You knew it was a time-suck nonpareil. But did you know FarmVille can be a surprisingly pricey pastime? That's the news this week from England, where one 12-year-old boy has run up a $1,400 bill on the wildly popular Facebook application.
According to the Guardian newspaper, the boy's mother discovered the charges on her credit card, and stopped payment to Zynga, the game's creator – but not before her son had spent a whole lot of cash making his garden grow.
For the uninitiated: FarmVille tasks players with managing all aspects of their cartoon farm, from the livestock to the fresh produce. FarmVille, which runs entirely inside Facebook, is mostly free, although users are invited to pay for certain upgrades. Some have argued that FarmVille is not clear enough about possible costs, especially when it comes to younger gamers.
In the case of the UK boy, Zynga has refused to refund any part of the bill. "The total spend is about £905, but the credits are still rolling in," the boy's mother, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Guardian. "Facebook and Zynga will not refund anything as [the son] lives in my house. Facebook has disabled his account and Zynga has unhelpfully suggested I use password protection on computers in the future."
This isn't the first time that FarmVille has come under media scrutiny. Last November, Michael Arrington of TechCrunch lambasted Zynga's practice of embedding quizzes or product offers into FarmVille:
In short, these games try to get people to pay cash for in game currency so they can level up faster and have a better overall experience. Which is fine. But for users who won’t pay cash, a wide variety of “offers” are available where they can get in-game currency in exchange for lead gen-type offers. Most of these offers are bad for consumers because it confusingly gets them to pay far more for in-game currency than if they just paid cash (there are notable exceptions, but the scammy stuff tends to crowd out the legitimate offers). And it’s also bad for legitimate advertisers.
And in an April episode of the Comedy Central show South Park, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone poked fun at FarmVille – without mentioning the application by name. "Stan, you don't get how cool Facebook has become," Kyle explains. "You can message your friends, play Yahtzee with your friends, and even start a virtual farm and your friends can visit it."
Do you play FarmVille? Have you ever paid for something in the game? We want to hear from you. Drop us a line in the comments.