FarmVille fiasco: British lad spends $1,375 on his farm

Farmville bill adds up to real moneyFarmVille, the social networking game that allows players to tend a virtual farm tcomplete with crops and livestock, is a beloved pastime for many Facebook members, but for one fan it turned into a financial fiasco.

In just two weeks, a child in England spent $1,375 fixing up his "farm," blowing almost $450 of his own money and putting $959 more on his mother's credit card, the Guardian reported. The only crop that child is reaping now is his mom's ire. The mom, who chose to remain anonymous, told the Guardian that FarmVille owner Zynga has refused to give her a refund because the boy shares the same address as the credit card holder.

What did the boy get for his money? Farmville currency is in coins (which you can earn by farming, or buy for around $0.005 per coin) and farm cash, which is much harder to earn but sells for roughly $0.17 per bill. A sample of the prices on Farmville:
  • An estate is 600,000 coins, translating to around $3,000 in real money.
  • A villa will run you 1,000,000 coins, or $5,000 cash.
  • A mighty plantation, however is yours for only 30 in farm cash, or $5.
  • You can get a pagoda for 48 in farm cash, which will only set you back about $8.
  • And a Banyan tree? A measly $0.51.
You do, however, have to earn the right to make many of these purchases by successfully managing your farm and thereby moving up the ladder of achievement.

A friend (who shall remain nameless because she's slightly embarrassed to be playing what some might consider a child's game) told me that, from her perspective, the Farmville owners have been taking steps to further monetize the game. "If you want the good stuff now you have to pay," she said, pointing to puppies as an example.

Farmville just introduced puppies. These little bundles of love can only be bought with cash -- a golden retriever is 65 farm cash, or $11. Since most people haven't earned enough cash in the game, they will have to fork over some real dough. Worse, the dogs need to be fed daily with chow that can only be bought from Farmville for $.85 a day. (Would you really spend that on a virtual dog while real people go hungry?) What's unclear if owner's are required to follow their play pooch with a pooper scooper.

What 12-year-old boy wouldn't pilfer Mom's purse to buy a couple of cute puppies? The term 'attractive nuisance' comes to mind. This is no small-niche pastime anymore, either. In March of 2010, FarmVille had over 82.4 million active users.

However, I believe that the game's continued success depends on a couple of things; a bucolic, threat-free, Mayberry-RFD ambiance, and the belief that the game is fair. Unfortunately, this kind of story tends to undermine both.

Zynga has not yet returned my phone calls or e-mails.
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