As someone who spent many hours playing the original title in the Harvest Moon series for the Super Nintendo, I can vouch second-hand that the life of a farmer is a tough one. In addition to selling turnips at the local fair, petting your pixel-based cow and naming your chickens, you’d have to find a wife by proposing with a ‘Blue Feather’ and hold regular meetings with the local fairy goddess (yes, it’s a Japanese video game).
After a long day of farming – whether real or on your games console – surely, there’s nothing better than logging into Facebook and seeing what your friends and family have been getting up to? After all, that’s what ‘social’ networks are for, right?
Yet for millions upon millions of Facebook users, those friends are little more than recipients of spam emails to guilt trip them into visiting your land in the hugely popular Zynga social title FarmVille. As of this writing the game (or rather its sequel FarmVille 2) is the most popular game on Facebook (two spots above the nearly-identical CityVille) and at one point boasted over 70 million monthly users.
The idea that people would visit the world’s biggest social network to shun their friends and plant virtual crops all day (or spend real money on gifts within the game) would be inconceivable to any sensible person five years ago, yet Facebook farmers are countless and each of them sees you not as a loving, cherished friend, but rather an ideal opportunity to entice a gullible fool into signing up and handing over your beloved cherry trees.
Unlike the aforementioned Harvest Moon series, which is a curiously satisfying yet solitary experience, the bulk of FarmVille’s compulsive appeal to its fans is the game’s hugely cynical approach. Within minutes of your first playthrough you’re likely to be bombarded with adverts or begging long lost relatives for a virtual pig. Who has time for narrative anyway, eh?
For those of you sick and tired of seeing your friends get sucked into the world of Facebook farming, there is good news, however. Not that your friends are ever likely to drop their addiction, but at least it appears you’ll be seeing a lot less of them.
In March 2012, developers Zynga announced that they would create their own social network, Zynga.com, leaving the rest of Facebook farmers to head to pastures new. The idea behind the move was that since Zynga develop four of Facebook’s most popular social games – giving the social network 30 percent of the profits in the process– why not just go it alone in the hope that a loyal fan base would follow?
It’s the first sign that Facebook omnipotence over the sphere of social gaming is beginning to crack, and while Zynga.com doesn’t encourage devotees to (rather crucially) get an actual life, it’ll hopefully keep them at an arm’s distance from our own soon-to-be blissful lives in the process. We’ve given away a lot of virtual pigs to reach this momentous occasion, so let’s hope it isn’t spoiled.