The Fringe: Farming games

Welcome to The Fringe, where we totter on the edge of MMOs with a guide for playing Facebook games. If you aren't one of the millions playing games on Facebook and aren't interested in joining the throng, that's ok. We won't judge you. But we'd appreciate you returning the favor.

In before all the "you got Facebook in my Massively again!" complaints: GDC was full of Facebook game announcements and with all the money being made by Zynga and others, we have a long future of Facebook MMOing ahead of us. With massive amounts of people playing and interacting in these online games, it's time to take off the blinders and check out what's going on in your peripheral gaming vision. Or not. That's fine. If you don't want to read about Facebook games, you can skip to all of the other great content here on Massively. But unlike my last column, where I let the haters vent their frustrations in the comments, only constructive criticism will be allowed from now on.

I was going to write up a guide to Country Life next, but it has been going through much development over the past few weeks. So even if illness hadn't delayed my writing about it, the information would have been obsolete soon after. There are many farming games to choose from, varying in features and popularity. So this week I'll be covering how to choose a Facebook farming game by giving an overview of three notable ones.


We can't talk about farm games without talking about the most popular Facebook app of any kind. At this writing, Farmville has more than 82.5 million active players. It kind of gives new meaning to the word "massive". Along with being the most played, it is also the lightning rod for all of the hatred toward Facebook games. It's popularity aside, should you play it? Here are some things you should know:

Crops wither

Trees and animals will hold their products until you get to them, but the crops on the actual plots on the farm will wither, as seen above. This means money spent planting the crops will be lost and you need to plow the land before you can plant new crops. I really don't like this mechanic as it is purely designed to "force" you to check up on your farms, giving Zynga more hits and ad revenue rather than allowing you to game on your own schedule. It certainly isn't there to make the game more realistic as crops that mature in 4 hours aren't realistic at all.

It's spammy

All Zynga games are notorious for their spam, among other things and Farmville is no exception. You get spammed with popup boxes when you start the game and spammed throughout your session and, if you're not careful, your wall and friends get spammed with all kinds of messages. Most popular games do the same thing, so you may be used to it and not mind as much as I do.

You have an avatar

You make a cute farmer avatar to represent you and do all of your work for you. Unfortunately, while the avatar is customizable and changeable, you can't dress him or her up according to your mood or the season.

It has vehicles

You can speed up your farming with vehicles that require fuel.

There are many decorating options

If you want to spend your hard-earned cash on decorating your farm, there are many items that change with the seasons and holidays.

It's just grow and sell

Once you grow a product via animal, tree or plot, you just sell it. There is no processing of the crops.

Farm Town

Farm Town has just less than 10 million active players, which is teeny compared to Farmville but still respectable numbers. It is also more legitimately an MMO, in that there are many areas where you can hangout and interact with other players. The common areas aren't just for chatting either. You can hire other players to work on your farm and it behooves you to do so. If you are looking for a farming game that is multiplayer real-time, Farm Town is your game -- with some caveats.

It is a Farmville clone (though it may have come first)

It has a customizable avatar that you can't dress up. Crops go to waste. There are vehicles that require fuel. Decoration is a big thing. It has spam issues, but they aren't as bad as Farmville.

It just started allowing you to process your crops

I just discovered this today. It may make it worth the withering crops thing to try out how they handle their facilities.

The controls are clumsy

I can't think of another farming game that doesn't use a handy multi-tool. In Farm Town, you must choose the appropriate tool before you click on the item. This may keep me from exploring how they handle their facilities.

There is a Marketplace, Inn and other common areas for meeting and conducting business

Just like a non-fringe MMO, there are scrolling chat boxes, people who talk in all caps and all of the other things you expect in an avatar-based, chat-room environment. At the Marketplace, you hire people to harvest your farm. This gives both you and your employee more money and XP than doing it yourself.

Country Life

Easily my favorite sim-farm game is Country Life. It "only" has just under 9 million players, but has a lot of things going for it which I personally prefer.

It is not a Farmville clone

Crops do not wither. There are no free roaming animals getting in the way of your farming. The spam is the least of almost any Facebook game I play. It has decorations, but not too many. I do miss having an avatar very much, as I like that bit of personalization. But did I mention how relaxing it is to play without all the spam?

It has no vehicles

This isn't an issue when you are just starting out or when you have just a nice medium sized farm. But once you start expanding to a mega farm, like I have, planting and harvesting is a real chore. Of course, you can queue up a whole bunch of actions for the game to follow through on, but if you go out of sync with the server (something that happens in all Facebook Flash games), it gets messy as well as tedious.

It's all about the processing

Everything you grow, except for bananas, can be processed into something else more profitable. The processing gives more XP as well as adding value. You can purchase and be gifted OP which allows you to automate the processing so that you don't have to be present to get your crops into more valuable products. My favorite is to grind wheat into flour, feed corn to the chickens to get eggs and feed clover to the cows to get milk. Then I take all three products to bake bread which, inexplicably, is far more profitable than making wine out of grapes.

There are new things being added regularly

Greenhouses, Brick Mills and new crops have all been added just within the past couple of days and constant development has been a theme while I've been playing. This means that if you level out of everything you can do now, you just need to wait a week or so for something new to have fun with.

Making a decision

Of course, it really comes down to personal preference. If you like decorating and don't mind spam, you can try a game like Tiki Farm which is adorable. If you prefer a more traditional farm, but want to dress up your avatar, then (Lil) Farm Life may be more your thing. Facebook apps don't clutter up your hard drive, no matter how many you "install". So I recommend you try the ones I've listed here as well as any others that your Facebook friends may be asking you to play. If you decide you don't like a particular game, you can block the application and you won't get requests from friends any more. And if you want to go back to a blocked game, you'll find your farm just as you left it -- even if it's months later.

Have fun and happy farming!
This article was originally published on Massively.