No one saw it coming, but with 100 million accounts,  Facebook game FarmVille is massive. Bigger than Twitter (with only 75 million-ish accounts) it dwarfs last year's biggest game, Modern Warfare 2. I think FarmVille is terrible on two counts: First of just being a rubbish game and second of preying on our worst social instincts.

Of course, you can play FarmVille for free on any computer, which significantly lowers the bar for entry compared to a console game. But the really odd thing for gamers is why anyone would play FarmVille at all. After all, this browser game has simple, ugly graphics, requires no skill, and is essentially made of just the boring part of games. The boring part, at least in my opinion, is grind.

Grind is where a game makes you do lots of dull work, so you can 'level up' and do something cool. In FarmVille, there is nothing cool to do, just grind and the promise of more things to plant. Its attraction seems to be psychological, based around our desire to get more stuff, and socially to have more than your (other Facebook) friends.

Dull grind isn't unusual in gaming, nor are social factors. It's true that Xbox achievements can push you to play more so you compare better to other people online, but they can also be used by developers to help you get more out of a game. The dull grind in games is arguably just teaching you and preparing you for more challenging stuff later on.

In 'traditional' games there is more to do than mindless grind. Whereas I really can't think of any games I've played which are more insipid and sickening than Mafia Wars. With no narrative, no action and no engagement beyond a drive for ever higher numbers these games really reduce players to dumb automatons. The sheer number of users should make these games much more worrying than controversial games like Grand Theft Auto or Modern Warfare, both games which require thought, skill and intelligent engagement from players. All things that are totally absent from these Facebook spamming games.

If you want to be the best at Space Invaders, you'll need practice, hand-eye coordination and some inherent skill. With Mafia Wars and FarmVille you just need patience and time.  They make lots of money, certainly, but it's not money that would have been spent on 'traditional' gaming, so it can't be seen as lost revenue. I've never met someone who plays PC or console games who also plays these 'casual' Facebook games. I hope developers don't look at these games as a threat, or something to copy!

People are free to play these terrible excuses for entertainment if they wish, but I think it's a shame as there are much richer ways of 'wasting your time'. Reducing games to social high scores is a sad state of affairs. For a nightmarish vision of where this might take us, watch Jesse Schell's DICE presentation where he predicts points and achievements being expanded throughout life - points from everything from brushing your teeth to turning up to work on time, and no doubt linked to Facebook, so your friends can see what a good person you are.

Me, I just want to switch off, shoot aliens, go virtual skydiving or stop a zombie invasion sometimes. I like life without points and when I do want to play a game - I want to be engaged!

[Jesse Schell's presentation via RockPaperShotgun]


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  • Nicholas Mead |
    Nicholas Mead

    Couldn't agree more Jon. I also absolutely despise all the game status updates posted in Facebook too. I couldn't give a damn how many points or how many pigs someone has got in FarmVille.

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    hello nise game

  • kitty |

    hi. i play starcraft, asherons call, world of warcraft, diablo, modern warfare, need for speed, all the big and some smaller names. but i still play farmville and games similar. why? because sometimes i just get bored or frustrated with the grind in other games, so i come to my simple farm. and after a little time on that i go back to my normal games with a fresh mind. i dunno, thats just me though.

  • James |

    Erroneous on all counts. Best explained here: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/jesse_schell_when_games_invade_real_life.html

  • Jon Riggall |
    Jon Riggall

    Could you expand on that? I think Jesse Schell's speech (to which I also linked!) was at least partly satirical - he was exploring the extreme logic of things like Foursquare, Farmville and achievements in general. I'm not sure it was serious!

  • Jo |

    I play PC games and also a couple of the little Facebook games. They are the time waster for when i don't have the mental energy for World of Warcraft. I think they have their place. Like chewing gum... it does nothing to nourish you, and constantly repetitive chewing feelings like a grind to me, but it entertains your tongue for a while and thats really all you want.

    I definitely opt for more amusing games than FarmVille though. Super Poke Pets, for example, does contain some grinding, however the big appeal for the game for me is that once you acquire all these little material goods for your little avatar-pet, you can use them to decorate its "home". This allows for endless options for creativity and the artistic aspects of the game are considered far more important in the community than the level you've achieved or amount of money you have or how rare the items you own are among your friends. No one cares what level you are if you manage to turn 657 tiny icons of a teacup into a humorous take on the Beatles' yellow submarine. That requires creativity and thought. FarmVille only requires time and one working finger to left click the mouse.

  • jake |

    It is games like Farmville and mafia wars that are slowly contributing to the downfall of the general populace. Rather than sitting there mindlessly clicking shit for no other point than to "get more points" with no reason for getting said points other than having more points than someone so you can say you are better than them as a mindless, mind numbingly boring game. Zanga has been filling social networking sites with so much filth that it has got to the point where people don't even log onto the sites to keep in touch with friends and family any more but rather to stare at a "house" and "farm" that is "theirs" with their avatar that looks nothing like them. If your really hard up for things to do that you bring yourself to play this sad excuses for "video games" go pick up a book, go for a walk, stop letting computers devour your lives. It is filth like this, added to the love for unhealthy food that has made the human population such fat and disgusting slobs that they are. Rather than reading a book to expand your vocabulary and visit some far away place, taking a hike to get some exorcise and taking in the beautiful scenery, or even just lying in meditation exploring the expanses of your own mind, you people CHOOSE to sit in front of a screen and pretend to "farm". If your really that hard up for something to do and want the experience of mind numbingly boring farming, go pick a spot in your yard, till it, then start a fruit/vegetable garden. Not only will you be starting new life(be it plant life, life is still life) you will also be providing your family with a source of fruits/veggies and saving money on groceries.

  • Jon |

    Go outside...

  • farmer |

    where is this word grind coming from? it's nice to see you renamed the obvious word for what it should be :


    that is what it is called in most games where you have to mindlessly do something to level up, especially in games like WoW and DotA. I think the name farmville suites it perfectly because that's all you do, farm. duh

  • Scott |

    I play consoles and some pc games as well as farmvile. You grind in practically every game with farmville You grind for what? 30 mins max a day, come back 4 days forget about the grind you did 4 days ago and do it again. why? because of the social status, you somehow think that you have more xp then your friend you're better, though once you beat all your friends, it's over and chances are you quit playing. IE: in codmw2 why should you prestige? because social status you want to seem "cool" or chances are you get bored of getting your level 70 Objective and want a new one to grind for. Although I applaud them for making their "grinding" fun because who doesn't like killing people.

  • Fletcher |

    I totally agree with this - people spend hours and hours playing games on the Facebook platform that are frankly awful and that they wouldn't play twice if they were not entwined with the social element.

    I "played" Mafia Wars for a while and the only thing that made the game enjoyable for me in any way was the Greasemonkey autoplayer.. it meant that you could leave the game playing itself and doing all the dull, repetitive clicking nonsense and only spend a few minutes a few times a day, spending the points you gained from levelling up and adjusting your general strategies... but I still got oh so very bored of it.

  • Vishwas |

    I agree with you Jon. But not every venture or business can be compared with another one. If you see, on the other side of the coin, both of these games have enabled the people to interact togather. Gives them a reason to start conversing with each other, which otherwise doesn't happen on a normal chat s/w. In addition, these games, show, how even simple number games + advertisement + platform can add new possibilities to gaming ( no matter they are just numbers and graphics ) In addition, after the results of mafiawars and farmville, many adventure games were produced on the same theme... they are just numbers and graphics ( travian is one of them). I think, you shouldnot categorize them as games... but you may add them in new category of "social network members engagers".. or some absurd name... but in that case, they won't have been that popular, as they are now, under the names of "game" .

    however, again, i completely accept... both of them are terribly boring.. when someone play them as games.

  • Jon Riggall |
    Jon Riggall

    Here's another post about Farmville, which actually concludes it's a sociopathic game! http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/content/cultivated-play-farmville

  • anonymous |

    i totally agree i mean look at games like halo and call of duty they are full of suspense and in general fun

  • MaRK |

    I deleted my facebook account. Many reasons. A significant one is as follows: Every time you click, be it to take a single action in Mafia wars or update your status, the page reloads. This reload displays a new set of commercials. every time you reload. more commercials. Facebook's parent company makes $0.01 of every time you these advertisement refresh, new or not. How much money did you make for them by getting to tier 2 of mafia wars?

    Just go investigate for yourself WHO owns facebook, and where that money is REALLY going....

  • Wreckless Randy |
    Wreckless Randy

    If you're enjoying yourself, it doesn't matter if the game is Farmville or Call of Duty 4... that's the point of a game. If it's annoying you and distracting you from more important things, it's time to shut it off or get rid of it.

  • Lisa |

    Mind your own business...worry about your own life and let others worry about theirs ..You are just as mindless for criticizing those who play the games. Get a life , yourself!!!!!

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