An Ode To FarmVille And The Early Days Of Facebook Gaming

An Ode To FarmVille And The Early Days Of Facebook Gaming
Image: Zynga
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In Facebook’s earlier days, it was a tool for fun and playing around with mates. There was nothing better than coming home from school or work and chipping away at your Facebook gaming chores for hours on end, like planting seeds on FarmVille or looking after your virtual pets. FarmVille wasn’t a particularly deep game, but it had the most impact on Facebook’s early games. Everyone was playing FarmVille in 2009 whether they were a gamer or not.

Facebook became a haven for online games in the late 2000s and early 2010s as it began reaching for a wider audience. FarmVille drove the success of the platform, but there were other popular titles bringing online gaming to the mainstream as well. The reboot of Icy Tower springs to mind, as does Pet Society, MapleStory Adventures and FishVille (FarmVille‘s less successful cousin.)

Screenshot: Silicon Angle

Gaming on Facebook was a joy because it was shared. In the late 2000s, going on Facebook wasn’t about showing off your latest meal or your trip to Mykonos, it was a fun online platform with gaming at its centre. Many of the games offered had a social component allowing you to share gameplay with your friends. If it wasn’t directly multiplayer you could still share items, give gifts or chat about tips for playing the game. In the end, it was all about community.

Gaming has always been a shared experience and through Facebook it became more accessible than ever before. Games were also free, meaning anyone could join in. And while microtransactions were key to the success of many of Facebook’s games, they didn’t feel as overt or intrusive as they do now. (The slow acceptance of microtransactions in gaming has a lot to do with Facebook laying the early seeds.)

Each game was a genuinely fun and enjoyable romp whether you were raising your new pet cat, building the perfect theme park, climbing a tower or just planting crops.

Facebook’s games succeeded because they were simple but also because of their social connection and accessibility. Gifting a cow or plant to your friend on FarmVille made you feel like a farming god. Even when you were hoeing and sowing alone, it felt like your friends were around. Everybody was playing, no matter your age or skill level. Every day, there were more gaming notifications waiting for you. It was a game everyone could enjoy together, and they did.

There was also an element of cross-generational pollination in FarmVille. It crossed the bridge between younger kids messing around on the internet and parents wanting some fun downtime. It wasn’t too complex that you needed to pump hours into it to succeed, and wasn’t too complicated for non-gamers to learn. While it mostly targeted casual gamers, it was easy for anyone to get involved.

The popularity of FarmVille brought Facebook users back to the site at regular intervals as crops needed hoeing and cows needed milking. There was a constant drive behind FarmVille that meant it was very addictive, but also very rewarding. While Facebook was using this time nefariously to lap up your precious data, this wouldn’t be an issue until later in the 2010s. For the moment, Facebook was still seen as mostly good fun. It also opened people’s eyes to the fun of social gaming.

It was a more innocent time — one that’s slowly coming to a close. With the shuttering of FarmVille, the last remnants of Facebook’s original games are disappearing. In the years since their release, the majority of the platform’s classic titles have disappeared due to studio closures, rights issues or the ongoing cost of maintenance.

Facebook is still home to a bunch of online social games, but the new hub lacks the personality and fun of the original class. More than that, people have moved on from Facebook as a gaming platform. As a fun experiment, it was great while it lasted — but distrust of Facebook and the overall move towards casual mobile gaming has effectively shuttered the remains of Facebook’s gaming division.

The company’s gaming ambitions have also changed, with a new focus on content creation via the Facebook Gaming stream hub rather than developing new social games for the platform.

With FarmVille‘s departure, it’s important to remember the impact Facebook’s games had on casual gaming audiences. While not all of it was positive, the games certainly helped bring new people into the gaming space and experience its positivity and potential to encourage community. FarmVille was a game about milking cows and growing plants, but it’s always had a much greater impact.

FarmVille is dead. Long live FarmVille.


  • I guess that’s one way to look at it, an innocent and sweet little darling that brought people together and reminds them of simpler times without all this corruption and scandal that plagues Facebook today. Though in reality, when Zynga created Farmville, they were in fact inventing the very stigma that would plague the words “Free to Play” for all the years that would come after.

    You might think the social aspect was bringing people together, but really that was just Zynga using you for advertising and roping in new players to spend money on microtransactions. After all, you are more likely to check something out that a friends (continuously) sends you rather than clicking on a banner ad on the side of a page. It was also a Skinner box in its purest form, you did stuff, got rewarded and then came back a few hours later for your next hit of dopamine and when you wanted that little bit more, you paid for it. Zynga knew what they were doing and its accessibility meant that they could reach millions of casual users rather than just the hardcore gamers.

    We’ve come a long way in the social gaming space since the days of BBS games like Legend of the Red Dragon through more modern net games like Kingdom of Loathing and now mobile gaming but unfortunately a lot of it has been downhill.

  • Facebook had the same casual game problem as we have on the Google Play store today, and of course, neither Facebook or Google/Apple can really do much about it either.

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