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March 16, 2010

reblog: Bruce Sterling - The Farmville Horror

From Bruce Sterling's blog Beyond The Beyond

*Play labor. The click machine. The monolithic block of eyeballs. The scam engine. The cognitive surplus.
*The obscure, dour, leftist terror that the exploited capitalist masses might be having fun somehow.
*Renrou sousuo yinqing, compare and contrast.

Sterling points us to a critical review of Farmville by A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz, who began blogging in January as "afeeld"

Afeeld's critical reading of Farmville

One might speculate that people play Farmville precisely because they invest physical effort and in-game profit into each harvest. This seems plausible enough: people work over time to develop something, and take pride in the fruits of their labor. Farmville allows users to spend their in-game profits on decorations, animals, buildings, and even bigger plots of land. So users are rewarded for their work. Of course, people can sidestep the harvesting process entirely by spending real money to purchase in-game items. This is the major source of revenue for Zynga, the company that produces Farmville. Zynga is currently on pace to make over three hundred million dollars in revenue this year, largely off of in-game micro-transactions.[10] Clearly, even people who play Farmville want to avoid playing Farmville.

I find this critical review (and it is worth the effort to read the whole piece, this is only a small part of the argument) as I am about to publish a conceptual work that involves gameplay within Farmville that relates back to Juan and the Beanstalk. This gives me pause.

Full disclosure, I know the Chief People Officer at Zynga, and I am a fan of hers. I have been playing Farmville since November. Farmville offers some "mechanized" methods for saving mouseclicks as powerups, but I have resisted the temptation to buy into them. I want every bean to be picked by "hand". I am likewise a fan of Howard Zinn, who is quoted at the beginning of the review. I can be said to have a complex and contradictory relationship with Farmville.

I drafted this entry before the Game Developers Conference of 2010, and I publish it now, a couple of days after the conference has finished. During the conference there were continued salvos with respect to Farmville. The game was awarded a prize as Best Social Networking Game for the year. At the same time several respected voices among the game design community gnashed their teeth and dubbed players of Farmville (and its ilk) "cow clickers." These communal, mutually exclusive, sentiments make me feel that there is something important about Farmville. Members of the game design community in the past once decried the non-hard-core gamer as illegitimate scum not worthy to soil the sole of their shoes. Now their is room for casual game players and designers among the population. There is an emerging appreciation for games that critique, and games that will exist as objet d'art. It remains to be seen if cow clickers will ever be accepted on their own merits.

Sterling points to Jaron Lanier and Jesse Schell openly anxious about the success of the business model and of the stickiness of Farmville.

Posted by Rafael Fajardo at March 16, 2010 05:00 PM