The fastest growing social game in history is FarmVille, according to social games developer Zynga – who also make more tween-teen social world, YoVille and Pirates. The are micro-worlds embedded inside a social network, and not simply a game, but a complex systems requiring high levels of problem solving, persistence and digital literacy all designed to work inside a larger organisation. It has rules, conventions and relies on beviour modeling from ‘other players’. To put this into perspective – Zynaga is TWICE as big as Twitter. Its also profitable. But educators are not flogging Zynaga as a social construct tool in the same way. Hmmm.
FarmVille is a knock off of FarmTown (the other farming game on Facebook), pointing to the fact that singularity is not critical to users. If your friends play FarmVille, you play FarmVille. With FarmVille, you play, invest and express yourself by growing and harvesting a variety of crops for money and game points. It trains the player to think about ‘micro-payments’ – which the games industry sees as a significant future method of obtaining revenue. You can invest in your farm by buying fruit trees and farm animals such as pigs and cows. They are claiming that this is or about to be the biggest game in the world. To me it represents a social-micro game, and it’s appeal is that non-gamers can play together in using a competitive theme that really is a throw back to childhood games for many of the 11 million daily players on Facebook. It breaks the rule of first mover advantage and to me represents what we know about the internet; if you can see it, you can rethink it. As many of todays early 20s spent time at school and home (yes!) playing Mini-CLip and Addicting Games – all micro, casual games – FarmVille is a very familiar presentation mashed with social themes. It is also the number one application on Facebook.
People have talked about the effect celebrates have had on Twitter to increase adoption, but in Facebook – FarmVille has mashed social-networking with social-gaming. Youth online already spends more time in social-gaming that anything else, so this represents a cross over to virtual worlds. FarmVille is significant because of Facebook’s demographic and usage patterns and the format may perhaps encourage teachers to change their often prejudicial view of games, and therefore adopting some of the learning and teaching strategies that are embedded in them. Personally, I don’t play FarmVille or FarmTown, so please don’t invite me, I did enough farming in AOE2 for one lifetime. So why blog about it? – because its a clear signal that educators should be exploring beyond blogs and wikis in the classroom – and considering how the methods and processes in social-games can be adapted into learning frameworks. I am not saying play FarmVille in class, but at least consider how social-games might play a role in motivating and engaging students. This means in simple terms; virtual worlds are Facebook’s most significant application draw.