Why The Golden Era Of Facebook Games Was So Good

Why The Golden Era Of Facebook Games Was So Good

Remember all the Facebook browser games in 2010? If you answered yes, you probably have (unrelated) knee or back problems now.

If you were anywhere within throwing distance of Facebook from 2009 onwards, you were either addicted to FarmVille or subject to the torrent of notifications from your friends requesting your assistance in-game. FarmVille, which tasked you with building up a plot of land, growing crops and raising animals, was just one of many social media browser games to crop up over the space of a few years that I refer to as the golden era of Facebook games. 

Farmville Facebook Games
I was, in fact, one of the guilty parties that besieged people with FarmVille requests. Image: Emily Spindler

While Zynga’s agricultural sim – which truly predicted the popularity of games like Stardew Valley almost a decade later – was the golden jewel in the Facebook gaming crown, alongside games like Happy Aquarium, PetVille, FrontierVille (you can see a trend forming here from Zynga), and Mafia Wars. These titles were all seemingly aimed at encouraging Facebook users on still a relatively new social media platform to spend more time there, engage with others, and ultimately keep them coming back again and again. And oh boy, did they ever.

FarmVille reportedly peaked at nearly 85 million active users in March 2010, 32 million of which were using the game daily. CityVille similarly crossed the same threshold at the start of 2011 as gaming on Facebook reached ubiquity. Looking back through the old unfiltered Facebook photo albums of many a millennial and beyond showcases a litany of screenshots, proudly displaying their hard work on their farms, homes, aquariums, or whatever it was that had finally hooked them in.

Playing games together previously had often been left to multiplayer titles in console settings, or early iterations of MMORPGs – and while dues must be paid to early multiplayer games for paving the way first, social media gaming brought the same feeling of social connection and togetherness to a whole new demographic of players. Kids (who were, much like in my case in 2009, definitely above the minimum age to sign up for Facebook) and parents played together, friends separated by thousands of kilometres could engage in parallel play. The casual gamer was right at home on social media browser games in ways that Yahoo! Games and other websites had been trialling for years before to varying levels of success. For a while there, everyone was working towards the same virtual goal and the world felt kinda right – something I see in brief glimpses of tight-knit player communities in games like Helldivers 2 now.

Farmville Facebook Games
My actual farm in-game. Image: Emily Spindler / Zynga

In my own personal experience, the only reason I got Facebook (my first social media account) was to play FarmVille and send my sister, equally as sucked in, gifts and assistance with her farm.  Many of the games had time-sensitive tasks that would fail should you not return in time, spurring players on to keep coming back as quickly and often as possible. I would set alarms so as not to forget my crops, and still retain a core memory of my sister giving me her own Facebook login when she would go out in the evenings or away on weekends to maintain her pristine plot. Hell, we even got my mum into it – although her tastes were more PetVille and Bubble Witch Saga leaning. 

Facebook games still exist, but with the rise of mobile gaming in the years since the golden era, most casual players have shifted over to individual apps like Bejewelled or the ever-popular gacha games that make millions, if not billions, globally. Many of the titles of yore (including FarmVille) are now-defunct in their original Flash game form as of New Year’s Eve in 2020, and while for some new iterations now exist in various, hyper-monetised forms (although many of these games were stuffed to the gills with microtransactions to begin with), it’s just not the same. 

While logically, Facebook Flash games are probably where the constant feedback loop of social media and the internet at large really embedded itself into the psyche of many, and gently introduced many into the world of microtransactions, this era of gaming will always hold a special place in my heart. There’s just something about bombarding your friends with photos of the same cow on your plot of land, or your weird little freak pets, or whatever it was at the time, on your Facebook feed and via their notifications that just can’t be matched now.

Did you get sucked into Facebook games during the 2010s too? Let us know about your experiences below.

Image: Zynga / Meta

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