Link: Cultivated Play: Farmville
Players of Farmville: It’s up to you whether you play, but at least knowingly understand how your social capital is being taken advantage of. Social ties, like health scares and baby care, are easy heart-strings for businesses to pull at and abuse. Beware.
Zynga has recently used Farmville to raise almost one million dollars to support earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. Social capital can allow organizations to do great and noble things, and to do so quickly and efficiently. Zynga actually began its charitable efforts with Haiti last fall, around the time my family began playing Farmville. Also at this time, Zynga was engaged in numerous “lead gen scams,” or advertisements that trick customers into making purchases or subscribing to services. As of November, one third of Zynga’s revenue (roughly eighty million dollars) came from third-party commercial offers, such as Netflix subscriptions that came with Farmville bonuses, or surveys that involved hidden contractual obligations. One user reportedly was charged almost two hundred dollars one month, as a result of cell-phone services for which she had unknowingly signed up, while following Farmville ads in search of bonuses. So many users were scammed, in fact, that Zynga and Facebook are now involved in a related, multi-million-dollar class action lawsuit.
The wheel keeps spinning, faster and faster. More people are signing up to play Farmville every day, as well as other similar Zynga games, such as Mafia Wars, YoVille, and Café World. Analysts estimate that, if the company goes public in the summer of 2010, Zynga will be worth between one and three billion dollars. This value depends in its entirety on the social capital generated by users, like you and me, who obligate one another to play games like Farmville. Whether this strikes you as a scam or just shrewd business is beside the point. The most important thing to recognize here is that, whether we like it or not, seventy-three million people are playing Farmville: a boring, repetitive, and potentially dangerous activity that barely qualifies as a game. Seventy-three million people are obligated to a company that holds no reciprocal ethical obligation toward those people.
(Plenty of sources cited by the original, I’ve removed the cites from this excerpt).