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From the makers of Farmville, a brand new way to waste your time and money

Molly Wood Jun 2, 2011
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From the makers of Farmville, a brand new way to waste your time and money

Molly Wood Jun 2, 2011
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In the name of journalism, I played “Empires & Allies” for a while today. I was able to build some barracks for my troops, erect a flagpole, even engage in a minor skirmish with enemy troops (I killed them all though I never learned what we were fighting over. I experienced a few seconds of melancholy regarding the madness of war in general, but then I recovered.).

But the point of a Zynga game isn’t to play in marathon eight-hour sessions like you might do with “Call of Duty” or “Halo.” It’s to peck at the game. Ten minutes here, three minutes there. A little bit of fun building a city or farm or army whenever you happen to check in on Facebook. When you play the game, you can either perform numerous tasks and do a fair bit of waiting to move up in level, or you can take the shortcut and pay real money to reap virtual rewards.

This is a model that’s working out really well for Zynga. It’s had tens of millions of people playing the games and has been receiving quite a bit of investment as it prepares for a widely rumored upcoming initial public offering. At last report, Zynga’s corporate valuation was $10 billion. Not bad for a company built on make-believe cows.

But Dean Takahashi, lead writer for Games Beat, says Zynga is aware that customers can be fickle and get bored easily. If they start to leave in droves, revenue dries up fast. That’s why you see so many games coming out from Zynga.

So why do people stay? Because it sure isn’t the graphics. We talk to Greg Trefry, a game designer with a company called Gigantic Mechanic. He says Zynga has managed to nail the social media aspect of Facebook game players. You can play for only a few minutes at a time.

These games are often described as addictive. Trefry says there is a lot of psychology involved. “They play on our neuroses,” he says, “or our OCD tendencies, making those more manifest; drawing out more places where we do tend to get addicted to things. You’re rewarded with stuff and your character is leveling up or you’re getting little bits of new content. Every time you do get new content, oh, well, just do a little bit more and you’ll get to next level.”

Also in this program, are ants the right model to use in building an online security system? Some scientists think so.

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