Three months ago I decided to start a farm. No, not a real farm. A virtual farm on FarmVille.
Yes, I would be harvesting pixels, buying digital geese and saving my virtual currency for essentials like barns, silos and tool sheds. I only had two rules. To not spend any actual money and to tell as few people about it as possible.
Its popularity at the time was puzzling, but seemed to go beyond a fad. Since social technology plays such a big role in our business, I had to suck it up and sample the soil for myself.
Three months later, I’m a level 28 farmer (impressive, I know) with a respectable 16x16 plot home to white grapes, peppers, sunflowers and a gray tabby. I have to admit, I’ve had a little fun along the way too.
But beyond my digital riches, I’m convinced FarmVille and social gaming matters more than most people think.
Let’s look at Farmville’s numbers:
- More than 82 million active users per month (as of Feb. 28)
- 10 million new users joined since December
- Average user sessions of more than 30 minutes
- Zynga’s valuation speculated at more than $3 billion dollars
Call the game silly or a waste of time, but these numbers are staggering.
The Information Solutions Group reported nearly a quarter of US and UK consumers play social games. This is far from a niche audience. Folks are also spending real money on virtual goods. It is estimated 3-5% of users will pay money to advance in the game, creating real revenue streams for a whole host of companies.
Zynga has tapped into this passion to grow its company with new game titles as well as raise money for other causes. In five days, hundreds of thousands of players raised $1.5 million for Haiti by purchasing virtual goods.
So what does this all mean?
It says more about the Facebook platform than it does about a single successful gaming company. With 400 million users and growing, Facebook is becoming a force. And Facebook Connect now makes it possible to layer Facebook’s social graph over all kinds of digital experiences. This is ultimately driving FarmVille’s success more than the game play itself.
Organizations looking to build engaging online experiences can take a page out of Zynga’s playbook.
- Creating fun and engaging experiences that keep users coming back frequently
- Layering Facebook social networks to make the experiences more relevant
- Tapping into a larger causes (i.e. Haiti)
- Driving engagement through rapidly advancing levels of status
- Providing real incentives to share information with friends
We have yet to see a real secondary market evolve for these virtual goods. There is a tremendous opportunity for organizations to partner with or develop similar social experiences.
Keep a close eye on the Facebook Credits, which aims to be a common virtual currency used across the entire platform. The recent partnership with PayPal opens up some interesting new possibilities.
FarmVille may come and go, but social gaming is here to stay and organizations can learn a lot from it for their own marketing.
So, yes, I have a virtual farm. Make fun of me if you must. Just fertilize my crops when you’re done.