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The Economics of FarmVille

Here's an in-depth look at the wildly popular Facebook game.

farmville as its own economy

Is there any online game more addicting than Farmville? It’s a tough question to answer, but the numbers point to Farmville as being a massive time-drainer.

About 80 million users a month sign on to play Farmville. The game boasts a stunning total of 31 million daily active users. In all, 200 million users log onto Facebook every day. Of this total, 15 percent log on so that they can play Farmville.

It’s quite a success story for Zynga, the social-games maker that created Farmville, first launching the addicting game on Sept. 19 of 2009. In under a year’s time, Farmville has managed to become one of the most popular online games.

It’s also one of the few video games that appeals more to female gamers than male ones. According to the statistics, 60 percent of Farmville players are women, while 40 percent are men. These users play an average of 33 minutes a day. They also tend to be early birds; the most popular time for gamers to play Farmville is from 8 a.m. until 9 a.m.

The game is also quite the cash cow for Zynga. Some estimates give Farmville credit for having a revenue run-rate of about $600 million. Another source estimates that Farmville generates over $1 billion of revenue every day.

Farmville makes real dollars by convincing addicted players to purchase virtual tools and goods that make advancing in the game an easier task. It’s a rather ingenious system, actually; Players can earn farm coins and cash by selling their animals and crops. However, that’s no easy challenge. It requires gamers to complete several weeks worth of repetitive and often boring tasks.

The temptation, then, among players is to pay their own real money into the Farmville coffers to bypass these repetitive tasks. This makes the game easier. Of course, it also can put a serious dent in players’ wallets.

For instance, a 12-year-old boy in the United Kingdom recently ran up 905 pounds in debt by playing Farmville and buying virtual goods and tools. A total of 285 pounds of this debt came from his own savings. The remaining 625 pounds ended up on the credit card of his surprised and concerned mother.

In all, the boy ran up debt equal to about $1,400 in U.S. currency from just two weeks of playing Farmville.

The growing economic fortunes of Farmville and its creators are in stark contrast to the economic reality of real U.S. farmers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that average household income of U.S. farmers was expected to stand at $85,140 in 2009.

Don’t think, either, that only technology geeks become addicted to Farmville. Several A-list celebrities also admit to playing the game for up to as many as four hours a day. Pop superstar Lady Gaga, for instance, counts herself as a Farmville fan. So does celebrity chef Rachel Ray and musician Wyclef Jean.

Be warned, though, if you’re not a celebrity playing too much Farmville could cost you your job. A politician in Bulgaria recently learned this the hard way. He recently was removed from his position on a city council committee after he was discovered playing Farmville during meetings. He defended his playing by saying that his fellow committee members not only played the game during meetings, too, but they played more than he did. They had achieved higher levels than he had, the politician claimed.

Overall, 8 percent of companies report that they had dismissed employees because of their actions on social media sites.

So, yes, Farmville can be a fun and creative game. But be careful; letting it run your life could you leave out of work and in financial disarray.

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