FarmVille’s magic fertilizer

Matt Bowman · March 10, 2010 · Short URL:

Developer explains how his team built the #1 Facebook game in five weeks.

 Zynga has become the envy of folks who want to make money in social games. The company says 31 million people are playing its FarmVille game everday. That’s a population 1/10th the size of the United States checking in every 24 hours. It's not news that the company has learned how to push “viral” to new levels. What many people don’t realize is just how fast the game was created.

In a presentation at the Games Developer Conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, FarmVille’s lead developer, Amitt Mahajan, said his team of 11 built the game in 5 weeks.

Majahan initially planned for an 8-week timeline from conception to launch, but that was trimmed when they saw how quickly development progressed. The team consisted of only six developers, two artists and three designers.

To accelerate development, the company systematically identified speedbumps and eliminated them. In particular, they found four things that tend to delay developers:

  1. Other developers--Communication barriers between developers can slow things down—if developers end up blocking developers, fix that by keeping communication flowing freely.
  2. Design--If they’re waiting on art, they can't finish what theyre working on
  3. Production (copy)--same as with art; if there waiting on text, that's a barrier
  4. Lack of knowledge. If I'm writing a piece of software, I need to know what's going on underneath it. Keep all developers aware of pieces of software they depend upon.
To break down that last roadblock, the team made sure all developers knew both PHP (server) and Flash (client) technology. They owned a vertical slice of the game which meant there was no waiting for others.

Majahan also made it clear that "design DOESN’T rule all." Usually designers create specs that are then passed over a wall to developers. FarmVille teamed them up early in the process, so that developers co-own features with designers.

Five weeks after development began, the game was launched. With no promotion outside of “family and friends,” it attracted 18,000 new users the first day. By Day Four it was drawing in 1 million new users daily. The game now has more than 110 million installs and growing.

Majahan also shared particulars on the cloud-based architecture, design and network layering that helped overcome the company's scaling challenges. Several hundred budding game developers hoping to emulate FarmVille packed the room for Majahan's talk. The implications for global time-wasting boarders on depressing. 


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Zynga is the largest social gaming company with 8.5 million daily users and 45 million monthly users.  Zynga’s games are available on Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Hi5, Friendster, Yahoo! and the iPhone, and include Texas Hold’Em Poker, Mafia Wars, YoVille, Vampires, Street Racing, Scramble and Word Twist.  The company is funded by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, IVP, Union Square Ventures, Foundry Group, Avalon Ventures, Pilot Group, Reid Hoffman and Peter Thiel.  Zynga is headquartered at the Chip Factory in San Francisco.  For more information, please visit