Good afternoon. The title of my talk is “Explaining Farmville’s Popularity using Robert Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion”. FarmVille is a game that runs within Facebook where you can pretend to be a farmer by planting and harvesting virtual crops. There are currently 60 million people playing FarmVille. That’s over 10 times as many people as there are actual farmers in the United States. FarmVille doesn’t have the best graphics, you can’t directly interact with other players, it doesn’t have any story, and there isn’t any way to win. So people wonder: why is FarmVille so popular?
A professor named Robert Cialdini in 1983 wrote a landmark book titled “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” which I think goes a long way to explaining it. He argued for 6 universal principles that influence human beings and we can see all these principles throughout Farmville.
1) Reciprocity – the pressure we feel to reciprocate; if somebody does something for us we feel compelled to do something for them. He studied Hare Krishnas at the airport. A Hara Krishna would interrupt a busy traveler trying to get to a flight and say “here, have this flower as a gift from us” and the traveler would say “no thank you” and then the Hare Krishna would say, “it’s a gift, there’s no charge” and then ask for a small donation and the poor, traveler wouldn’t be able to figure out how to get out of this situation and end up giving a donation. This is a very powerful influencer. It’s also a very important piece of Farmville. You advance by receiving gifts. Typically the way you get hooked into the game is one of your friends who is playing gives you some virtual gift such as an Olive Tree and asks for something back.
2) Liking – the principle that if you find somebody likeable you’re more likely to do what they request. This is why Tupperware parties took off. In Farmville, if you’ve seen the charming characters or heard the music, you know it scores high on this one.
3) Social Proof — the principle that people are influenced by what others around them believe and do. Facebook itself provides a lot of this for free by showing on the FarmVille page that are 60 million other people playing in my case it helpfully points out that 30 of my friends are playing it, along with showing pictures of them. This is very powerful social proof.
4) Authority – The authority described by Cialdini doesn’t really appear in FarmVille but the game flow is it tells you what to do instead of telling you the rules. When you first enter the game there is a giant bouncing arrow and text that essentially says “Click here!”, “now Click here!” It puts you in a position of having a very clear command that is actually takes some effort to disobey the bouncing arrows.
5) Scarcity – that people assign more value to opportunities when they are less available. This is seen all over the place in FarmVille, whether limited edition seeds, gifts that expire, I even got the opportunity to buy FarmVille cash at a discount for 24 hours only it displayed a large countdown timer on the top of the screen. […I’d be sure not to miss this wonderful opportunity]
And finally… 6) Consistency – We all fool ourselves sometimes in order to keep our thoughts and beliefs consistent with what we’ve already done. There was a study where people were asked to display a small sticker saying “BE A SAFE DRIVE”. Later they were asked to display a huge ugly billboard saying “DRIVE SAFELY” on their lawn and 76% of them agreed to do it whereas people who hadn’t received the small sticker general didn’t. In the FarmVille tutorial when you enter the first time, it pushes you through plowing some land, buying some strawberry seeds, and planting the seeds. You now see yourself as a farmer. At the end of that, it tells you can come back in a few hours to collect your strawberries and earn some virtual money… or you can let them all die. How inconsistent of a person would you have to be to — plow land, buy seeds, plant them — and then just walk away forever?
In conclusion, given what we’ve learned now about how human minds are influenced, it shouldn’t be so surprising how something like FarmVille could spread so quickly.