Sunday 6 September 2009

Is it loyalty or is it addiction?

farmtown I have a confession to make… I’m an addict.

This isn’t however a drug addiction (or any other kind of substance), but I do tend to partake at least once a day.  What am I addicted to… well I’m kindof ashamed to say, it’s Farm Town on Facebook.

I realised I was addicted when I came home from holiday and within an hour had logged on.  Interestingly I’m not alone either – I've seen many people using their laptop in public and on the screen was Farm Town.  In fact, for those of you that haven’t heard of it, count yourself lucky, you’re not one of the 18.5m monthly active users, 6m daily users or the 1.1m fans. 

This got me thinking.  How was I so easily hooked in and how does it continue today to attract – no demand – my attention.  In fact, what has actually gone through my mind is how could I unlock and leverage this level of stickiness and loyalty for use in customer retention programmes.

At this point it’s probably worth explaining exactly what Farm Town is and in my opinion, why it is so sticky.

Farm Town is an online game which allows you to build and develop a virtual farm – going through the motions of ploughing, planting and harvesting and then earning an income from crops sold.  In this respect its a Tamagotchi style application as it requires regular attention to harvest crops before they go bad – so in order to continue to take part you have to continue to log on. 

However, as you build up money you’re able to extend your farm and buy buildings, animals, fencing etc. to personalise your farm as well as being able to grow more crops – and earn more income.

There are many reasons at play for why this game is addictive.

At a high level the stickiness of Farm Town is based on goal directed behaviour – using various mechanisms to set out different goals requiring specific interactions that draw people deeper into the game one step at a time.

To achieve this the game uses a form of tiering to unlock features. 

In the early days for a new player, it is possible to rapidly rise through these tiers and begin to unlock different crops, buildings etc.  This starts to create a feeling that the higher levels are achievable so you put more effort in to get there – however the higher the tier, the more effort is required.

This to me is one of the key aspects of the design which makes it so clever, the tiering is always achievable, but the more you do, the harder it is to get to the next tier.  Having experienced getting to higher levels and and the crops or buildings this unlocks – essentially setting you apart from other “newbies” – you want to achieve more – to keep climbing the ladder.

I’ve seen similar stickiness in an FMCG loyalty programme I’ve worked on where participants were able to partake in online games for little or no points and redeem points for prize draws.  It might be expected that where consumers are not forced to make a purchase to take part or where they constantly “redeem out” by taking part in prize draws, that there would be an element of wear out.  In practice though we saw the opposite of this.

Where we see increased online interaction - whether this is no points or low points interactions – we see a direct correlation to increased retention.

What I think makes Farm Town more powerful is that taking part is rewarded not with more of the same, but with more!  Increased interaction provides increased privilege.

The tiering is also clever in that it essentially creates two currencies.  Growing and harvesting crops earns “coins” which are the base currency to purchase more crops, extend the farm, add paths, buildings, fences and trees.  Money isn’t everything though – I’ve earned over 1m “coins”, but I still can’t purchase what I want as I need to earn “experience points”. 

This second currency of experience points is earned by working – helping others by harvesting or ploughing their fields or building your farm with additional buildings, paths and fences.

Now this bit is very clever, because if it was all about the money you’d simply plough the whole farm, plant crops and maximise revenue.  However to get higher earning crops you need experience and this means giving land over to farm buildings and to helping others. 

By combining 2 different currencies, one which measures “transactional behaviour” and one which measures “engagement”, it leads the participant to interact in a way which creates deeper engagement.

Some loyalty programmes attempt to do this – just look at frequent flyer programme tiering with it’s use of base and bonus points.  However, I’ve never seen a programme that has so visibly recognised the difference between transactional behaviour and engagement.  The recent Huggies programme  “Enjoy the ride” was a great example of an engagement currency – but then missed the opportunity to combine this with a transactional currency.

The social interaction cannot be ignored either. 

You get increased benefits by having neighbours and increased earning if you work your neighbours farm – this ensures that people want you to be their neighbour and you want to be theirs. 

Having neighbours or seeing other farms as you work them means you begin to see people who are at higher tiers, who have bigger farms, who have crops you can’t plant – all of this acts as “social proof” which further spurs on activity.

I think this is one area that many loyalty programmes today still haven’t grasped.  Many brands are so nervous about connecting consumers together that most programme interactions are largely centralised and push based.  However the power of social proof – or in effect the ability to compare your performance to that of others – is well known to stimulate increased activity.

What I think the developers of Farm Town have done very cleverly is to create a really well designed journey which drives early engagement, rewards interaction, encourages peer comparison and recognises increased experience.

Obviously for many people the simple pleasure of building a farm is what drives them to participate – it might not be an addiction - but whether they like it or not, they are being played as much as they are playing. 

PS. In case you’re interested, this is my farm ;o)



Unknown said...

Just reminded me, must go harvest.

Unknown said...

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