The world “diggs” virtual farming for social gaming online [#RusTechDel]

Russians and Americans both love virtual farming?

The popularity of  Zynga’s “Farmville” for among Facebook’s 400 million users is well known. Given 69 million active monthly players, Farmville is bigger than Twitter.

A less publicized statistic is that users of Russia’s top social network, VKontakte.ru, also have a farming application the top social game.

Earler today, I met Nick Wilsdon, a Russian online marketer, by following the #RusTechDel hashtag on Twitter.  (In doing so, I was reminded again that #hashtags on Twitter are like channels on cable TV.) I asked Wilsdon if he knew how many unique visitors vKontackte & others receive monthly.

Wilsdon answered with a quick report on vKontackte and Odnoklassniki.ru. According to the statistics he cites, “Happy Farmer” has more than 6 million users and revenues estimated at $200 million dollars per month.

Judging from the gallery of Happy Farmer fans at English Russia, the social game has inspired a passionate following.

And, as a post at The Next Web points out, a farming game is atop the list of most popular social games in China.

Whether or not gaming addiction is an issue, China’s burgeoning social gaming market shows how popular – and profitable – this phenomenon has become.

As VentureBeat’s reporting on online faming games suggests, there’s a “new agrarian revolution” in China. It’s tempting to summarize a global interest in social gaming on the farm as a common virtue, as millions tend virtual gardens for a few minutes every day across different cultures.  It would be lovely if it spoke to yuor shared interest in growing things.

Unfortunately, there’s a dark side to virtual farming parallel to perils of factory farming in the real world: the profit motive.

As Elliott Ng writes:

Some fear that this new social farming revolution may not contribute to the positive development of society. A central feature of social farm games in China is stealing vegetables. Official state media People’s Daily reports that 70 percent of users on Kaixin001 cite it as their favorite feature, and it has even spawned the popular phrase “How many vegetables have you stolen today?”

This key addictive feature has created news stories of business executives “obsessed” with stealing vegetables and broken relationships over vegetables stolen on the night shift. The game is so addictive — with players setting alarm clocks at all hours of the night to check crops — that it 
“destroys jobs and relationships.”

“Simplicity and stickiness are behind the global epidemic of farm games. Anyone can learn to grow crops within minutes and reap a reward for getting friends — or the entire office — addicted too,” said BloggerInsight Co-Founder Lucas Englehardt.

There’s a business in serving that intense interest, along with providing others a means to slay monsters in World of Warcraft. There’s no small amount of psychology at work behind the incentive structures of these games, as designer look for ways to induce users to spend money on virtual good or services. And, as Michael Arrington pointed out in “Scamville” in TechCrunch last year, the “social gaming ecosystem” can lead to bad behavior.

For good or ill, however, more of us are planting virtual seeds each day.

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