FarmVille’s Golden Game Mechanic

29 09 2010

At the Social Gaming Summit 2010, Mark Skaggs, Zynga’s VP of Product Development and FarmVille’s lead designer talked about time-based gameplay in FarmVille.  Appointment Dynamics, also referred to as a “Golden Mechanic” by Mark Pincus, is a game mechanic  where a player is presented incentives  to return at a predefined time to take an action.

In the case of FarmVille, the appointment dynamic is to return to harvest crops before they wither.

Mark shares further points in the video:

– Zynga tries to tap into implicit understandings: small plants take less time to grow than larger plants

– Analyze play patterns: offer variations for different player schedules

– Some people plant in the morning, return at lunch, return again at dinner, and then repeat the next day.

– Some people only play during work hours

– Most popular periods seem to be in 4 hour “chunks”, although they also offer 6 hour and 2 day (to cover players who play at work)

How Zynga Tests New Game Mechanics

20 09 2010

Mark Pincus, CEO and Founder at Zynga, and Bing Gordon, Partner KPCB and ex-EA executive, spoke at a Stanford Technology Ventures lecture last year about Pincus’ entrepreneurial experiences and Zynga’s methodology in testing new game mechanics and ideas.

In the lecture, Pincus describes the Zynga process as constant iteration, design and testing with a starting stage at what he calls the “ghetto test”.  Ghetto testing is described in these steps:

1) The product manager creates a “5 word” description of the new idea.  For example “Want to run a Hospital?”

2) They post this idea on the web site, allowing it to go live for 5 minutes, monitoring hits and interest with their user base.

3) If sufficient audience interest is measured, then a one-week rollout of the first version of the game (mechanic) is created.

4) This game or feature is revealed to just one percent of the Zynga audience for play and feedback almost always with some modicum of “golden mechanics” – an appointment dynamic or viral, retentive quality – built in.

5) If these early efforts prove successful, the game grows more robust with each successive build.

Zynga avoids testing the same customer twice.  Pincus reports that the company is always testing several hundred products simultaneously, and that measuring this success online has never been easier or more affordable.

Around 1:04:00 of the video below, Pincus describes this process:

Tim O’Connor, CMO of PCDI/Ashworth, a Sterling Partners backed company describes “ghetto testing”, synonymous to “Interactive Dry Testing” in an article for Research Access:

Instead of surveys asking people about what they have done or what they might do, ghetto tests draw them in with an ad or suggetion of an offer, taking them to a landing page describing the offer and then asking some questions around that.

Now you might already be thinking that this sounds a little shady — a sort of “bait and switch technique”. But it isn’t. In his article Tim outlines some FTC guidelines and then shows how to create this type of survey.

“The Federal Trade Commission is normally OK with tests like this, so long as four conditions are met:

  • No representation is made that the product definitely will be produced.
  • There must be adequate notice of the conditional nature of the offer.
  • Those who order are promptly informed if it is not produced.
  • There can be no substitution of another product.”

Tim O’Connor’s complete article is found at

The social media online environment allows designers to rapidly create, deploy and test new features at relatively low cost, unlike traditional console or AAA games.  And that opens many opportunities for innovation with gamification.