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The Personal Economics of Farmville

I’ve been playing Farmville, a social video game by Zynga, over the past week, and I have to say that I’m extremely impressed.  It’s a very simple simulation game, with well integrated social aspects to promote virality, a good technology tree, and clever virtual goods integration.

gameBig_farmville

If you’ve played the game (and at this point, approximately 9 million people have), then you are likely already familiar with the primary economics of the game.  As a farmer, you have a certain number of plots.  It costs money (coins) to plow a plot and plant seeds.  Different crops take different amounts of time to grow, and are worth different amounts at harvest.  Quite simply, the question is:

Which crops should you plant?

Since I do love an excuse to crack open Excel, I built a simple model that tells you what crops are the “most valuable” to plant.  My model was simple:

  • Revenue is just the value of the crop at harvest
  • Cost is the cost of the seeds + the cost to plow the square

In order to compare crops, I had to normalize the values:

  • Normalized all revenue and costs to “one square”
  • Normalized all revenue and costs to “one day”, namely 24 hours

Thus a crop like Strawberries, which takes 4 hours to grow, can be theoretically planted 6 times in a single day.  Eggplant, which takes 2 days to grow, can be planted 0.5 times in a single day.

This model gives you the following simple table as output, ranked by “coins per square per day”:

Crop Profit / Day
Tomatoes 174.00
Sunflowers 165.00
Coffee 162.00
Blueberries 156.00
Carrots 150.00
Raspberries 132.00
Broccoli 129.00
Peppers 77.00
Rice 72.00
Corn 71.67
Pumpkin 69.00
Pineapple 66.00
Potatoes 65.00
Strawberries 60.00
Yellow Bell 54.00
Watermelon 50.75
Cotton 39.00
Soybeans 33.00
Squash 33.00
Artichoke 29.75
Eggplant 24.00
Wheat 21.67

(Note: I still haven’t gotten the revenue and cycle time for the new crops, Red Wheat and Yellow Mellon)

Most of the strategy guides that I’ve found across the web have basically gone just this far.

The problem with this model, however, is pretty obvious:

It assumes that your time has no value!

Listen, Raspberries might be #6 on this list, but you have to actually harvest and replant 12 times per day! (It’s a two-hour crop).  That only seems reasonable if you truly value your time at $0.  Theoretically, we should give some non-zero value to the time it takes to replant, and see how it affects the rankings.

To do this, I changed the model based on the following assumptions:

  • It takes roughly 15 minutes to replant your farm with a crop
  • 1500 Farmville coins are worth $1 (which is what Zynga charges to buy coins with PayPal or your credit card).

I then graphed out the ranking of the crops on a spectrum from $0.00 / hour value for your time, all the way to $1.00 / hour.

As you can tell from the range, the bad news is that even the best crop flips to being “negative value” per day at a monetary value of approximately $0.70 / hour.

Farmville_Economics

click the image to see enlarged verson

This graph paints a very different picture.  If you rank crops by what hourly wage “zeroes them out” in value, you find that actually, your top three crops should be:

  1. Broccoli ($0.69 / hour)
  2. Corn ($0.57 / hour)
  3. Watermelon ($0.54 / hour)

If you accept the idea that 1500 Farmville coins is worth $1 (which is a bit of a stretch since you can’t convert back to dollars…), then these are the crops that pay you the best “hourly wage” for your time.

There are a few things I’ve left out here:

  • Trees / Animals. I haven’t run these numbers for trees or animals, but it would be trivial to do so.
  • Working capital. These crops require different amounts of liquid cash in your Farmville account.  That capital theoretically has a cost, but I didn’t model it.
  • Experience. Some people are playing for experience points, not coins.  Ignored here.
  • Capital Risk. The different crops have different windows of time to harvest before your revenue goes to zero and your crops wither.  This analysis assumes a “perfect farmer”.

If you find this model interesting or useful, would love to see links back here from anyone who pursues any of these different issues.

Of course, that assumes that there is someone else out there twisted enough to spend time analyzing the personal economics of Farmville…

Updates: I’ve now posted several follow-on posts about Farmville Economics:

68 Comments Post a comment
  1. Abhi #

    How about factoring the Xp earned ?

    August 22, 2009
    • The point of this blog post was to focus on the economics of picking the right crop, and how that changes when you take into account the “cost” of re-planting each cycle.

      It’s unclear to me that adding experience points into the mix here would significantly change the outcome of the best crops to plant. Possible, but unlikely, since you can get 1 experience point by plowing land for 15 coins. That would mean an experience point is worth roughly $0.01.

      August 22, 2009
    • since you changed the gift box where you can sell your gifts before you put them on the farm i have lost 6 gifts that people have sent me. I click use now go to my gift box and there is nothing there. They are no where to be found, gone!!! why do you have to fix something when it’s not broken? turn the gift box back the way it was so I can aleast get my gifts.

      November 11, 2009
  2. I played the game pretty heavily for about 3 weeks and ran similar numbers (though mostly in my head). I found soybeans to be my personal optimal crop, as the yield (revenue/cost) was greatest (4.2 IIRC), especially based on the time. They’re a one day crop, and I only played once a day. That figure is, of course ignoring the cost of plowing because I’d have to plow the ground regardless of what I planted. The plowing cost as a percentage of that might have changed the numbers slightly (or significantly), but more than likely, the maximized value for me would have still been in Syobeans.

    -CS

    August 22, 2009
    • Hi Chris,

      There are quite a few crops that are better than soybeans, even one day crops. Peppers, for example, are a clearly better one day crop.

      The 15-coin cost of plowing is highly relevant for crops whose profit margin is particularly low in absolute terms. a 30 coin profit drops in half when you take into account plowing.

      Adam

      August 22, 2009
  3. Todd Kiehn #

    Adam, I apparently don’t value my time as much as you do. I calculate nearly the reverse of your hourly wage scale – value gained per X hour period, assuming you have time to invest in multiple cycles. Blueberries (and super berries when available) come way out on top then, until you get to the overnight cycle when tomatoes change your life.

    And if you’re going to value your time, then does the tractor change your math?

    August 22, 2009
    • Hmm, I’m not sure I fully understand – my original table should take into account value / hour. It’s just net profit per square per 24 hours. Assumes you can handle as many cycles as needed.

      I need to add super berries. I just got these yesterday, didn’t know they existed.

      I think you are right about the tractor. How much does it reduce plowing time? Right now, for me to click-click-click 306 squares (the size of my 18×17 field) takes over 15 minutes.

      August 22, 2009
      • Todd Kiehn #

        Yup, my mistake, I read too quickly. The only major adjustment I’ve made is to calculate profit per X hour cycle given a real life schedule (both mine and my boys – things need to be ready at 7:30am and 5:30pm). Tomatoes have dramatically simplified the choices.

        Super berries are apparently a this weekend one-off, very complicated schedule-wise and under your real-time based analysis.

        August 22, 2009
  4. FV lover #

    I think that time as a factor of production has to have a much smaller value in the virtual world of Farmville as compared to that that in real life because the net production is almost nothing. The real value is in fun.

    Its like saying that I pay $5 to attend an hourly mixer where I have fun but I should be paid $50 since my time is like 1hour = 45 $.

    August 22, 2009
    • I agree with you. Actually, in some ways, you could argue that if you normally make $50 an hour, and you only make $0.50 equivalent planting crops on Farmville, the $49.50 / hour is how much value you are ascribing to the “fun” aspects of the game.

      The flaw in this thinking, of course, is that we actually don’t get paid by the hour. With a few exceptions, most of us actually don’t have the opportunity to work 168 hours a week…

      August 22, 2009
  5. Superberries are not showing anymore on farmville on facebook! What gives?

    August 24, 2009
    • Super Berries were just a special weekend promotion from Zynga. Not a permanent crop.

      My guess is we might see some more super crops in the future, to help spur activation & activity cycles. Nothing like a high profit crop that requires checking every two hours to hit records. :)

      Adam

      August 25, 2009
      • Theresa #

        Can they please have a “Super Speical” crop every weekend, like the Super berries???

        August 29, 2009
      • Something tells me we’ll see another super crop on the weekend when Farmville gets close to 15M daily active users. I don’t think it was a coincidence that the timing of the Super Berries matched up with them clearing the 10M DAU target.

        Adam

        August 30, 2009
  6. I LOVED the super strawberries. I was fascinated watching them mature before my eyes.
    It seems that some peoples vegetables and or flowers mature quicker than others. Why is that?
    We should all be growing at the same rate,in all fairness.
    I hope they do a super fruit or vegetable again soon, Ya really can stay busy and racks up some coins!

    August 25, 2009
  7. i bought a red tractor and it plows half my field so i bought a pink 1 2 finish the job but it still only plows half what you pay the same price and 1 don t come with a gas tank so don t waste your money on 2 tractors your farmville pal

    August 25, 2009
  8. Todd Kiehn #

    So, interesting discovery – if your farmer cannot reach a crop/tree/animal (say, because it’s enclosed by hedge or fence) then the game will just plow or harvest or plant after you click on it without the farmer walking towards it. This is significantly faster than having the farmer walk between items.

    The extension is that if you enclose your *farmer*, then all your tasks, especially the harvest/plow/plant cycle, are dramatically sped up.

    Does this change your math, Adam? Or is it just a linear adjustment like the tractor? And do we feel this is a legitimate approach to making the game easier?

    August 27, 2009
  9. I would like to know how you get more FV coins without buying them. My husband hasn’t been playing as long as I have and he has double the fv coins but doesn’t know how he is getting them. Help

    August 30, 2009
    • Peggie #

      I want to know how you get FV coins without buying them.

      October 23, 2009
      • Hi Peggie,

        I assume you mean Farmville Cash (FV), not coins, since coins you earn through harvesting crops, trees, animals. There are only two ways to get Farmville Cash: Either buy it with real money, or earn it one bill at a time through the high end ribbons (Blue ribbons).

        Hope this helps.
        Adam

        October 26, 2009
    • sure wish they would fix this, no matter what i do mine is a 1, this is the worst program on this site, needs to redo the cash

      November 18, 2009
  10. Hi Adam!

    I was reading a Wall Street Journal blog post (http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2009/08/31/app-watch-facebooks-11-million-farmers/) that mentioned this blog post by Adam Nash and I thought is this the same Adam Nash that I know? And indeed it is. :-)

    Mostly just saying ‘hi’ but thanks for the post. Now I know what my next crop is going to be!

    September 1, 2009
  11. David Pottinger #

    Have you tried growing dope? Cash is King!

    September 2, 2009
  12. Ken #

    It’s an interesting and almost valid piece of analysis but it has one fundamental flaw.

    By introducing a value for the time taken to plant/plow/harvest it overlooks the fact that anyone with enough time to play FarmVille (let alone consider the analysis) has either no ability or no desire to earn money instead, and so their time should, justifyably, be valued at zero! ;-)

    September 2, 2009
  13. sta12s #

    I thought I was the only one crazy enough to figure out the economics of FarmVille!

    As Todd Kiehn mentioned, I too take XP into account. Here are my variables;

    1. Total Fixed Price (cost of each crop)
    2. Price (sale price)
    3. Hours to Harvest
    4. XP Gained

    Then;
    5. Marginal Revenue (Price – TFC)
    6. Total Revenue per 24h period (MR*(24/Hours to Harvest))
    7. XP Gained per 24h period (XP Gained*(24/Hours to Harvest));
    Side Note: XP gained per 24h period *should* have an additional XP unit per cycle, since you get an additional XP per square plowed.
    8. And, my coefficient of FarmVille (Total Revenue per 24h period * XP gained per 24h period) – the higher this number, the better the crop.

    I agree that when taking cycles into account, Tomatoes are best for sleeping hours, and Blueberries are best for waking hours (or those times you can log onto FarmVille without your boss noticing). I’m trying to level quickly, so I’m more concerned with XP gained than simply marginal revenue.

    Anyhoos, wonderful article!

    September 6, 2009
  14. elizabeth #

    I am so grateful that you are thinking about this in such an analytical fashion-it makes this pleasant time waster feel less pointless! Thank you!

    September 7, 2009
  15. Beff #

    Should I buy a tractor, harvester or seeder? I need one for each action? Are they worth it – or should I buy more land? What are those coins that pop up out of the groend when you are harvesting? Do you have to do someting to catch them – or fo they becoem FV $$. i don’t see the connection? Any help is appreciated :)

    September 7, 2009
    • The coins are an extra 100-coin bonus that you find when plowing.

      You can get Farmville Cash two ways – either from ribbons that you win (mainly the higher ones) or buy spending real money.

      More land is the most productive way to increase the Coin & XP production of your farm. Going from 14×14 (196 squares) to 16×16 (256 squares) is a huge percentage boost. 20×20 is 400 squares, more than double the original farm.

      My review of the tractor, harvester & seeder is mixed. They are very useful, and the time saved is appreciated. But the fuel capacity is so low that you have to burn through significant Farmville cash to use them on a regular basis.

      September 8, 2009
  16. Some of us farmers really need a bigger farm. When will the 20×20 and 24×24 be available

    September 10, 2009
  17. dennica joseph #

    can one play farmville only through the facebook web site?if not,what are the other ways?

    September 14, 2009
    • If you click the Farmville graphic on the blog post, you will go to the Zynga site for Farmville. However, you can only play the game on Facebook.

      September 15, 2009
  18. Spello #

    Hey there.

    Useful figures and a good service for all players out there.

    There are, however, several alternative ways of looking at the data and some additional considerations to include in the calculations.

    Insofar as time is concerned, we spend a great deal of time without much consideration of it’s potential monetary value. Watching T.V, taking walks and other activities that preclude most forms of multitasking are not directly rewarded financially. Farmville is another form of entertainment and, as such, the time invested in it can be considered non lucrative.

    One way to save on the time it takes to plough, seed and harvest is click the tasks in quickly- something that improves with a good mouse and practice, and just shift to doing something else while the little farmer goes about it. Watching him do it is like watching paint dry..we don’t have to do it :) One can time how much it takes per an alloted space and come back when the little farmer is done.

    You are, of course, right when you assume that staying up all day to plant every 2 hours, even fast, would be unusually…ahhem..dedicated..so a balance should be found like with all forms of entertainment.

    XP is certainly a consideration if one wants to be entertained by the wider options available to a higher level player.
    I’m only level 26 and at my level a combination of Blueberries (2 xp for every 4 hour cycle excluding first planting) plus Tomatoes ( 2xp per 8 hour cycle excluding..) give most XP.
    Maybe a complete XP calculation table can help those who are after the quick leveling.

    Thanks for your effort.

    September 14, 2009
  19. Aimee Bushmaker #

    I feel so much better since I found your blog. All of my Farming Friends made fun of me when I made a spreadsheet of all of the crops, trees & animals.
    Now that they have added Grapes; how do they fall into your analysis?

    September 15, 2009
    • I’m hoping to update my table with all the new crops. Grapes are the best of the “1 day” crops right now (up to Level 31). However, I haven’t gotten the figures for all the higher level crops (yet).

      September 15, 2009
  20. Suzanne Ashton #

    I use a simple xl spreadsheet to sort crops by
    i) grow time, then
    ii) profit (sell price less total cost (seedlings+plow))

    I also have a column for XP so this can be considered.

    This makes it really easy to see at a glance: which crop is the best fit for the current circumstance, ie when will I next be free to harvest & replow.

    I recently added a ‘Level’ column for at which level you are able to access seedlings – to aid discussions with farmville friends across a range of levels.

    I really enjoyed your articles. Nice work Adam.

    Suze

    October 9, 2009
  21. Peter #

    Mein Spiel lässt sich nicht Starten – mit einem anderen Juser auf meinem PC geht es – liegt also nicht am PC – Hilfe

    October 11, 2009
    • Es funktioniert prima auf dem PC. Es sind Probleme an diesem Wochenende. Vergewissern Sie sich die neueste Version von Flash von der Adobe-Website installiert.

      October 12, 2009
  22. Debbie #

    I love farmvlle also… I am having a problem with the darn thing loading. My husband can use my atop and get on farmville with no problem…. but when I get to check my farm…. it doesn’t load. I can only get it to about 80% How can I fix this problem… This might not be the place to ask this Question…. can you point me n the right directon? Oh bye the way I also play Yovile and I have no problem wth that loading. I am stumped.. Thanks Debbe

    October 11, 2009
    • I had this problem in August. Turned out to be a combination of having an older version of Flash installed, combined with a heavy load on the server. Make sure you’re upgraded to the latest Flash player.

      Zynga is having heavy load issues this past week/weekend. Not surprising given the huge exponential growth of Farmville.
      Adam

      October 12, 2009
      • Peggie #

        I had a house and a shed. They disappeared. I can’t put anything where they were, so I think they are hidden. Can you help me find them?

        October 23, 2009
  23. Fantastic information – I had just started keeping track on the crops – now you have done it for me. Thanks!

    October 31, 2009
  24. Sun #

    Adam, thanks for your blog post. The economics for me is XP so I often spend excess funds on buildings that give provide 1,000 XP (for example), then I just delete them. For me, its less about coins and more about the XP earned.

    I also find it helpful to have a list of a crops grouped by grow time. Based on the time of day, I pick the best crop for the situation. If I’m going to be gone for the weekend, I might grow a 2 or 3 day crop. If I know I’ll return home after work, I may grow an 8 hour crop.

    November 3, 2009
  25. kathy #

    are we going to get thanksgiving and christmas like hallowen ? was exciting to see new come to the farm .

    November 5, 2009
  26. Chris Coppin #

    I normalized the prices per square per day as well. Then highlighted the best for each frame of time. Makes it easy to see whats the best to plant depending on when I will be able to harvest as soon as they are done. But I refuse to go below a 12 hour harvest time because I don’t want to replant the whole damn field that often.

    Never figured out how to put a value on your time spent doing this though. Just knew I did not want to be bothered by it that often. Great graphs.

    November 16, 2009
  27. Angie #

    how about mastery? Every time you obtain a level mastery you get experiences and coins. As you go progress is more. Have you find out wich crops are more suitable to master?

    December 3, 2009
  28. Is there any way to convert this virtual money into real money??

    January 26, 2010
  29. Alex Jarson #

    Peas are the best crop to plant!!

    March 2, 2010
  30. allayne #

    What are those little coins that pop up when I’m plowing? Am I supposed to be able to “get” them, or earn them, or are they just there?

    March 4, 2010
  31. Hi Adam,

    I’ve been playing Farmville for two days and, like you, I’ve been totally impressed with the lessons being taught about economics, time, commodities, etc. I was even more impressed with your analysis. I was feeling questions in my bones emerging about how the Farmville dynamics might look on a spreadsheet, and, by golly, your charts saved me some time!

    I just now stumbled onto your blog. So forgive me if you’ve already posted answers to the following questions on your blog, but I’m flying out the door and wanted to ask you:

    (1) what do you do for a living, and, (2) are you available in the future as a consultant per hour?

    I’ve got a project in development, and if things go right, I may want to hire you per hour for more than just Farmville coins.

    Thank you, sir,
    Bob Anderson

    April 13, 2010
  32. hamid ghorbani #

    hi there.several time i tried to buy a tractor but exactly when i paid that 5000 coins its going out of sync and restarting the game and i have no tractor.i think i loosed more than 30000 coins but i could not buy a tractor

    May 8, 2010
  33. keith #

    Hi Adam,

    I’v been playing farmville for a while and noticed an interteresting way of gaining xp points. I too have found tomatos the best item to plant over 24 hours, however once reaching 800000 coins, I started to buy and sell buildngs as well. A Lodge is worth 800000 coints for 8000 px sells for 40000 coins or a villa at1 million coins and get 10000 xp and sells for 50000 coins to help replant crops. this system works best when you have a crop already planed before buying a bulidings.
    just more food for thought!

    keith

    May 15, 2010
  34. stevels #

    Interesting analysis. Quite nice.

    I wonder why you leave animals and trees out, they are not trivial. At the time you analyzed this Olive trees were outperforming an crop in revenue at 19 coins per hour. 16 trees fit into the same plot size as a crop. Same for most animals. Since trees don’t wither and take time to mature the Pomegranate and above should easily extend past $0.70 per hour.
    Now the economic picture has changed a great deal. Trees and animals can be harvested in a few key stroke by using arborers and farmhands. The number of available trees and animals that beat the best crops have expanded. Calves bring in 53.3 per hour. Goats 27, the best chickens 42 and in their coop they bring in 178 coins per hour (per crop plot). The horse born and nursery are also better than the best crops and easily harvested.
    None of these things whither and can be harvested easily. If it weren’t for the co-op challenges which finally get people working as a team in Farmvile and add additional coin and experience, I’d convert the whole farm to trees and animals. Well just trees because animals have a time cost.: they are animated and 150 calves slows the Flash based Farmville to a crawl.

    So it seems trees and animals are not trivial…

    June 13, 2010
  35. I apologize if I’m repeating this, but this seems awfully complicated. There are a LOT of assumptions involved in your calculation, and many of those assumptions change for each farmer. My methodology is simpler and allows the user to plan according to their schedules/abilities. At the end of the day, the point is to not end up with a LOSS. The only real way to acquire a LOSS is if your crops wither (assuming you don’t have or will not purchase or have a friend unwither for you!)

    The way I calculate the value of a crop is by looking at the productivity per plot per hour. Basically, calculating the net profit for each plot (cost – sell for price / time in hours ) which gives me a common number which can be ranked accordingly for each type of seed. This would work for trees, animals, etc. Because plowing is a fixed cost which would need to be done regardless of which seed you plant, I don’t calculate it in.

    This method of calculation allows the user (or virtual farmer) to account for their own time… got a meeting that will last for more than two hours? Then it doesn’t make sense to stick to the 2 hour window of a raspberry, instead, go for the blueberries, even though you’ll make less money over time, it’s the next best crop for the time you have.

    In my calculation, the Raspberries produce 13/plot/hour, whereas blueberries produce 10/plot/hour. However, Raspberries are a 2 hour crop, where blueberries are a 4 hour crop. To make your farm work hardest for you, plant the crop that gives you the most money for the amount of hours you expect you’ll be unavailable for to eliminate the potential of withering which would mean a major LOSS!

    August 13, 2010
  36. Interesting Analysis #

    Interesting comments. Is the game about economics? I say yes given the addition to the craft category. The name of the game is really only 2 things based on player interaction. 1. Get to the highest level and 2. Make the farm look cool. You can debate this all day long but if you look at this from a statistical point of view this is what you will find. A player is either trying to collect everything to make a ridiculous looking piece of artwork that rarely relates to a real farm or they are focused on hitting the top level which as the game goes is planting, crafting and taking care of the animals that are stored in buildings…The calculation of crops is interesting, because how a person plays changes how you calculate playing the game. Most high level players harvest their crops at the time they are due, therefore a calculation of the crops output in XP and Coin per hour is important to them. This of course is also variable due to the changing rules, and bonuses for the game.

    September 20, 2010
  37. merrie #

    Thank you Adam-I am off to plant some tomatoes

    November 13, 2012

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