Farmville and the new Virtual Economy

The computer gaming industry is of course massive and simulation games have been popular for a long time. Traditionally though, game makers made their money by selling games and upgrades for games. The SIMS being one of the best examples. I must admit to having enjoyed some of their games in the past, especially the classic Sim City.

Zynga has taken this to a whole new level of success with Farmville, a sim game which has become incredibly popular on Facebook. People pay real money to buy virtual tractors and other items in the game. This has now gone to such an extreme that Tesco is now about to start to sell real money vouchers in their stores.

In About Us on Zynga, they emphasize that their games are free, which is totally true, but there are elements in many of their games where you pay money to buy virtual things, or for example in the poker game, to buy back in to the weekly tournament if you lose your chips.

This adds an amazing dimension to this free game business. According to industry experts, as reported on, Zynga could be worth as much as US$5 Billion, which they predict could double in the next 5 years. Seems the concept of free and internet based games may have some commercial merit:)


2 thoughts on “Farmville and the new Virtual Economy

  1. Playstation Home on the PS3 has been operating (I believe) longer than Farmville with a similar system, where you can browse content for the PS3 in a virtual world, and buy virtual enhancements for your avatar such as clothes or furniture, or make semi-real world purchases, music and games, for your system.

    Playstation Home or it’s other similar online brothers were ruthlessly satirized (?) in the (dreadful) film ‘Gamer’ as ‘Society’. But I digress.

    What Farmville have most successfully done is play on people’s need to collect sets. Where the majority of content is as you mention free, most often a set cannot be completed without resorting to purchasing credits.

    This is also becoming the more popular method of selling on the Apple App Store. Base applications are free, yet to unlock useful functionality one must purchase ‘In-App’. Whereas previously an application was on average $1.29, you may get it for free or low cost, and then buy plug ins. Hipstamatic are the experts, buy the camera then the lense packs for the same price you paid for the camera!

    It’s this form of marketing which we can learn from (or learn to resist).

    ..And yes, I am a reformed Farmville player!

  2. The largest game is still Blizzard’s MMORPG, World of Warcraft. it has an online subscriber base of over 12 million accounts and is now 5 years old.
    I believe that the model they employ (disc purchase plus monthly subs) has more longevity. The monthly sub model provides the cashflow to maintain the considerable global infrastructure and fund the content expansion necessary to maintain user-interest. After 5 years, I think the game has plateaued. However, the in-game economy and the way it interacts with RL economy is pretty interesting. The biggest problem the game has had to deal with is the influence of “Chinese Gold Farmers” (not always Chinese).

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