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The FarmVille Phenomenon

The Internet is notorious for producing overnight sensations. Whether they are online auction houses like eBay, video-sharing platforms like YouTube, or social networks like Facebook, web sites are launched and, before you know it, they attract millions of followers and become part of the fabric of our everyday digital lives.

However, even by the Internet's standards of what constitutes a high-flier, the virtual world of FarmVille is in a class of its own. Launched just 8 months ago, the massively popular farming game from Zynga had over 83 million active users in February of this year, up 10% for another record-breaking month.

Of course, the meteoric growth of Facebook, where FarmVille resides, has a lot do with its stellar performance, but it has also become apparent that many Facebook users log on primarily to play FarmVille rather than the other way around.

But what is Farmville and why is it such a big attraction?

FarmVille is what's called a real-time simulation game, which in this case allows players to manage a virtual farm by raising livestock and planting, growing and harvesting crops. The game is based around a marketplace, where land, seeds, trees, animals and other agricultural items can be bought and sold. Players use "farm coins" or "farm cash", which can be earned or purchased directly from Zynga.

A player can also earn "experience points" by purchasing items and completing regular tasks, such as plowing, planting and harvesting. Earning experience points can move a player up through different levels of the game, unlocking bonus items along the way.

FarmVille sits well in the confines of the world's largest social network. FarmVille citizens need to return frequently to their farms to make sure crops are harvested on time, otherwise they will wither and die. As well as nurturing their own enterprise, players can invite their Facebook friends to join and be neighbors. Acquiring neighbors also has benefits, and players can show their appreciation by sending "gifts" such as trees and animals.

FarmVille has been described as Webkinz or Club Penguin for adults and the similarities are obvious. Like the games for kids, it's easy to get hooked – what kind of person is going to let their crops go to ruin, particularly when the neighbors are watching!

Of course, FarmVille is just one of many popular games developed for the social networks. Facebook's top 25 includes several other "caring and sharing" games, including Happy Aquarium, FishVille, Zoo World, and Pet Society.

But for now, we have become a nation of online farmers – and we're likely to stay that way for some time to come!        

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