What Happened To FarmVille? Why Was It Shut Down?

Executive Summary:

FarmVille, developed by Zynga, is a social network game that requires players to manage a virtual farm.

FarmVille was officially shut down on December 31st, 2020 after Adobe decided to sunset its Flash technology.

What Is FarmVille?

FarmVille, developed by Zynga, is a social network game that requires players to manage a virtual farm.

Users can engage in a variety of activities such as taking care of farm animals and plants or creating buildings and decorating them.

The game is centred around planting and harvesting vegetables and trees for which users earn coins. Each harvest propels the player towards a new level. Harvesting produce can take anywhere from a few hours to multiple days.

Additionally, animals also yield returns. For example, chickens grant you eggs while cows produce milk.

Seeds, which are used to grow produce, as well as animals, can be obtained in a variety of ways. Users can engage in challenges, receive gifts from other players, or simply purchase virtual coins using real cash.

The social aspect of FarmVille was grounded in the fact that the game was mainly played on Facebook (an iPhone app existed for a short period as well). Players could send requests for gifts to each other via the social network.

Furthermore, FarmVille facilitated cooperation within the game. For instance, farm neighbours can assist each other in harvesting produce. Moreover, they could post requests that would show up on their friends’ Facebook news feed.

FarmVille, which was built on Adobe Flash technology, could be accessed via Facebook, Microsoft’s MSN Games, Yahoo Games, or by downloading its iOS app.

The game was ultimately shut down in December 2020 after being played by hundreds of millions of people. How it came to be, who is behind it, and what ultimately led to its closure will be covered in the next few chapters.

What Happened To FarmVille?

FarmVille was created by game development studio Zynga, which in turn was founded in April 2007 by Mark Pincus, Justin Waldron, Eric Schiermeyer, Michael Luxton, and Steve Schoettler.

Zynga itself was the brainchild of Pincus who had started multiple companies before.  In 1997, he co-founded Support.com, which he led to an IPO in July 2000.

In the four years prior to starting Zynga, he and Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn and early employee of PayPal) worked on Tribe.net, a social network that they eventually sold to Cisco Systems.

Meanwhile, Pincus and Hoffman also became proficient investors. For example, they each put $40,000 into Facebook back in 2004, giving them a direct communication line into the plans of Zuckerberg.

One of those plans, which they likely been informed of, was the unveiling of the Facebook Platform in May 2007, allowing third-party developers to build applications on top of the social network.

As a result of that announcement, Pincus decided to create a company for the sole purpose of creating games on Facebook. To get it off the ground, they raised a small seed round from Reid Hoffman in January 2007. After starting the company in April, they renamed it into Zynga in July as an ode to Pincus’ American bulldog Zinga.

That same month, the team unveiled their first Facebook game called Zynga Poker. The poker game as well as subsequently released titles such as Mafia Wars propelled Zynga to over 40 million monthly players by April 2009, making it by far the most popular game developer on Facebook.

A month later, in May, it made its first acquisition when it purchased the gaming studio MyMiniLife whose four engineers would be prompted to work on a social farm game. That game was heavily influenced by the likes of Happy Farm and Farm Town, which had garnered millions of players on social platforms.

After just six weeks of development, Zynga finally released FarmVille on June 19th, 2009, at 8 o’clock in the evening on both Facebook as well as Myspace.

FarmVille, a week after being launched, had already managed to amass over one million players. To push the game, Zynga raised a further $29 million at the end of July after having previously amassed over $15 million.

In the coming weeks, FarmVille would spread like a literal wildfire. By the end of August, the game managed to attract over 11 million players – every day (and over 30 million every month). Moreover, Zynga’s games would be played by about 93 million people each month, equal to a third of Facebook’s total userbase at that time.

FarmVille itself grew that fast due to a variety of factors. First of all, it was able to take advantage of Facebook’s social graph, meaning players could invite their friends to join or provide them with resources. However, this eventually led to an onslaught of notifications, which especially began to annoy non-players.

Second, as previously stated, Zynga utilized a lot of the same mechanics that made other farm games so popular. On the other side, critics used this to bash the company and say that it wasn’t able to release innovative games.

Third, FarmVille was extremely easy to learn and play. Previously, open-world games such as Club Penguin or Second Life had been all the rave. However, their popularity waned in part because their learning curves were too step (especially with Second Life).

Lastly, Zynga itself was investing tens of millions in promoting its games by purchasing advertising on Facebook. In fact, the gaming studio, at one point, was responsible for over a third of Facebook’s revenue. Throughout 2009, Zynga spent over $50 million on Facebook ads alone.

Unfortunately, not everything was always going according to plan. Part of how Zynga was monetizing FarmVille was to sell banner ads within the game. Not all of those ads were kosher, though.

More precisely, the company displayed so-called lead gen scams such as links to surveys. Those ads were displayed by firms such as Tattoo Media. This led to thousands of unauthorized credit card charges, even prompting multiple law firms to contemplate filing class-action lawsuits.

After serious public backlash, which even involved Facebook taking down FarmVille for a few days and becoming known as ScamVille, Zynga removed those ads from FarmVille, effectively killing almost a third of its revenue overnight.

Luckily, this did not affect FarmVille’s popularity. The game became so popular that Zynga even began to introduce offshoots such as FishVille, PetVille, CityVille, and others. On November 23rd, 2009, it also launched FarmVille.com to allow people to play the outside of Facebook and Myspace – and effectively decrease its dependency on social networks.

To push FarmVille and its other games, Zynga raised another $180 million towards the end of the year. One of the first points of action was to release FarmVille on Microsoft’s MSN Games in February 2010.

The popularity of FarmVille was on full display during Valentine’s Day when, within 48 hours, its players had purchased over 500 million virtual gifts for other users. Over the next 10 days, they purchased a total of 1.7 billion gifts. By the end of February, close to 80 million people were playing the game every month.

In order to get it into more hands, FarmVille introduced Facebook Credits as well as prepaid cards, purchasable at stores such as 7-Eleven, Best Buy, or Target, to the game in March. However, not everyone should have taken advantage of those offers.

For example, several city council members of Bulgaria’s second-largest city were caught paying the game during meetings, which led to some of them being fired. Even celebrities like Mila Kunis were allegedly addicted to the game. It became so popular that non-players would frequently search Google to find out how to block those pesky invite and update notifications.

Zynga also began to encounter another battlefront. The company had a long-standing feud with Facebook over its enforcement of Facebook Credits. Additionally, Facebook wanted Zynga to agree to a deal that would place its games exclusively on the platform (which is why Zynga launched its own website and entered a partnership with MSN).

Luckily, weeks later (in May 2010), the two signed a five-year deal that would ensure Zynga’s independence. Days later, it signed a multi-million-dollar deal with 7-Eleven to sell FarmVille-branded items, such as cups, across its more than 7,000 stores. Then, it inked a partnership with Yahoo to bring its games to the internet giant’s platform.

In June, Zynga continued on its expansion course by launching a FarmVille app for the iPhone. However, due to portability issues, the game only offered a selected number of features compared to the OG Facebook title. That same month, Zynga raised another $150 million from SoftBank.

Unfortunately, FarmVille had to face some bigger blows as well. In late 2010, after thousands of users expressed their dissatisfaction with those annoying notifications, Facebook vastly decreased the frequency with which they would be displayed.

Zynga, as a result, introduced an iPad app for FarmVille in October. It, furthermore, announced a partnership with McDonald’s to bring the fast-food maker’s food to the game. Another deal with American Express, which would allow players to earn rewards, as well as an official launch in Japan capped off a very successful 2010.

That, however, would soon change. In early 2011, FarmVille was surpassed by CityVille, which Zynga had launched just weeks prior. Additionally, Walker Digital, a company founded by Priceline.com co-founder Jay Walker, sued Zynga as well as Facebook and Activation Blizzard for infringing on its patents.

Investors luckily remained unfazed and, in February, poured a whopping $490 million into Zynga at a valuation of $8.6 billion. Regardless, Zynga was forced to continuously release new titles because its popular titles, including CityVille and FarmVille, would experience declining user interest (as cities and farms simply became too large and cumbersome to manage).

To keep players engaged, Zynga introduced the option to create a second farm in FarmVille in April. Additionally, it unveiled the ability to breed animals, which added further incentives to the game.

Despite the decreasing interest, more than 44 million people were still actively accessing the game every month. With the help of Lady Gaga, who debuted portions of her new album in the game, it continued to keep players engaged.

Zynga, in the meantime, filed to go public in July but ultimately postponed the IPO due to unfavourable market conditions. The filing, nonetheless, revealed that FarmVille accounted for almost 30 percent of Zynga’s revenue in spite of its declining userbase.

In October, rumours emerged that FarmVille, much like Angry Birds later on, could be made into a movie. A month after, Zynga teamed up with Best Buy to sell FarmVille-themed toys. Finally, in December, Zynga was able to IPO, raising another $1 billion in the process.

Being a public company enabled Zynga to accelerate its deal-making efforts. At the beginning of 2012, it teamed up with Hasbro as well as Frito-Lay and Walmart to develop toys and offer in-game items, respectively.

Unfortunately, interest in the game began to decline. In August 2012, Zynga took down FarmVille’s iOS app after it failed to merge it with the browser-based game. Meanwhile, Zynga’s stock had plummeted by over 40 percent post-IPO as a result of hefty quarterly losses.

Furthermore, engagement on its “Ville” games dropped by over a third as a result of the notification changes that Facebook had made.

Luckily, FarmVille still continued to carry the company revenue-wise, especially the so-called whales who were contributing most of the income generated. That was even more surprising given that FarmVille only recorded a tenth of its daily active user peak.

To keep user engagement high, Zynga decided to unveil FarmVille 2 in September 2012. The game managed to amass close to 15 million monthly active users four weeks after the launch. Unfortunately, Zynga was still forced to lay off 5 percent of its workforce and close offices in Japan as well as the United Kingdom to reduce costs.

By January 2013, FarmVille 2 surpassed its predecessor and recorded close to 50 million monthly active users. The original, in the meantime, managed to reach $1 billion in total player bookings by February.

In the summer of 2013, amidst continuous financial struggles, co-founder Pincus decided to step down from his role as CEO. He was replaced by longstanding Microsoft executive Don Mattrick.

Despite a continuous decrease in user count, FarmVille players were still highly engaged. Throughout the game’s existence, they continued to raise money for noble causes. In December 2013, for example, players contributed $1 million for charity in 20 days to combat hunger.

In the coming year, Zynga introduced another mobile game dubbed FarmVille 2: Country Escape, which represented a departure from the firm’s focus on Facebook. In fact, it was solely available on mobile to decrease its reliance on Facebook’s social graph.

Over the coming years, the original FarmVille game continued to see declining user numbers. Instead, Zynga launched off-shoot versions such as a FarmVille-themed copy of Candy Crush, which became the most popular Facebook game by 2015.

Meanwhile, after making various failed investments, CEO Mattrick was ousted from his position only to be replaced by co-founder Pincus who stayed in the position until February 2017. Electronic Arts executive Frank Gibeau took over and ushered in a new and more profitable period.

In June 2019, on the tenth anniversary of FarmVille, Zynga unveiled that its games had been installed on over 700 million devices. That same month, it soft-launched FarmVille 3, which was developed by Zynga’s Helsinki studio.

A little over a year later, in September 2020, Zynga announced that it would shut down the original FarmVille at the end of the year. After more than eleven years, it was finally put to rest on December 31st, 2020.

Its successor, FarmVille 3, was officially launched to the public eleven months later in November 2021. And Zynga, after managing to turn around its business, was sold to Grand Theft Auto developer Take-Two Interactive for $11.04 billion in January 2022.

Why Was FarmVille Shut Down?

FarmVille was shut down on December 31st, 2020 after Adobe decided to sunset its Flash technology.

As previously stated, the overwhelming majority of players accessed the game via Facebook, which had based its gaming ecosystem on Flash.

Adobe itself decided to terminate its Flash software because other open-source standards such as HTML 5 and CSS 3 were much more efficient at running both mobile and web applications.

This is probably best exemplified by the fact that Zynga failed to port over many of the features that made its Facebook game so popular. This ultimately led to the shutdown of the iOS app in August 2012.

Additionally, Flash was a nightmare from a security perspective, requiring Adobe to continuously fix holes in its system.

As a result, more and more developers began to abandon the technology, which up until the early 2010s was still the dominant standard for running web applications.

Hi folks, Viktor checking in! Years of experience in various tech-related roles have led me to start this blog, which I hope provides you with as much enjoyment to read as I have writing the content.