How FarmVille Was Written In Five Weeks

How FarmVille Was Written In Five Weeks

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Not many of the millions of FarmVille players know that their beloved agriculture simulator was made in just five weeks.

At GDC 2010, Amitt Mahajan, the lead developer of FarmVille, gave a presentation on how his team at Zynga was able to create such a blockbuster casual game so quickly. Mahajan explained that his overall design philosophy was to bring the developers into the design process and to create a cloud-based scaling system using off-the-shelf development products. Also important: sleep.

FarmVille got off the ground very fast. Amitt Mahajan was brought on to Zynga in order to exploit that demand that they saw for social games. "We wanted to build something very quickly. When we first started the game, we decided to go for an eight week launch plan, from conception to launch. That actually ended up being five weeks after we saw how quickly we were developing," said Mahajan.

Mahanjan began by asking what it is that slows down traditional game development. "As someone who is new to a codebase, the lack of knowledge prevents me from being able to produce at my capacity. There's a knowledge barrier before we can start producing," Mahajan said. He combats that by bringing the developer directly into the design process.

"We decided that design doesn't really own all," Mahajan said. "Normally in traditional game design, the designer creates specs, which are then passed over a 'wall' to developers who are then required to implement those specs. Why not give developers just as much ownership of the feature as the designer?

"So we team up designers and developers fairly early on in the process. A designer would come up with an idea and then immediately after that they'll be teamed up with a developer and together they'll work on creating features."

As a result, the developers feel like they own more of the game and are more willing to devote time and resources to making that feature great. The example that Mahajan gave from FarmVille was the green bar that appears whenever a user plants a tree or harvests a field. "That was never specced, and it was implemented by a developer because they thought it would make the feature better.

While that definitely sped up the development process, Mahajan laid out how the technical development decisions allowed the team to create an infrastructure that would grow with FarmVille's popularity. The fairly complex backend of FarmVille exists almost exclusively on the cloud and has scalability protocols built-in with multiple redundancies to ensure that no user data is lost "due to a single point of failure."

"You're probably looking at all of this and wondering, 'How did we write all of this code in five weeks?'" Mahajan asked the audience of developers. "We actually didn't. The only thing we wrote was the [piece that translated user input to the web servers.] Everything else is off-the-shelf components. So the only thing that you really need to concentrate on is developing your game."

Lastly, the most important thing that Zynga learned when making FarmVille was sleep. "We were really really tired by the end of building FarmVille. We decided though that we were going to get it out, that we were going to launch it on Saturday. It turns out that's a really bad idea," Mahajan said amidst chuckles from the crowd. As with any launch, there were problems and the team had to spend several weeks at full capacity trying to clean up those problems while they were already spent.

Because of this, it's now standard operating procedure at Zynga to be code complete on a game on Thursday or Friday and then rest the team over the weekend. "With the team ready to rock on Monday, then we'll go ahead and launch the game," Mahajan said.

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Wow...A casual game with a short dev cycle.

*is in shock*

And the method is actually quite inventive.

How much extra weeks did they need in order to fix it? If you add that to the five weeks, you'll have the actual time it took them to make the game. Otherwise Miyamoto might as well come up and say he created Mario in one day... and then he contacted the other people who did the actual game building in a time schedule that doesn't count.

I never played FarmVille, but I've watched people waste their time with it while I was at their place. It's a simple web based game. I'm not surprised it took such a short time at all. It's not like they built up the current day Kingdom of Loathing within that time or anything.

Oh, and yes, I am bitter at going over to a friend's place only to be ignored for a web based game. It's even more annoying then being in a room with friends while everyone checks their phones for new messages mid-conversation.

And here I thought Farmville as written in five weeks because it cherry picked from a slew of existing online farm web games and therefore required minimal effort on behalf the developers to deal with anything the least bit untested.

I also thought the main reason why it is was so successful had little to do with the game but rather because it utilized a controversially underhanded pyramid scheme methodology to funnel in ignorant Facebook users who had never encountered games like this before.

Considering how much envy/scorn I hold for these rich bastards for being at the right place at the right time with other peoples' ideas, I'm not real sure I want to hear their advice about how to make a game. Their advice on how to fleece everybody and not get slapped with a lawsuit over it, on the other hand, would be invaluable.

Onyx Oblivion:
Wow...A casual game with a short dev cycle.

*is in shock*

And the method is actually quite inventive.

And, frankly, there's a lot there that "real" game companies could learn from. The idea of developers and designers working together? Rather than being on either side of an iron gate made of tigers [/yahtzee]? Scandalous!

DESIGN IS LAW!

In before the inundation of "lol facebook sucks" comments.
It's actually pretty smart the way the went into making this game. A lot of devs must have been taking notes in order to try to implement that on a bigger project. Could help reduce crunch time.

AboveUp:
It's even more annoying then being in a room with friends while everyone checks their phones for new messages mid-conversation.

Dude, that shit is incredibly annoying. I was at a supper with a few coworkers last holidays and guess what everyone of them did after eating. They all checked their damn cellphones to see if they had messages instead of, you know, talk to the people they were with.

I guess it depends on the size and scale of the project. When you create something as simple* as Farmville, there's a lot of room for experimentation with different development philosophies. You couldn't do this sort of thing with a large dev team, the type that makes PC and console games.

geldonyetich:
And here I thought Farmville as written in five weeks because it cherry picked from a slew of existing online farm web games and therefore required minimal effort on behalf the developers to deal with anything the least bit untested.

I also thought the main reason why it is was so successful was because it utilized controversially underhanded pyramid scheme methodology to funnel in ignorant Facebook users who had never encountered games like this before.

Considering how much envy/scorn I hold for these rich bastards for being at the right place at the right time with other peoples' ideas, I'm not real sure I want to hear their advice about how to make a game. Their advice on how to fleece everybody and not get slapped with a lawsuit over it, on the other hand, would be invaluable.

Yeah, this basically sums it up quite well. But you know what they say, imitation is the highest form of flattery.

AboveUp:
How much extra weeks did they need in order to fix it? If you add that to the five weeks, you'll have the actual time it took them to make the game. Otherwise Miyamoto might as well come up and say he created Mario in one day... and then he contacted the other people who did the actual game building in a time schedule that doesn't count.

I never played FarmVille, but I've watched people waste their time with it while I was at their place. It's a simple web based game. I'm not surprised it took such a short time at all. It's not like they built up the current day Kingdom of Loathing within that time or anything.

Oh, and yes, I am bitter at going over to a friend's place only to be ignored for a web based game. It's even more annoying then being in a room with friends while everyone checks their phones for new messages mid-conversation.

A friend's place? Try your cousins and aunts and uncles you haven't seen for two years. And they say I'm a nerd!

Uh... I see a couple of editing problems here >_> No a few little i and /i blocks misplaced. Somewhere, "Mahajan" was misspelt as "Manhajan".

But yeah, this is interesting. Would like to see a large game studio try this.

Anyone else his name kinda of looks like "marijuana"?

Just thought I'd throw that out there...

for him to put out a game in five weeks but people have wasted months at i say fair play to him he is putting away creepy shut ins and off the streets!

Booze Zombie:
Anyone else his name kinda of looks like "marijuana"?

Just thought I'd throw that out there...

it sort of does

Harvest Moon would like to have a word with you.

Well, that sort of explains why the game keeps having the problems it does. Someone in their development team needs to be beaten with the Optimizing Stick as well, farmville eats more resources than......pretty much any PC game I can think of. I checked Task Manager when I had it open once, my Firefox process was using over 125 MB of RAM with farmville open. Firefox with one tab open normally uses about 50 MB of RAM, do the math.

tkaStryc9:
Well, that sort of explains why the game keeps having the problems it does. Someone in their development team needs to be beaten with the Optimizing Stick as well, farmville eats more resources than......pretty much any PC game I can think of. I checked Task Manager when I had it open once, my Firefox process was using over 125 MB of RAM with farmville open. Firefox with one tab open normally uses about 50 MB of RAM, do the math.

My Firefox is currently consuming a little under 1GB of RAM. And I don't play Farmville. :)

geldonyetich:
And here I thought Farmville as written in five weeks because it cherry picked from a slew of existing online farm web games and therefore required minimal effort on behalf the developers to deal with anything the least bit untested.

I also thought the main reason why it is was so successful had little to do with the game but rather because it utilized a controversially underhanded pyramid scheme methodology to funnel in ignorant Facebook users who had never encountered games like this before.

Considering how much envy/scorn I hold for these rich bastards for being at the right place at the right time with other peoples' ideas, I'm not real sure I want to hear their advice about how to make a game. Their advice on how to fleece everybody and not get slapped with a lawsuit over it, on the other hand, would be invaluable.

Your right actually, and this guy more or less admits it. As he said, his team really didn't develop anything, they worked totally with "off the shelf" components, which a lot of other fly by night developers were also doubtlessly using.

The thing to consider here is that he developed a shoddy product aimed at a brand new and un-savvy market of casual gamers who didn't have any of the knowlege or experience of either serious "gamers" or regular game players, and also doubtlessly lacked the general web surfing prowess of the same crowd. To the people being targeted these social networking services ARE The Internet.

All told, the whole Zynga thing reminds me of the "Dotcom" boom, and how a few people who got into it early made a fortune, and then made even more by giving their know-how to other people, largely talking about how to exploit "rubes" who were new to the whole thing. Of course people learned more, the field became more competitive as everyone started using the same knowlege, and the bubble burst.

Right now Zynga was the most vocal predator on the scene that has milked services like Facebook, and is of course now talking crud like this and getting other people interested. Some of these people are probably paying big bucks for Zynga's "Expertise". Of course, given how blatent this is, and the obvious contempt with which the people being farmed by Farmville and other similar games and such are, it won't last. Of course Zynga's people seem to know this and I'd imagine our "friend" here know this, and will jump off the train when it goes down in flames... probably watching the wreckage of numerous people who wound up putting on that path (and received money from while instructing them).

Such are my thoughts.

I'm jaded and cynical though, to me almost everything seems like variations on things I've seen before. His meetings strike me as being basically a combination of Dotcom mania and the goober from the movie "Wall Street" giving his "Greed is good" speech, complete with the contempt for the people being exploited.

tkaStryc9:
Well, that sort of explains why the game keeps having the problems it does. Someone in their development team needs to be beaten with the Optimizing Stick as well, farmville eats more resources than......pretty much any PC game I can think of. I checked Task Manager when I had it open once, my Firefox process was using over 125 MB of RAM with farmville open. Firefox with one tab open normally uses about 50 MB of RAM, do the math.

You.....you play farmville! Burn the witch! (I'm kidding everyone, just kidding.)

But seriously, this game is for housewives with way too much time on their hands who spend hours upon hours on these social networking sites. I think its fair to say the game was made in only 5 weeks, and its made a whole bunch of money, does that make it a good game? In my book...NO!!! If we are to consider video games as an art form we cannot judge a game by how much money it is able to make, we much judge it solely on its gameplay. Is it a fun game? I wouldn't know, I've never played it because from what I hear, its a huge scam to try to get causal video game players to spend real life money, for virtual items, which I highly disapprove of.

And I refuse to accept the fact that a game that can be made in five weeks, is better than a game that is made in four years. It just can't be done. Even if were looking at causal games or indie games, Farmville sucks. Look at Plants Vs. Zombies, its not overly complicated, its not a graphical powerhouse, but its still a great strategy game. Is it on par with something like "Company of Heros"? God no, but for what it is, its still great. But no matter what you put Farmville up against, I promise you it will topple down. When we judge a game on its merits and not on the money it makes, the truth about the game will become clear! But if we justify gaming success solely on the number of digits in its earnings, then we are clearly not looking at games as an art form, and we should just give up that argument right here and right now.

*steps off soapbox*

elricik:

You.....you play farmville! Burn the witch! (I'm kidding everyone, just kidding.)

But seriously, this game is for housewives with way too much time on their hands who spend hours upon hours on these social networking sites. I think its fair to say the game was made in only 5 weeks, and its made a whole bunch of money, does that make it a good game? In my book...NO!!! If we are to consider video games as an art form we cannot judge a game by how much money it is able to make, we much judge it solely on its gameplay. Is it a fun game? I wouldn't know, I've never played it because from what I hear, its a huge scam to try to get causal video game players to spend real life money, for virtual items, which I highly disapprove of.

And I refuse to accept the fact that a game that can be made in five weeks, is better than a game that is made in four years. It just can't be done. Even if were looking at causal games or indie games, Farmville sucks. Look at Plants Vs. Zombies, its not overly complicated, its not a graphical powerhouse, but its still a great strategy game. Is it on par with something like "Company of Heros"? God no, but for what it is, its still great. But no matter what you put Farmville up against, I promise you it will topple down. When we judge a game on its merits and not on the money it makes, the truth about the game will become clear! But if we justify gaming success solely on the number of digits in its earnings, then we are clearly not looking at games as an art form, and we should just give up that argument right here and right now.

*steps off soapbox*

FarmVille is pretty much any MMO out there boiled down to it's most basic elements in my mind. You have the grinding experience to reach the next level, the need to be better than other people playing the game, achievements, the only thing it's really missing are fetch quests, guilds, raiding and killing.

I'm not saying that it's the best game ever, and I don't even spend an hour on it a day. It's just something I do with a few friends pretty much because it's there. Personally I can't wait for the Civilization game that EA is supposed be doing to come out, I really hope it's good...but we are talking about EA so a skeptical view must be taken.

Also, the offers that they have\had were indeed scams, they admitted as much, but you aren't really forced to take part in them to advance in the game. Stupid people fill that crap out because they are too competitive for their own good. The same goes for the people who join groups advertising getting game cash or in game items for free and stuff.

FarmVille is just like any other game in that there are people who take it a bit too far and will spend their entire paychecks on doing whatever it is that you do when you spend real money on it. There are also people who will spend hours on end grinding for whatever achievement is next in their sights. There are probably people out there that will get all pissy and threaten to kick your ass if you dare to say that FarmVille is a horrible game...which honestly it kind of is...an I realize that and I play it anyway because in a way it helps me to better appreciate the the other good games I play is guess is a good way of validating it.

With that I leave you with these
http://verydemotivational.com/2010/03/03/demotivational-posters-farmville/
and
http://verydemotivational.com/2010/02/22/demotivational-posters-farmville-2/

Damn... That's less time than E.T. for the Atari 2600. And we all know how that turned out.

I would not be bragging about how quickly we had coded the UI of one of my systems, if it took an additional 40% of the development time to fix the bugs.

geldonyetich:
And here I thought Farmville as written in five weeks because it cherry picked from a slew of existing online farm web games and therefore required minimal effort on behalf the developers to deal with anything the least bit untested.

I also thought the main reason why it is was so successful had little to do with the game but rather because it utilized a controversially underhanded pyramid scheme methodology to funnel in ignorant Facebook users who had never encountered games like this before.

Considering how much envy/scorn I hold for these rich bastards for being at the right place at the right time with other peoples' ideas, I'm not real sure I want to hear their advice about how to make a game. Their advice on how to fleece everybody and not get slapped with a lawsuit over it, on the other hand, would be invaluable.

Spot on.

tkaStryc9:

elricik:

You.....you play farmville! Burn the witch! (I'm kidding everyone, just kidding.)

But seriously, this game is for housewives with way too much time on their hands who spend hours upon hours on these social networking sites. I think its fair to say the game was made in only 5 weeks, and its made a whole bunch of money, does that make it a good game? In my book...NO!!! If we are to consider video games as an art form we cannot judge a game by how much money it is able to make, we much judge it solely on its gameplay. Is it a fun game? I wouldn't know, I've never played it because from what I hear, its a huge scam to try to get causal video game players to spend real life money, for virtual items, which I highly disapprove of.

And I refuse to accept the fact that a game that can be made in five weeks, is better than a game that is made in four years. It just can't be done. Even if were looking at causal games or indie games, Farmville sucks. Look at Plants Vs. Zombies, its not overly complicated, its not a graphical powerhouse, but its still a great strategy game. Is it on par with something like "Company of Heros"? God no, but for what it is, its still great. But no matter what you put Farmville up against, I promise you it will topple down. When we judge a game on its merits and not on the money it makes, the truth about the game will become clear! But if we justify gaming success solely on the number of digits in its earnings, then we are clearly not looking at games as an art form, and we should just give up that argument right here and right now.

*steps off soapbox*

FarmVille is pretty much any MMO out there boiled down to it's most basic elements in my mind. You have the grinding experience to reach the next level, the need to be better than other people playing the game, achievements, the only thing it's really missing are fetch quests, guilds, raiding and killing.

I'm not saying that it's the best game ever, and I don't even spend an hour on it a day. It's just something I do with a few friends pretty much because it's there. Personally I can't wait for the Civilization game that EA is supposed be doing to come out, I really hope it's good...but we are talking about EA so a skeptical view must be taken.

Also, the offers that they have\had were indeed scams, they admitted as much, but you aren't really forced to take part in them to advance in the game. Stupid people fill that crap out because they are too competitive for their own good. The same goes for the people who join groups advertising getting game cash or in game items for free and stuff.

FarmVille is just like any other game in that there are people who take it a bit too far and will spend their entire paychecks on doing whatever it is that you do when you spend real money on it. There are also people who will spend hours on end grinding for whatever achievement is next in their sights. There are probably people out there that will get all pissy and threaten to kick your ass if you dare to say that FarmVille is a horrible game...which honestly it kind of is...an I realize that and I play it anyway because in a way it helps me to better appreciate the the other good games I play is guess is a good way of validating it.

With that I leave you with these
http://verydemotivational.com/2010/03/03/demotivational-posters-farmville/
and
http://verydemotivational.com/2010/02/22/demotivational-posters-farmville-2/

Alright, you've stated your opinion and heres my rebuttal.

If you admit that Farmville is a crappy game, then why play it? You state simple because its there, but why? In a nutshell I'm asking why you would play this game over something better, a good game. You haven't stated whether or not you yourself have ever spent real money for in game items, if you have then why not play an MMO? At least in an MMO theres actual gameplay. Even if your computer is crappy, or you just like the convenience of playing an online game in an internet browser. If that's the case RuneScape is an internet browsing MMO, that in no way could challenge WoW, but does have a good player base. Its not a masterpiece, but in my opinion its a good game. But if your solely playing it just because you want to play, in my opinion your wasting your time, but hey, its your life, so just tell me to shut up, and live it. I'm only asking you because I don't get it, and you apparently do.

JEBWrench:

Onyx Oblivion:
Wow...A casual game with a short dev cycle.

*is in shock*

And the method is actually quite inventive.

And, frankly, there's a lot there that "real" game companies could learn from. The idea of developers and designers working together? Rather than being on either side of an iron gate made of tigers [/yahtzee]? Scandalous!

DESIGN IS LAW!

Yeah, this is true...

We may not like Farmville, or, what it represents but they got the job done, and did it quickly

can probably take the award for quickest billions ever for the least amount of work XD

Bek359:
Damn... That's less time than E.T. for the Atari 2600. And we all know how that turned out.

Oh god yet again the end of gaming as we know it is coming

I commented on this in my Escapist 228 article about Zynga and Mafia Wars, "An Offer You Can't Refuse":

FarmVille is a point-for-point duplicate of Slashkey's Farm Town. At the Austin Game Developers Conference in September 2009, Brian Reynolds - yes, the same Brian Reynolds who this year forsook real-time strategy godhood at Big Huge Games to become Chief Designer at Zynga - boasted how they brought FarmVille from conception to launch in five weeks. Yeah, five weeks to commission new art and press the Copy button.

good thing no one's paying for it.

oh wait...

Well... most people anyway.

elricik:

*snip*

Alright, you've stated your opinion and here's my rebuttal.

If you admit that Farmville is a crappy game, then why play it? You state simple because its there, but why? In a nutshell I'm asking why you would play this game over something better, a good game. You haven't stated whether or not you yourself have ever spent real money for in game items, if you have then why not play an MMO? At least in an MMO there's actual gameplay. Even if your computer is crappy, or you just like the convenience of playing an online game in an internet browser. If that's the case RuneScape is an internet browsing MMO, that in no way could challenge WoW, but does have a good player base. Its not a masterpiece, but in my opinion its a good game. But if your solely playing it just because you want to play, in my opinion your wasting your time, but hey, its your life, so just tell me to shut up, and live it. I'm only asking you because I don't get it, and you apparently do.

I play because on some level I guess I do find it somewhat entertaining, simple as that. It's a management sim with MMO elements that I don't have to spend a lot of time messing with like SimCity. I never could get SimCity or any of those other SimSometing games to work.

As far as paying actual money for in game items, neither I nor anyone I know has ever paid real money for the shit they sell in that game, and I never will. Like you I don't like the idea of 'micro-transactions' and I don't play other MMOs because either the setting doesn't grab me or I don't want the monthly subscription fee. FarmVille is free and you get what you pay for, it's not great but it's free and it's easy and I have a few friends that were playing before I was so I figured why not?

The only MMO that I've ever dabbled in was Vendetta Online, and I only played for about a month because a couple of my friends bought me a month for Christmas a couple of years ago just to get me to play it, they paid for it I really had no choice. I'll admit that I liked playing it but I still wouldn't pay $10 a month for it out of my own pocket.

I don't feel that it makes me less of a gamer to spend time on something like FarmVille since I spend the vast majority of my gaming time playing other games. If FarmVille were the only game I played I probably wouldn't be here on the Escapist.

How it got off the ground so fast? IT"S A FLASH GAME. ANY RETARD CAN WRITE THOSE. god damn

Onyx Oblivion:
Wow...A casual game with a short dev cycle.

*is in shock*

And the method is actually quite inventive.

Very. It's a shame their company is famous for scamming their customers.

 

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