I found Cultivated Play, an essay about Farmville and why it works, absolutely fascinating.
I’ve never been a fan of games on Facebook, even when all they involved were throwing sheep or biting someone. So, I’m dimly aware of Farmville and its ilk, but never really cared to know how they worked.
After reading Cultivated Play, which outlines how to play, as well as why the gameplay is successful, I’m keenly interested in the social games, not to play, but to study.
The basic reason Farmville works so well is that obligates your friends and addicts them too, like zombies.
This is brilliant.
The social obligation aspect of Facebook manifests itself in what I call the “you hang up first” behavior on posts, usually punctuated with multiple LOLs.
Coincidentally, I hear my wife right now apologizing on the phone for not being on Facebook lately and not reading all the posts, like it’s work or something. Social obligation is an extremely powerful motivator among friends and family.
The brilliance of Farmville is that they’ve turned social obligation into cash, lots of it. You could argue that they’ve done a better job of monetizing Facebook users than Facebook has. I’m sure this has something to do with the current spat Facebook and Farmville producer Zynga are having about Facebook Credits.
Anyway, I love found business models like this.I call this a found business model because I can’t imagine anyone in a position to fund a startup would throw money at this business model. I also can’t imagine anyone starting a company with this explicit business model.
Can you imagine the pitch?
VC: What’s your business plan?
Entrepreneur: We’re going to create Facebook games and get users to pay for them.
VC: OK, how?
Entrepreneur: We’ll essentially shame everyone into playing a game; let’s say it’s managing a virtual farm. If they don’t play, they risk being ostracized by their friends and families, hurt feelings will ensue, you know the drill. They’ll play first because they’re obligated, but eventually, the game will stick. We’ll offer virtual goods that they can buy to improve their virtual farms. All it takes is a player 0, and we’ll be printing money.
VC: Pass. Pass. Pass. Oh and GTFO. No, I mean it. Seriously.
Obviously, now the model works because Zynga and others have created it, but in 2007, how crazy would that have sounded? At the time, Facebook’s platform was brand-new, and they had only 30 million users, give or take a few million, which is now a rounding error for them.
The intertubes is still a fledging place for business, and I can only think of two, tried and true ways to make money online.
- Sell something, a good or service, doesn’t matter.
- Run ads and take a piece of the action.
That first one is pretty broad and could apply to what I’m calling found business models. I guess I’d characterize the difference thusly: Amazon sells books online. Zynga sells virtual goods to social network users. See the difference?
Found business models are really interesting to me, and they’re all over the place lately.
Look no further than Twitter, whose business model was the subject of years of rampant speculation and lots of digital ink. What’s the first way they make money?
They sell firehose access to tweets to Bing and Google.
Who saw that coming? You don’t really think Evan (@ev) and Biz (@biz) pitched Jack Dorsey (@jack) that idea back in 2006. Even the sharpest, most forward-thinking VC would cringe at that pitch.
Found business models grow out of the Field of Dreams philosophy of interwebs, which I’m just realizing is a pretty sweet pun, considering Farmville.
This is both awesome and keep-you-up-at-night frightening because it flies in the face of decades of traditional business school teaching. It’s the long tail of business models. It’s edge-in, populism at work. It’s exciting to watch and interesting, if you’re into that sort of thing.
I should mention that relationships matter more than business models, e.g. Evan and Biz were known quantities to Jack Dorsey. They had past success with Blogger, so I’m sure they got a pass. Imagine how they’ll do after Twitter.
Anyway, just as with Enterprise 2.0, the best interwebs business models haven’t been discovered. Yet.
Thoughts? Find the comments.