The tyranny of popular Facebook games

Check your game stress level

Has a Facebook (or other online) game ever made you cry / get so angry you can't think straight?

  • Yes
  • No
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High pressure marketing strategies

Facebook games are readily available and "free" to play, at least to a certain level. However, they are also exceedingly demanding.

The majority of them are designed so you must visit every day, if not every few hours to "harvest" your bonuses.

Many of them have connections to other players which allow complete strangers from anywhere in the world to "attack" and steal you points, game silver or even trash your buildings.

Most have free gifts which you can send to neighbours, and while this is a positive feature of the game, collecting and sending daily gifts can also become a chore.

Compulsory Checking:

How does having to check your crops/animals all the time affect you?

  • I get upset when my crops die and I lose bonuses.
  • It is a minor irritation - I plant long crops and ignore any lost bonuses.
  • I couldn't care less, I log on when I feel like it and ignore everything being dead.
  • I love checking my crops all the time, it gives me something to do.
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My first time on Farmville, I planted strawberries, which have to be harvested in a few minutes. I logged out for about 4 days and came back in to devastation. I was upset, - in personal computer games that doesn't happen. So I only planted long term crops like wheat after that.

I have a rural background, so I prided myself on arranging a realistic looking farm. However, I ran into other frustrations. You can't just buy what you want with game money earned from crops. Many things required golden coins, which were granted very rarely in the game, on levelling up or completing a major task. These gold coins could be purchased with real money however. Virtual possessions aren't as important to me as my real world budget, so I made a game for myself of accepting what came along randomly through gifts from game friends.

When you had filled the land you currently owned you needed to unlock or buy an "expansion". In many games a minimum number of friends was required to enable an expansion. I learnt to pick people who appealed as game friends off the fan pages of the game makers. These people were cool, sending me gifts and cooperating in tasks. Some of them I became fond of and watched for their posts like real world friends!

Expanding my friendship circle was a good thing in some ways, but it was also an example of Facebook games pressure marketing techniques. You couldn't just play by yourself in comfort. You had to recruit more friends and play by the programmer's rules.

Well after a while my farm became so full it was hard to load and some days I could not get it open at all. How a basically flat picture managed to eat up all the memory modern machines are gifted with wasn't worth speculating about, it just was a fact. Maybe all the small animations that enable harvesting etc... cause the memory drain.


One game neighbour complained about not enough people visiting her crops. Visiting did very little for the visited person really, a small bonus that wasn't worth the playing time. It did give some bonuses to the visitor too, but I wasn't playing for points. Harvesting was such a long process that unless I had a free item for a one-click harvest, it gave me a headache. Then some animals (puppies) needed feeding as well as harvesting and I would have to beg my friends for food gifts on top of everything.

I took some screen shots to enjoy and I disconnected my farm from my Facebook. There was only so much energy I would allow a game to take from me.


Islander was really cute and operated along similar principles as you developed and cultivated an island. However not enough people played the game, even amongst gaming enthusiast friends, so I did not get far due to lack of gifts.

Offline attacks

Do you think it is fair that people are able to attack you in games like Evony and Mafia Wars when you are not online?

  • No, I need to be able to relax and sleep, work or study.
  • Yes, I have a good defence and am happy to deal with the challenge of maintaining a strategy.
  • I don't really care if my base gets hit or my resources and silver are stolen.
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Evony 2

Evony was very sophisticated for a Facebook game. I had played the previous version independent of Facebook, and aside from the stress of being attacked any time of the day or night because there were real people playing from all around the world - it was fun. There were also chat boxes and alliance functions so you could get to know other players and maybe forge some genuine friendships.

In Evony you built a city, trained an army, hunted for medals so you could be promoted and earn the right to build more cities. Advantageous items could be bought or won on the daily wheel. With the merger of Evony and Facebook, these items could also be gifted. Facebook feeds also contained bonus links to click.

Game changes

With the link to Facebook larger armies became sustainable, however those of us who had played before thought that the type of players signing up had changed. The game was less a reserve of the nerdy gamer and more open for the undiscriminating player. Feeding a huge army and maintaining vigilance became far too time consuming and tiring, so I stopped playing and don't log in anymore.

I love maps, I love building cities, I love chatting and developing a character. However, I need a game to turn off when I shut the computer down so I can attend to real life. Work, study, family!


In Fishville you collect fish and items to decorate the tank. You also expand to own more than one tank. The game has the same pressures as other Facebook games however.

If you don’t log in and clean the tank and feed the fish they die. While the fish are only virtual, this is quite upsetting to an animal lover.

You are dependent on neighbours for gifts and many things are only available for real gold.

It was fun, and I filled a number of tanks, but I always found sick and dying fish made me sad.

Lower pressure games

A few games do penalise the player less drastically for periods of absence. The best examples I have found are listed below.

1. The Sims Social

For example, In The Sims Social, if you have been absent your home still exists, and your Sim receives a free reset of their mood. Relationships have dwindled, but that is not too traumatic. Some quests are frustrating because of the sheer number of gifts you have to collect off friends, but there are no major consequences for reduced participation.

(Sadly this game has been discontinued. I believe a Chinese language version persisted for longer. The Sims 3 may be played online and may be considered to have covered the market niche this game occupied.)

2. Marvel Avengers

In Marvel Avengers if you don't play your agent and heroes wait patiently, you don't get the prizes of participating in those particular events, but if you were emotionally resolved enough you could ignore that for the privilege of playing at your leisure. Player versus player on Marvel Avengers also awards winners silver out of an independent pool so other players do not get to steal the silver you need for training heroes. The developer does appear to be marketing their special operations and events more aggressively as time passes however.


The vast majority of Facebook games use similar intrusive marketing tactics.

  • Each one obliges you to go online at frequent intervals and harvest or defend your virtual possessions.
  • Each one requires you to add online neighbours and friends to progress.
  • Each one offers advantages if you spend real money and creates frustrations if you try to play for free.
  • More and more labour intensive in-game elements and strategies are introduced over time as you play.

These games can be fun to play for a while, especially if you spend no money and resist the pressure to "make it to the top".

Truly relaxing entertainment should be available at the consumer's leisure and rest safely at a saved point between playing sessions. There comes a point when an activity becomes work, not play; and can be a source of stress not pleasure.

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