone was given a Farmer’s Insurance blimp, and if you flew it over your farm your crops wouldn’t wilt, for a period of a couple weeks til the promotion ended.  Crops wilting is a big hassle in Farmville, so this was a substantial benefit.  Finally, today was Megamind day. To coincide with the launch of the new movie, Megamind was added as everyone’s friend for the day. If you visited Megamind’s farm, you got a Megamind decorative blimp and also a spray bottle of “mega grow.”  The mega grow makes all your plantings ready to harvest instantly.  If I’d known how cool it was, I would’ve saved it and plotted to do something more substantial with it like instant watermellon (which take 4 days normally). I was just expecting it to be a fertilizer–finding out what it really did was a fun surprise.  Can I have more mega-grow?  Please?  If I go to the movie maybe?  The Farmer’s and Megamind placements were more successful in my view because the game bonuses were actually substantial enough to matter.  I have a warm fuzzy feeling about the brands and the advertising events because they enhanced my game play. And participation was voluntary–you could ignore them and they’d go away.

This is the first product placement in a game that has worked for me. Many people are spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to copy Zynga. Here’s an example of another success to ponder.

Categories: business, games
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