Posted by: L. E. Barnes | September 15, 2010

Zynga: Addiction Monger?

A recent article on Gawker.com rips online game company Zynga, whose games–such as Farmville and Mafia Wars–are played on Facebook:

The company behind Mafia Wars and Farmville doesn’t like to talk about the sad addicts who fuel its profits. But it does quietly run a special store for them, where imaginary credits are bought with very real bank transfers.

The minimum purchase in Zynga’s underground “Platinum Purchase Program” is $500, payable by wire transfer (see email below). The reward over buying online with your credit card: Extra points with which to buy virtual goods for the company’s Facebook games. If you refer a friend to the program, you get even more points. Zynga, meanwhile, gets word of mouth, which is especially important since Zynga keeps this bulk sales program hush hush; it’s not mentioned on the company website, nor within its games. If you Google for it, you’ll get a few complaints for disgruntled customers and a couple of posts from a blogger named “Loot Lady,” who writes that it was “hard to find a lot of information out about this” program.

Well, naturally. With top-drawer partners like Apple and Google, Zynga is not going to be keen to draw attention to how much of its profits come from obsessive online gaming junkies, many of them underaged or low income, like the unemployed disabled man the New York Times discovered was spending 16 hous a day on Zynga’s YoVille.

But it is keen to tap the market. Indeed, when it comes to game design, Zynga CEO Mark Pincus has a predatory attitude toward gamers, and has told his programmers that pumping up profits is more important than the experience of actually playing the game, ex employees say in an excellent new SF Weekly cover story. Disillusioned employees have even reportedly given Zynga an unofficial motto: “Do Evil,” an inversion of Google’s informal slogan “Don’t be evil.”

You can read the full article here.

Does Zynga truly have a “predatory attitude” toward those who play its games? I used to play Farmville, but grew bored with it. I still play Mafia Wars occasionally (I figured I’d take it to the highest level, just for the heck of it); however, I would never spend a penny on the game. I can attest–with some embarrassment–that computer games can be rather addictive, as I’ve squandered quite a bit of time playing them (though not anywhere near to the point of some people… I can’t imagine playing any game for 16 hours a day!). And my father, whom I love dearly, can sit in front of his laptop playing card games and chess for hours on end–much to my mother’s consternation.

Your thoughts?

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Responses

  1. […] Zynga: Addiction Monger? […]

  2. I personally find most online/video games boring, but I can understand how people can get addicted to them. I love the Wii Sport and Wii Fit games and can play them for hours if I had the time!

    My “REAL” addiction lies in word games, though. Get me near a Scrabble board or Boggle and I’m in trouble! lol! I guess that’s why the Lord has surrounded me with a husband and friends who won’t play them with me!

    • I’ve found a lot of computer/online games to be boring too. As I said, Farmville quickly lost its appeal to me, and I have not desire to going back to my days of sitting in front of a computer screen playing fantasy or war games. I deeply regret the time wasted doing that. Using such games as a brief diversion once in a while is ok, but allowing them to keep you from doing more worthwhile things can be a problem. And as Christians, we should keep in mind that we will be accountable to God for how we used the time He gave us on this earth.

  3. It took me awhile to understand what my Facebook friends were talking about when they were asking for help building a barn or needing sheep. Finally I put it together – this was a game. Not interested. I do think that video games and stuff like Farmville can be dangerous because I believe it does something in the brain itself that may cause problems.

    I read the article in full and I suspect Zynga does have a predatory attitude towards gamers. Even after reading the article I don’t get it. What exactly do people get for forking over $500?

    The real danger in virtual gaming is that the fantasy becomes the reality for people who are unable to function in real life. Apparently there are quite a few people out there for which this is true. What does that say about how we live today?

    I like to play solitaire and hidden object games for the purpose of keeping my brain challenged, but if it gets in the way of the spiritual life, that’s another story. Since it takes me forever to write my blog posts, I like to play these games as a change of pace. Still, I think it would be good to do less of it.

    Great post!

    • Barb,
      A psychologist who has an advice column that appears in a number of newspapers wrote in one of his articles that there is plenty of evidence that video games have a deleterious effect on people’s attention spans, thinking skills, social skills, etc. And kids who spend lots of time playing them seem to be especially vulnerable.
      I’m sure that playing an occasional game can be nice diversion, and some games–cards, chess, etc.–can doubtless help keep your mind sharp. But some people become so engrossed in these things that they miss out on the real world. I regret spending so much time playing computer games and have largely given them up.


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