While things may outwardly appear to be full of happiness and light in the world of Zynga’s FarmVille – the game celebrates its (official) first birthday this month, and is, by far, the largest Facebook game on the site, sitting at around 62 million users – when you compare these figures to those found last March, which saw the game peaking at over 83 million players (32 million of which played everyday), that happiness and light turns bleak with sadness. But what is it, exactly, that has caused the game to lose over 21 million players in the span of around four months?
We’ve speculated about the cause of FarmVille’s player loss – the game is, for the lack of a better term, hemorrhaging players, losing 4.4 million players in April, and 7.7 million users in May, as two recent examples – but no one, solid conclusion can be drawn for why players are leaving.
The downturn officially began in March, when Facebook cut-off third party notifications, meaning that, from that point forward, Zynga had to scramble to amass an email distribution list of every player that had ever added the game in order to be able to stay in constant contact with them. Aside from simply annoying players, who may feel that giving out their email address is an attack on their privacy, this meant that Zynga’s amount of “spam” messages to players was immediately, and drastically cut. For the most casual FarmVille players, perhaps this lack of constant “Play our game!” reminders was enough for them to forget about the game.
Other arguments could be made as to why players are leaving – FarmVille grew exponentially through the winter months, and dropped when the weather turned, so could the simple fact that people are spending more time outdoors have anything to do with it? Perhaps it was the previous level cap of level 70 that turned long-time players away, as they felt they had nothing left to accomplish in the game. Financially speaking, could it be Zynga’s seemingly growing reliance on Farm Cash – more and more limited edition items are being released that can only be purchased through such means – that has made players turn tail and run, rather than be tempted into spending real money on virtual items?
Whatever the reason, according to the latest AppData figures, the trend doesn’t really seem to be slowing, as the last month (from June 13 to July 13) shows the game at a loss of 3.7 million players. Granted, this is a far cry from the 7.7 million lost in May, but each time the app gains in users – FarmVille gained 300,000 users from July 5 to July 6, as an example – it drops just as many, or even more, within a matter of days. To our previous example, by July 8, the app had lost 400,000 players, more than 100,000 more than those that joined just days before.
While we could spend hours speculating as to why players are leaving the game, perhaps the better question to ask is, “What can Zynga do to reverse the trend?” Surely the gaming developer has been thinking the same, but, outside of a promotion with 7-Eleven that put the game’s logo all over the convenience stores’ shelves (and offered free in-game items to those that purchased said branded products), it doesn’t really seem like they’re doing anything to stop it.
We don’t work for Zynga, but perhaps if they took a look at a few of our ideas – the ideas of folks who actively play the game – they may be able to stop the bleeding.
First, while it may be hard to prove scientifically, it’s common knowledge that people love free things. Offer users a free incentive, other than fuel (which can be found in numerous other ways, also for free), and perhaps they’ll take a few seconds to load the game to receive said free item. Make it a good freebie, like a free run of the FarmVille Biplane (which instantly makes crops ready to harvest), or even some free Farm Cash, and users will play the game long enough to perhaps fall in love with it all over again.
Speaking of Farm Cash, where other Zynga games (run by separate teams) like PetVille and Cafe World frequently offer sales or discounts on premium currency packages (“Buy Cafe World Cash and receive 20% more for free!”), FarmVille very rarely, if ever, discounts Farm Cash packages. Perhaps if users were able to receive a few more Farm Cash for their purchase, they would be more willing to pull out their real-world wallet to purchase Zynga’s virtual items.
If they chose not to go that route, one major thing Zynga could do would be to lower the cost of Farm Cash items in the first place. While they would end up spending the same amount of money in the long run, why would a player want to spend $10 on a single item, when they could spend $5 on two different items?
Additionally, the many, many features of the game that require a specific amount of neighbors, or to be a specific level need to be changed. A lower level player will find that the game can actually border on the boring side of things, as they haven’t leveled up to the point of being able to afford a Tractor, Seeder or Harvester, resulting in their clicking on each crop individually, which can take a substantial amount of time, especially on lower internet speeds. They can’t participate in Co-Op Farming, which means they won’t have a chance at that feature’s exclusive items. They can’t expand their farm without a specific amount of neighbors either, which means they can’t add enough crops to their farm to quicken their leveling up and thus get them closer to being able to participate in the aforementioned features (of which they are many more). It’s a vicious cycle, and it is perhaps the biggest argument a player could have about the game.
Another argument comes from the speed of leveling up, which is quite slow, compared to other Facebook games. While games like Social City and Restaurant City offer slow leveling cycles as well, they don’t have as many features locked to lower level players, so the impact is felt less. While, to Zynga’s credit, there has been a leveling tweak that was said to make leveling up an easier process in the game, unless a player has 24 hours of everyday to dedicate to the game, they will still find the process to be a slow one. Why spend the better part of a week trying to level up once in FarmVille, when you can level up three or four times in a competitor’s game in the same amount of time?
On a completely different note, the FarmVille for iPhone app has been incredibly successful amongst players who own iPhones and love the idea of being able to farm anywhere they go. But with its limited functionality, the novelty may very quickly wear off. Zynga needs to get people to play the game more, not less, as the less they play, the less desire they will have to play in the future, as they become distracted by other things. To that end, Zynga could (and probably should) add more exclusive, and even free, items to the iPhone app – items that can’t be found anywhere else, to give players (who, generally speaking, love to collect things by default) more incentive to keep playing, if only to make sure they have one of every new item available.
Speaking of which, while Zynga has already re-released some previously retired limited edition items as permanent additions to the game’s store, they would do well to release more of these items to the public. As the game grows, new players will visit their friends’ farms and will probably be quite jealous of the many limited edition (but now retired) items they see there. Once they find out that they can’t have them, they might be disappointed to the point of giving up on the game because “I’m being punished for not adding the game sooner.” Perhaps Zynga could create a “FarmVille LE Item Re-Release Extravaganza” in the game’s store, letting users spend coins on some of these items, like holiday items, and users will flock to the game in the hopes of completing collections they once thought were lost to them.
Just as we could discuss the reasons for FarmVille’s downturn for hours without end, so too could we develop ways that Zynga could reverse the trend. Will we see the developer take any of these actions in the future? Only time will tell, but for now, make sure to join in on the discussion in the comments below or in our forums. Whether you’re a long-time FarmVille player, a completely new player, or even if you’re one who used to play but has now given up – we want to hear from you. What do you think Zynga can do to stop the loss of players in the game? Or, better yet, if you quit the game, why did you do so, and is there anything Zynga can do to win you back.