How A Stupid Facebook Game Makes Zynga Millions

FishVille screengrab

How is it possible that Facebook gamesmaker Zynga will turn in 2009 revenues approaching a reported $250 million — making 90% of its money selling gamers nothing but virtual goods?

The answer we’ve given before is that, like arcade games from the 1980s, Zynga’s social games charge people small amounts of money to reduce friction in games they are addicted to.

But instead of paying another quarter for another life the way arcade gamers do, social gamers buy sub-machine guns in “Mafia Wars,” and new farmland in “FarmVille” in order to level-up.

But while this answer is technically correct, it leaves us cold. Worse, this answer doesn’t make much sense if you’ve never actually seen a Facebook game. It leaves us asking: Really?

So, in order to figure out how these social games actually work — and make money — we decided to suck it up and get addicted to one.

We picked FishVille, the latest hit from Zynga. It came out only in November, but already its monthly active users are up to 20 million people. It grew 4.68 million in the last week alone, according to Inside Social Games’s AppData.

The object of FishVille is to build a magnificent virtual aquarium, full of spectacular fish and designer decorations. The way you do it is spending fake money to buy small fish for one price, and then, after tending to them for a few hours or days, selling them for more fake money then you paid. Then you use that money to buy more fish. If you want to speed your progress, you buy fake money with real money.

We’d explain more, but it’s really just easier to show you how it works.

Click To See How A Stupid Facebook Game Makes Zynga Millions →

[slideshow]
[slide
permalink=”zomg-welcome-to-fishville-click-create-tank-1″
title=”ZOMG! Welcome to FishVille. Click “create tank.””
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b158fc80000000000f6fd33/image.jpg”
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]
[slide
permalink=”i-get-to-customize-my-tank-ill-take-a-purple-background-and-sand-please-2″
title=”I get to customise my tank! I’ll take a purple background and sand, please.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b158fd50000000000cdce6e/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
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]
[slide
permalink=”at-almost-every-step-fishville-will-ask-me-if-i-want-to-spam-my-friends-about-what-just-happened-in-the-game-click-publish-if-you-do-3″
title=”At almost every step, FishVille will ask me if I want to spam my friends about what just happened in the game. Click “Publish” if you do.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b158fee0000000000da350e/image.jpg”
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]
[slide
permalink=”the-object-of-fishville-is-to-get-a-lot-of-fish-and-decorations-in-your-tank-i-start-with-two-fish-in-my-tank-4″
title=”The “object” of FishVille is to get a lot of fish and decorations in your tank. I start with two fish in my tank.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b1590cd00000000003303fc/image.jpg”
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]
[slide
permalink=”i-get-fish-by-buying-them-with-gold-i-get-gold-by-selling-fish-click-to-sell-5″
title=”I get fish by buying them with gold. I get gold by selling fish. Click to sell!”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b1590de0000000000094b74/image.jpg”
caption=””
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]
[slide
permalink=”time-to-buy-some-fish-each-fish-will-sell-for-more-than-i-pay-for-it-but-fish-with-really-good-roi-take-a-while-to-grow-6″
title=”Time to buy some fish. Each fish will sell for more than I pay for it. But fish with really good ROI take a while to grow.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b159101000000000093637f/image.jpg”
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]
[slide
permalink=”im-just-getting-started-so-i-bought-some-mini-dart-gobys-which-will-be-ready-to-sell-in-five-minutes-7″
title=”I’m just getting started, so I bought some Mini Dart Gobys which will be ready to sell in five minutes.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b1591120000000000bdfd27/image.jpg”
caption=””
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]
[slide
permalink=”after-buying-a-fish-i-have-to-feed-them-or-they-will-die-feed-your-fish-or-it-will-die-8″
title=”After buying a fish, I have to feed them or they will die. Feed your fish or it will die!”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b1591250000000000a7a417/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”now-i-have-to-wait-till-my-fish-grow-up-to-be-big-enough-to-sell-9″
title=”Now I have to wait till my fish grow up to be big enough to sell”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b15913c0000000000c2fe41/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”while-i-wait-fishville-recommends-i-add-some-neighbors-10″
title=”While I wait, FishVille recommends I add some “neighbours.””
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b15914e0000000000c60a1f/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
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]
[slide
permalink=”basically-fishville-rewards-me-for-inviting-facebook-friends-to-play-fishville-with-coins-i-can-use-to-buy-more-fish-clever-11″
title=”Basically, FishVille rewards me for inviting Facebook friends to play FishVille with coins I can use to buy more fish. Clever!”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b159160000000000090923a/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”fishville-also-rewards-me-for-helping-other-players-fishville-will-also-tell-these-players-that-i-helped-this-gets-those-players-using-the-game-again-12″
title=”FishVille also rewards me for “helping” other players. FishVille will also tell these players that I helped. This gets those players using the game again.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b15916f00000000003a32e8/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”i-decided-to-help-out-omgpop-founder-charles-forman-by-cleaning-his-tank-i-earned-some-coins-doing-this-13″
title=”I decided to help out OMGPop founder Charles Forman by cleaning his tank. I earned some coins doing this.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b15917b00000000009aea73/image.jpg”
caption=””
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]
[slide
permalink=”fishville-wants-to-know-if-i-want-to-spam-charles-to-let-him-know-i-cleaned-his-tank-i-say-yes-14″
title=”FishVille wants to know if I want to spam Charles to let him know I cleaned his tank. I say yes!”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b15918f000000000000ae75/image.jpg”
caption=””
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credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”fishville-tells-me-ill-get-coins-for-inviting-friends-to-play-think-henry-blodget-is-interested-15″
title=”FishVille tells me I’ll get coins for inviting friends to play. Think Henry Blodget is interested?”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b15919b00000000002363d3/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”back-in-my-tank-i-find-out-one-of-my-fish-is-big-enough-to-sell-yay-16″
title=”Back in my tank, I find out one of my fish is big enough to sell. Yay!”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b1591ad0000000000291de4/image.jpg”
caption=””
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credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”fishville-graduates-me-to-level-2-how-many-levels-can-i-go-up-i-have-to-find-out-17″
title=”FishVille graduates me to “level 2.” How many levels can I go up? I have to find out!”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b1591e40000000000742a26/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”fishville-wants-me-to-tell-all-my-friends-about-it-ok-18″
title=”FishVille wants me to tell all my friends about it. OK!”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b1592340000000000594654/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”bloop-i-just-sold-another-fish-gimme-some-money-19″
title=”Bloop! I just sold another fish. Gimme some money!”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b1592170000000000be8646/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”i-think-i-should-spend-some-money-on-a-longer-term-fish-with-better-roi-how-about-this-fella-20″
title=”I think I should spend some money on a longer-term fish with better ROI. How about this fella?”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b15924a0000000000698988/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”now-im-going-to-decorate-my-tank-why-because-buying-plants-gives-me-more-experience-points-which-i-need-to-level-up-which-i-have-to-so-i-can-later-buy-new-types-of-plants-so-i-can-get-more-experience-dizzy-21″
title=”Now I’m going to decorate my tank. Why? Because buying “plants” gives me more “experience” points, which I need to level up, which I have to so I can later buy new types of plants (so I can get more “experience”). Dizzy?”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b15933200000000007e410d/image.jpg”
caption=””
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]
[slide
permalink=”but-oh-no-im-out-of-coins-i-dont-want-to-wait-till-my-new-fish-grow-old-enough-to-sell-so-what-do-i-do-22″
title=”But oh no! I’m out of coins. I don’t want to wait till my new fish grow old enough to sell, so what do I do?”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b15938f0000000000d879c5/image.jpg”
caption=””
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]
[slide
permalink=”i-click-add-coins-and-dollars-23″
title=”I click “add coins & dollars!””
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b1593a70000000000e0a2b7/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”look-i-can-get-7500-coins-for-5-ill-be-rich-24″
title=”Look, I can get 7,500 coins for $5. I’ll be rich!”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b1593b90000000000542775/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”look-at-all-those-coins-im-going-to-go-on-a-spending-spree-25″
title=”Look at all those coins! I’m going to go on a spending spree…”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b1593de000000000090f177/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”yes-i-will-take-a-slippery-when-wet-sign-for-my-tank-thank-you-26″
title=”Yes I will take a “slippery when wet sign” for my tank, thank you.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b1593ec00000000009b232b/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”some-more-fish-yes-please-27″
title=”Some more fish? Yes, please.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b1593ff0000000000b83bcb/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”boom-level-3-suckers-look-at-all-the-new-stuff-i-can-buy-and-all-it-took-was-5-28″
title=”BOOM! Level 3, suckers! Look at all the new stuff I can buy, and all it took was $5.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b15941000000000007b6e62/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”do-i-want-to-let-my-friends-know-i-reached-level-three-in-fishville-duh-29″
title=”Do I want to let my friends know I reached level three in FishVille? Duh!”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b15941d0000000000a9c126/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”wow-my-tank-is-looking-really-pretty-30″
title=”Wow my tank is looking really pretty.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b15942b0000000000b90a8e/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”i-dont-need-to-feed-my-baby-shy-hamlets-for-another-8-hours-i-guess-i-can-take-a-break-31″
title=”I don’t need to feed my “Baby Shy Hamlets” for another 8 hours. I guess I can take a break…”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b1594390000000000e4adba/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”before-i-go-let-me-add-some-faster-growing-fish-and-feed-them-too-32″
title=”Before I go, let me add some faster growing fish and feed them too.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b15944600000000000c24c0/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”i-will-re-name-one-of-them-george-the-fish-33″
title=”I will re-name one of them “George The Fish.””
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b159461000000000037e64e/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”now-i-will-take-a-45-minute-break-and-get-back-to-work-34″
title=”Now I will take a 45 minute break and get back to work…”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4af2feca00000000004bff45/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”ok-im-back-but-oh-no-i-waited-too-long-to-return-and-now-george-the-fish-is-dead-i-am-emotionally-scarred-you-can-bet-i-wont-ever-abandon-fishville-for-that-long-again-35″
title=”OK, I’m back. But oh no! I waited too long to return and now “George the Fish” is dead! I am emotionally scarred. You can bet I won’t ever abandon FishVille for that long again…”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b15946f0000000000f59dbf/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”i-must-feed-my-surviving-fish-36″
title=”I must feed my surviving fish!”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b159479000000000050060e/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”hours-of-feeding-later-some-fish-i-bought-are-finally-ready-to-be-sold-37″
title=”…hours of feeding later, some fish I bought are finally ready to be sold!”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b1594890000000000236b8f/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”i-love-this-fish-but-theres-no-time-for-sentimentality-when-theres-gold-to-be-had-click-to-sell-38″
title=”I love this fish, but there’s no time for sentimentality when there’s gold to be had. Click to sell!”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b1594b10000000000fc1fe8/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”hours-later-my-tank-needs-cleaning-guess-i-better-scrub-it-39″
title=”…hours later, my tank needs cleaning. Guess I better scrub it.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b159eb70000000000dc240d/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”but-after-buy-just-one-thing-im-suddenly-down-to-only-8-coins-guess-ill-have-to-put-some-more-money-in-40″
title=”But after buy just ONE THING, I’m suddenly down to only 8 coins. Guess I’ll have to put some more money in…”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4b166fd70000000000826324/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”and-thats-how-you-get-addicted-to-a-stupid-facebook-game-41″
title=”…and that’s how you get addicted to a stupid Facebook game!”
content=”But don’t worry, you’re not the only one!

Don’t miss: How iPhone Apps Are Raking In Cash From Virtual Goods
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/0cb9b914401953488e9a7600/image.jpg”
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]
[/slideshow]

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