In this cyber age, many of us have managed to find our own meaningful ways to spend hours in front of the computer screen. For some, it’s creeping friends on Facebook. For others, it’s surfing adorable baby panda videos on YouTube. And for many, it’s playing FarmVille—a social networking game, launched by Zynga in 2009, in which players can collect animals, plant crops, and purchase decorations to create their own farms.
Each player begins with an empty farm and a fixed number of “farm coins,” which they use to purchase vegetable seeds. Players earn more farm coins by harvesting crops or visiting neighbors, and they can also earn “experience points” for plowing their land or buying items like farming tools. By reaching certain benchmarks, players advance to higher levels, where they can buy newer, shinier crops and animals. Zynga constantly updates its offerings of themes (you can buy the Eiffel Tower in the Parisian Theme, for example) and decorations (buildings, fences, gnomes, etc.) that are available for a certain number of farm coins.
According to a survey conducted by social media firm Hasai, the game has more than 63 million active players, many of whom devote hours on end to bettering their farms and advancing to higher levels. Just last month, rising superstar Emma Stone told Elle that she was a FarmVille freak: “I got to level 42, and I wasn’t doing anything else anymore, so I had to stop.” She later told Jimmy Fallon, “It’s a fake farm, but it doesn’t feel fake, Jimmy.”
Although FarmVille is free to play, those lacking sufficient farm coins can spend real dollars to purchase content, and there are indeed players who shell out hundreds, even thousands to deck out their estates. A recent article in BusinessWeek dubbed these players “whales.” While those who spend real money represent only 10 percent of FarmVille’s total players, and while the whales—who are responsible for between one-quarter and a half of the company’s revenue—represent less than 1 percent, these numbers do indicate the kind of heated fandom the game can inspire.
For most players, though, the real attractions of FarmVille seem to be its ability to connect people from all over the world—it is, after all, available through the social network juggernaut, Facebook—and its status as an outlet for creative design. By inviting people to become their virtual neighbors, sending gifts to one another, and even joining “co-ops” (joint efforts to grow more crops), many FarmVille players have made actual friends. And while most of the decorations offered on FarmVille have little to do with real-world agriculture—mountain ranges, waterfalls, unicorns, and McDonald’s hot air balloons aren’t commonly seen on real farms—they do provide endless potential to let the imagination run wild.
In the gallery above, we’ve collected some of FarmVille’s most intricate farms, created by some of the game’s most devoted homesteaders. Many of these players were past winners of Zynga’s “Farm of the Week” contest. Through their elaborate farm creations, they have demonstrated FarmVille’s commitment to capitalism, agrarianism, and, not least of all, friendship.