My street cred is just shot… A sampling of recent emails and Facebook posts to me include the following Farmville related comments….

  • “Say it isn’t so…You’ve gone down the Farmville path?
  • “King of Compost? I will remember that title! Congrats!”
  • “You have just been awarded the white ribbon ‘Lord of the Plow’
  • “Tom found a Lonely Bull on their farm, Oh no!”

How can I hold my head up as a true professional consultant with a busy schedule that neither clients nor prospects can get an appointment on for weeks if not months, and yet I apparently have this absolutely frivolous time-suck of a hobby?

If you have missed the Facebook driven craze of Farmville, let’s just say that it is Second Life™ for the next generation. In this digital second world, you own an imaginary farm that you work for the purpose of earning imaginary coins to buy imaginary things to put on your imaginary farm. You work with real friends and acquaintances on Facebook to help each other to build your farms. Most of the exchanges are imaginary exchanges of imaginary items to build your imaginary farm and do not require any real conversational exchanges at all. From what I can tell, this imaginary life consumes between 1/5th and ½ of your real life’s waking moments.

Why Farmville is Brilliant

  • Hyper-viral – Every step you take in your progress is posted for your community and friends. They are very incentivized to watch because every step you take also means that you have free gifts you can digitally bestow on them and they can even request. Just by being friends, not even being Farmville junkies, you can be helpful. On top of this, your real friends BEG you to start a farm, “…not to get involved, but just so you can be my neighbor and send me things every once and awhile… PLEEEEEASE….I only need 3 more neighbors and I can get a compost heap!” This is how this phenomenon went from nowhere to 22,000,000 players in less than 18 months.
  • Treatment resistant – The darn notices just keep rolling up. The emails and requests from lifetime friends and family members keep showing up. The comments at the beginning of this blog came from people who have never posted up a comment to me on Facebook ever- but they obviously read my Farmville posts and had to say something, (I think in the treatment world they call this an ‘intervention.’). My point is that simple friendly requests and even stonewalling the barrage of notices on your Facebook account will not stop the onslaught.
  • Digital pellets – The immediate gratification and sense of community cannot be denied. When the farms in our house are growing, prospering and friends are sending materials so my family can build their next barn, everyone is happy. These digital pellets are free, but they bring much good karma with them.
  • Addiction means money – Because of the popularity of Farmville, 7-11™ stores ran a promotion that would give customers digital codes to pick up unique “Farmville items” when they purchased particular items. The 7,000 7-11™ stores were unprepared- every item sold out and sold out about as fast as the iPad release. The heavily accented storeowner I spoke with told me, “We can’t keep this Farmville stuff in stock- I don’t know when the next shipment is coming. Do you want to buy a Slurpee?”

What’s to learn?

The first answer is simple- 22 million people are crazy. Who would believe that this second world would be so obsessive? I can’t calculate the amount of lost productivity to the American economy, but it has to be in the billions. Is real life that uninteresting that we are drawn to plow, plant and harvest a digital farm for the purpose of gaining imaginary wealth and position in an imaginary farming community? Obviously yes.

Maybe the other lessons are more subtle. There are things to learn about community building, social media, frequency, rewarding behavior, and possibly something much larger about the current state of what we are as a culture. I don’t have those figured out, but I am open to anyone’s thoughts.

I am not a Farmville farmer, although I have a farm. My daughter Cate is the tenant-farmer of my farmer, and I am just the land owner. I outsourced management and farming responsibilities to her, recognizing that my time was better spent in other pursuits- Like running a real company, in a real world, helping to solve real problems for real money. So, if you get a notice from me that I have “Just discovered some fuel in my Farmville field” or have achieved a “Blue ribbon in goat milking,” know that those are the notices of success for my little girl Cate, and as a father, I just couldn’t be prouder than if she had milked the goat in the real world.

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