Is There Anything Zynga Can Do to Reverse FarmVille’s Downturn?

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.

farmville-appdata

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.

Enter to Win! Zynga + 7-Eleven + Contest = Free Stuff for FarmVille, Mafia Wars & YoVille

Now that you can snag special-edition virtual items for FarmVilleMafia Wars and YoVille by stocking up  on snacks at 7-Eleven – Who doesn’t want to win a free 7-Eleven gift card? (Rhetorical question.)

To celebrate the new Zynga cross-promotion at BuyEarnPlay.com, 7-Eleven (the Integer Group, a FreshWorks agency) has kindly provided Frisky Mongoose with a sizely stack of $10 gift cards to give away to you, our readers!

So how can YOU claim one? Easy! All you have to do is head over to our brand-spanking new forums and leave a comment HERE to enter to win.

Tell us about your favorite special 7-Eleven snack item – is it one that comes with a virtual game prize? (like FarmVille ice cream that comes with a free Neapolitan Cow code, Mafia Wars Brownie Bites that come with a Pepper Shaker weapon code, or a YoVille brownie that comes with a coffee machine code for your virtual home.)

Or can you think of other good cross-promotional items beyond the 20 virtual gifts currently on offer? Perhaps you’d like to see a bag of Jelly Beans that comes with a free Beanstalk code, or gummy worms that come with a free Frisky Mongoose…

Whatever the case, all commenters will be entered in a random drawing and 10 will win a free $10 gift card. You have 1 week to enter, so don’t delay. Contest winners will be announced next Monday and we’ll send gift cards by mail to 10 lucky readers.

Zynga Announces Game Integration Deal with Yahoo!

If you thought that after signing a five year deal with Facebook, Zynga would stop looking for outside support for their games, think again. Yesterday, the mega-developer of social and casual games like FarmVille, Mafia Wars and Cafe World announced a new deal with Yahoo! that will see the developer’s games integrated into Yahoo!’s global network of properties, including Yahoo! Messenger, Yahoo! Mail, and Yahoo! Games, just for starters.

While no particulars of the deal were announced, such as when Zynga games will actually be making an appearance, or who is paying who (and in what quantities) to strike the deal, our friends at Gamezebo have more details about what we can expect, straight from the press release itself:

  • Ability for people to play Zynga games and access their personal Zynga game updates across Yahoo!’s properties including the Homepage, Yahoo! Games, Yahoo! Mail, Yahoo! Messenger and others.
  • Sharing of updates across multiple social experiences simultaneously while playing their favorite Zynga games on Yahoo!
  • Product integration of Zynga games with the Yahoo! Application Platform (YAP), Yahoo!’s OpenSocial container through which third-party developers can develop applications on Yahoo!

To put it bluntly, this deal will mean that Yahoo!’s audience of 600 million people will, in the future, be able to play ports of their favorite Zynga games via Yahoo!, and stay up-to-date on what’s happening in those games regardless of whether they’re using Yahoo! Games, Yahoo! Messenger or otherwise.

Mark Pincus, founder and CEO of Zynga, has this to say about the partnership:

“With over 35 million unique users playing our games every single day, social games are fast becoming a leading source of entertainment worldwide surpassing most television shows. Our partnership with Yahoo! gives millions of new users the ability to connect with friends and families through games.”

Once we know more about which games will be added, and when, we’ll be sure to let you know.

Soapbox: Devouring the Social Game Buffet – Why We Play

Pondering the psychology behind social gaming usually starts with personal experience.

Does this sound familiar? I don’t even want to look at my to-do list some days, much less tackle it. So why is it that I look forward to a virtual to-do list of serving up dinners, harvesting crops and digging for treasures on Facebook each day?

Looking back on some of the things I said (and didn’t say) in “Why do we play social games?” I can’t seem to let it go… My degree is in psychology. I live, work and basically breathe social games, social media and the video game industry. Yet, for the life of me, I can’t explain it.

Most of the Facebook games I play are straight-up simulators of real world activities that I have no interest whatsoever in doing. What is so enticing about the Facebook gaming platform that makes me want to perform mindless point-to-click tasks several times a day, just to maintain my virtual game world full of cafes, farms, islands, pets, gangs and big cities? I assure you there are dozens of other things I could do with all those minutes of my life.

If you think this is a cheap stab at social game developers, think again – in fact, Facebook game developers are obviously privy to knowledge the rest of us aren’t, because for such unexplainable phenomena, social gaming business models and loyalty rates are through the roof. They’re smart, savvy and quick-to-action. Every industry should be so lucky.  I’m just searching for answers behind the psychology of social gaming, and it only makes sense to share.

I’ve conjured up some philosophical theories about social gamers. Some have been tossed around before, some have psychological backing, and some simply come from personal experience. In the end, it’s probably a combination of all of these and more:

Reality check – We play social games because we can do things we’d never do in real life. We can barely scratch the surface of our real life to-do list – seems like there are never enough hours in the day. But in a few short minutes, we can virtually harvest acres worth of crops, redecorate a 9-bedroom home, build an elaborate city park, and cook up 10 new delicious dishes to serve to hungry customers. We are in charge, and we have the ability to complete big tasks and achieve big goals, with little effort invested.

* Gold star syndrome – We earn points and level up for almost every action we take in a social game. Our friends pitch in and help us earn special prizes and rewards to redeem in-game and showcase to our worldwide web of Facebook friends. When does that happen in real life? We don’t typically earn money for doing chores in the real world. There are no levels and no scoreboards to top. Social games feed into childhood ideas of reward and motivation – aka, gold star syndrome.

* Bragging rights – “If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s around to hear it…” When we earn a new high score that breaks personal and network-wide records, we want someone else to acknowledge how hard it was to score that many points in a 1-minute round of match-3. Or once we’ve built the best farm or city on Facebook, we want to share it with our friends and show them how creative, funny or crazy we can be. It’s not nearly as much fun to score 400k+ in Bejeweled Blitz if we can’t brag to our friends about it (and have a shared scoreboard to keep us honest).

* Calgon, take me away – It’s an escape. Social games give us a quick getaway from real life. The formula has been proven millions of times over by companies like Zynga and Playfish: Give us something fun and interesting to look at and strive for, spruced up with some inconspicuously catchy tune that repeats on loop. Constantly give us new items to decorate our virtual spaces in ways we couldn’t afford or physically do in real life. Get our minds off of our worries, and let us rule our own world for a few minutes. That’s all it takes to reel in happily hooked players. Playing social games can even help us refocus and think more creatively.

It seems the only gameplay elements (motivators, if you will) missing from social games are challenge and chance. Are players hungry for more? Let that soak in and then check back tomorrow for my regularly scheduled Sunday Soapbox, where I’ll try to take social gaming to new heights via opinion.

Meanwhile, what do you think? Have I left out something obvious that drives us to play social games (and spend real money in them), or have I gone off the deep-end entirely with the list above? Why do you think we play social games?

Opinion: Where’s My Meta Social Game?

Like many of you, I spend a few minutes each day playing a variety of Facebook games (okay maybe more than a few, but who’s counting?), including a handful of each from Zynga, Playfish and Playdom. But after all my crops are harvested, pets are fed, cities are cleaned and cafe food cooked, I’m left feeling a bit… empty-handed.

After watching an amazing presentation by Jesse Schell from DICE today (which I highly recommend to everyone, despite your industry or interest), I started wondering – where is my meta social game? Why don’t my experience points (XP) from FarmVille and PetVille come together in some larger Zynga game? To that end, what about my Playfish Coins in Bowling Buddies, Restaurant City and Gangster City? Why can’t the points I earn for taking out mafia members translate into a way to buy new cute boots for my pet? Someone please explain!

Curiously, Zynga just started their catch-all Facebook fan page earlier this month. Surely the social gaming giant has considered letting players combine points across all their top titles into some special promotion, at the very least – right?

Games are everywhere – taking over everything from commutes and classrooms to consumer electronics and theme park rides. Maybe the success of the Facebook platform has come as a surprise, but it’s obvious to everyone at this point. Likewise, it (should be) obvious that social gamers are some of the most addicted players on the planet. It’s one thing to get them in your game, and another thing to get them in multiple games, but why not play them all?

Of course, Zynga’s cross promotions between FarmVille, Mafia Wars, PetVille, Cafe World, FishVille, YoVille (and more to come I’m sure) are a good start, but what if I don’t *want* to play Mafia Wars to get a Hot Rod Tractor that plows 9 FarmVille plots at once? Shouldn’t there be another way to reward loyal players without forcing another game on them entirely? Something more gentle… more overarching… more “meta” if you will.

I’d love a place to login after all my social gaming duties are done, and compare myself against other Facebook gamers in a broader sense. Isn’t that what social games are all about in the first place? Maybe I’m ranting, maybe I’m just a dreamer, but a meta game makes perfect sense to me.

What do you think? Would you want to earn coins for playing multiple Facebook titles from Zynga or Playfish, or do you think it’d give some players an unfair advantage? Does social gaming already take up too much time, or do you crave another level to top?

FarmVille Dog Clues and New PetVille Challenges: Sherlock Pet & Animal Rescuer

New PetVille challenge alert! Perfect for all you FarmVille fans out there, Zynga has added a crafty new cross-promotional challenge called “Sherlock Pet”.

Sherlock Pet – Find the 3 FarmVille Pet clues scattered in your and your neighbors’ rooms to unlock a special PetVille farm-themed gift! Click on the clue laying on the floor of your room. Then visit your neighbors to search for another clue. Come back home and find the last clue. Click to collect all 3 and meet this challenge!

Spoiler Alert: The first clue hints at the much-discussed, upcoming addition of pets (dogs) to Zynga’s Facebook farming game, FarmVille. Apparently, FarmVille players will soon be able to own Border Collies.

The second clue says FarmVille players will get Golden Retrievers!

And last, but certainly not least, the third and final clue says FarmVille players will ALSO get English Sheepdogs.

Once you find the third clue, you’ve completed the Sherlock Pet challenge. Wasn’t that fun? Here’s your adorable mini prize:

Speaking of animals, there’s another new PetVille challenge (if you haven’t already completed it), called “Animal Rescuer”.

Animal Rescuer! – An animal has been delivered to you. Free it! Click to find out how to open the special delivery package that was delivered to your home! Click on the moving package that has been delivered to your pet (via PetEx). Click “Email me the combination”. In a few minutes, you will receive an email containing your combination. It may take up to 2 hours to receive your email. Click on the link in your email to open the cage and complete the challenge.

Here’s what Zynga said about the new challenges on the PetVille forum:

There are two new challenges available now!

To earn the “Animal Rescuer” challenge, you will need to free the bird that is trapped inside of the cage in your room! If you have already freed the bird, the first time you log on to PetVille you will automatically complete this challenge!

The second challenge is “Sherlock Pet.” Look for clues as you play PetVille which will give you a first look at an upcoming feature in FarmVille, dogs! When you find all three clues, you’ll get a special little prize to decorate your home, a mini puppy!

Well, there you have it PetVille players and FarmVille pet speculators – that’s what we know so far. Has your pet uncovered any more details about the soon-to-be FarmVille animal arrivals? Let us know!