Facebook Games, The Grapes of Wrath, And a World of We

Oh – The Grapes of Wrath are spreading across Facebook Games like Kudzu

Social Games

Wildly embraced initially, Facebook games have become a huge disappointment to players. Hundreds of millions of farms have been abandoned, crops have withered, propeller capped sheep are on the verge of extinction, and farmers aren’t talking to their friends. The good news is that the flood of game-related wall spam has passed. But it didn’t just happen to Farmville. It happened across the board; Facebook games are failing to retain and entertain a restless market of 500+ Million Facebook gamers.

Game industry experts like Playdom Creative Director David Rohrl somehow got it wrong about what casual game play should be in a social game. As Rohrl himself noted, the social gaming space is not straightforward. One of the obvious fails was that social game companies fell into trap of thinking that graphics can substitute for game play. If only that were true, the economics would be unreal! On the other hand, players wanted more cuteness. They demanded it in the forums. Clicks confirmed it.

Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, however, cautioned against falling into the rut of crowd sourcing. “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse,’” observed the American industrialist. According to Jay Elliot, Ford’s caution is often quoted by Steve Jobs, founder of Apple.

The Grapes of Wrath

What Zynga, Playdom and others didn’t get wrong was getting Facebookers to play social games.

Last December, Zynga was deliriously happy when they rolled out Cityville. According to Christina Warren of Mashable, Cityville registered 116,000 players on its first day of launch. But no industry journalists mentioned that Zynga had thrown out all common sense when it launched Cityville. They had so cheapened the game play in favor of instant gratification that they created a game that only had a month of good game play. At the most.

But the wild rush on Cityville is not just about opening the gates to instant gratification – it’s also about the failure of other games by Playdom, Zynga, and others to retain their players. In fact, Facebookers were waiting for the next game. Just like they are waiting for new games now. Ironically, the mad rush to Cityville even disrupted Zynga games such as Farmville as players left in flocks – abandoning social relationships that had developed over months. In some cases, a year.

The “wanna-be social game” bubble has popped. The great dust bowl is blowing in its wake. For the most part, VC and other investments/buys in social game companies and start ups made last year and Q1 this year represent nothing more than an empire of dirt. Because the focus was on false fundamentals. At best, those fundamentals were only good at capturing market share.

Why Facebook and Twitter need Social Games

On the other hand, massive social networks need social games to engage their community and, more importantly, frequency of usage. According to Facebook, 50 percent of Facebook log-ins are specifically to play games. Facebookers spend 927 million hours per month in Facebook games. Without social games, Facebook’s value would fall fast and hard.

Twitter, itself, is in a dilemma. How are they going to get a 100 billion dollar valuation? Jack Dorsey needs to grow its community and intensity of usage fast. Integrating social games into the twitterverse is the obvious answer. But the first generation of social games would only be a quick fix.

The moment is right for second generation social games. But can Zynga and Playdom reinvent their broken formulas?

A World of We

The things that you can do to make players feel like they’re playing with their friends (even when they’re not) are useless things, David. And, somehow, I believe you believe the same. It’s time to unleash the social potential of social games.

This is the beginning—from “I” to “we” – just as Steinbeck wrote in The Grapes of Wrath.

And the “we” is going to win this time.

Want to get in on the action? Let’s talk.

I’m looking forward to your comment. And please like this post – if you liked it.

Chime in anytime, Christina, Dave and Jack.

Stan Faryna
30 March 2011
Bucharest, Romania

If you’d like to connect with me, follow @Faryna and tweet me up on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/faryna


About Stan Faryna

Mr. Faryna is the founder and co-founder of several technology, design and communication companies in the United States and Europe including Faryna & Associates, Inc., Halo Interactive, and others.

Stan Faryna served as a Global Voices author and translator. Global Voices is a non-profit global citizens’ media project founded at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, a research think-tank focused on the Internet’s impact on society.

His political, scholarly, social and technical opinions have appeared in The Chicago DefenderJurnalul NationalThe Washington TimesSagarSaptamana FinanciaraSocial Justice Review, and other publications.

Mr. Faryna also served as editor-in-chief of Black and Right (Praeger Press, 1996), a landmark collection of socio-political essays by important American thinkers including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.


Copyright 1996 to 2012 by Stan Faryna.

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2 Responses to Facebook Games, The Grapes of Wrath, And a World of We

  1. adrianklein says:

    “The things that you can do to make players feel like they’re playing with their friends (even when they’re not) are useless things, David.”


  2. bonnie says:

    Hi Stan

    I still play farmville though I’m not sure why because I still think it is a stupid game. I also play bejewedled blitz by pop cap which just sold for 7 million + dollars.

    FV is not as social as it use to be. I remember when you would get a request for some thing and there be a note with it. People don’t do that any more. If someone likes some thing, they just hit the like button which sucks because there is no more human interaction in the games.

    You now get a mail box to put on your farmville to send 1 gift a day to your cityville account and the other way around. They added new things but the gaming doesn’t get any better. It gets worse.

    What ever your planning, I’m in. I’m ready for some thing new.

    Hoping you have a great day

    PS I gave up on all the other games. I know the CV fan page is still going, but I haven’t checked in in a long time.

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