FarmVille is Broken

FarmVillebut not because of net problems – the game has no challenge and there is no way to fail. At first I thought the model used might have interesting potential, but I quickly relaised the implementation is flat. However, if I could get my hands on a copy of the code, I could tweak it to make an interesting simulation of a medieval manor or an Eighteenth century estate.

If you have have not been dragged into FarmVille (or any of its close cousins like FarmTown or YoVille), it is, briefly, a Flash game where you start with a patch of land and some money. You plough sections, buy seeds, plant and harvest, make money and cycle on. As you go on, you make more money, and can cultivate more of your farm. Different crops mature at different rates, and sell for differing prices, and the community forums have several spreadsheets to help you max out your return. The other distinguishing, social features are that you can gift trees or animals to friends for free, and you can help out with chores like weeding on friends farms.

Initially, I thought this was interesting. A problem with using games like Civ or Sim city for teaching at any age is the overhead in terms of installing the game, getting it to work, and learning not only basic play but the deeper elements of the sim. FarmVille looks like it answers many of these problems, and does it in a massive social networking environment easily. It runs in any browser, and it has very simple controls. It is a bigger download each time than I like, but it works, and that is a big plus for anyone looking to deploy sims in a class or a alb. I know, any good flash based game will do that, but Farmville does it in a very popular setting. There are some really good flash based sims out there, designed as thoughtful edugames, and they never reach as many people as Farmville does because they are stuck in corners of the web where people only go when teacher sends them there.  If you really want to use the web for education, you need to be able to put it in a bottle, throw it out to sea and have it wash up on a million beaches.

Sadly, Farmville falls short in so many little ways. It has no market model – I can keep growing rice every day, and get the same price, no matter how many people churn it out.  It has minimal social interaction beyond sending gifts and sharing chores. If you don’t harvest a crop, it will wither,  so you can lose your investment, but you’d have to be pretty sloppy for that to happen. And as far as I can see (I’m up to level 8 so far) the challenge level never changes – its just a grind for money and XP.  Crop growth rates are different, but I don’t think they are proportionate to real world growth rates. You can grow rice overnight (it has a 12 hour growth cycle) and then plant strawberries in the same patch (4 hour growth) with the same basic ploughing; and that can’t be right. One of the most basic faults I noticed is that your animals don’t eat your crops. Now if you have a goat and you have a field of anything, pretty soon you have a clear field and a happy goat.  SO it is fun for about a day, but quickly loses its charm.

And yet I still like the underlying framework – a nice little square, big enough for about 20 x 20 “fields”, a couple of dozen each of crops, trees, animals and other things like barns, and simple point and click gameplay.  Each crop only has about three things to track – cost, growth period and selling price. Adding a few more variables or rules doesn’t add much to the load – in these things, it is the graphics that are big, and a few lines of code to implement a new game rule doesn’t add much to slow the game. If you were an educational sim designer and you could get it out to as many people as fast as FarmVille, you’d be very happy. Now if I could just get my hands on a basic open source template for it, I could have fun.

4 thoughts on “FarmVille is Broken”

  1. Hi Mike,

    I’m the EP on FarmVille. 🙂

    I used to work on RTS games for EA (C&C: Generals, Red Alert 2, Battle For Middle-Earth).

    Would love to chat if you have time.

    Mark Skaggs

  2. I wouldn’t get too excited. It looks like they just ported the achievements mechanic over from Mafia Wars. In Mafia Wars, they kept adding a new game mechanic every month or so. Each one looking like it might be interesting, but in the end, they added no challenge to the game, just complexity. The more interesting question is why do tens of millions of people play these games each day? What motivates us to keep going back to make another level, when reason would dictate we should uninstall the thing asap.

    Farm Town, which at first looks like a close copy (or vice versa) is much more sophisticated, but neither quite reaches the level of, say, the first versions of SimCity or Civilisation. Come to think of it, SimCity and Civ – most of the game franchises on the market- do the same thing as the Zynga games – they just port extra complexity, new levels and costlier graphics onto the same basic mechanic and sold it again every couple of years. Another challenge is to find a way to map the mechanics that do exist and look for empty spaces and clusters on the map, to identify mechanics that do not exist and create them, package them and sell them.

  3. I’ve been playing zynga farmville for a several weeks now. In fact, the only reason i made a junky FB account was to play some of the games my fiancee kept playing.

    I can absolutely say that the game is completely crap. Everything takes FAR too long to do. The prize are not even really goodies , they are just temptation to put more time with the game. All the current items like pets and decorations that have been coming out charge farmville cash. I will never EVER PAY for this worst designed games ever so they are bringing down any chance of me continue with the game since everything is now needing real money. The only other method to get farmville is to level. They grant you one FV for a level. But what’s the catch? the experience needed at higher levels to level, makes you have to play for weeks to get one level and your award for every level is the ability to now plant several new plants and repeat it for another level. A lot of the plants you get have awful pay outs and in most cases, they are so bad, that you will never ever plant them. Not even once. Other alternative. give real bucks on the game to play, a pretty burst concept. really not fun at all.

    What actually pissed me off was how they force you to have neighbours to be able to broaden your farm. Not anyone of my friends play this crap, so I had to invite unknown person and let these people add me to facebook, giving them my personal info just to extend a farm… it literally does not make sense. I was really not going to add strangers just for neighbours, so I made fake FB accounts and fake farms just to add neighbours. I can also log in to these buddies and send myself gifts whenever I want to. This is maybe why you see so numerous monthly players of farmville all the dummy accounts coz I can not be the only one that said to themselves I am not adding strangers for FV.

    There are a lot more faults with he game too like gifts disappearing, out of sync issues, farms not saving properly, animals disappearing and the list goes on.

    My best advice stay far far away from this game. I can not even call this a game any more. It is a chore. Maybe that is what they were aiming for, making it tough work like running a real farm who knows…

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