The Facebook games that millions love (and hate)

The Facebook games that millions love (and hate)

(CNN) — Early each morning, millions of farmers around the world rise to toil in their fields. By night, gangs of mobsters scheme and legions of poker players shuffle up and deal.

Sure, none of it’s real. But the overwhelming popularity of so-called social gaming — simple games that let people play with their friends on networking sites such as Facebook — is changing the face of video games, experts say.

And as the maker of popular titles like FarmVille and Mafia Wars, San Francisco, California-based Zynga has ridden the games’ skyrocketing popularity to the top of that emerging market.

For Zynga founder Mark Pincus, the formula for gaming success on Facebook, MySpace and other sites was as simple as it might seem counterintuitive: create simple games that people like but can easily set aside.

“We built the games so they could be played in a tab on your browser while you’re on a conference call,” said Pincus, a veteran Web entrepreneur who created Zynga in 2007.

Of course, they’ve been helped by the massive growth of Facebook, where the games are so popular they’ve spawned “fan” pages devoted to complaining about having to watch friends play them.

Zynga’s top title, FarmVille, is played by an estimated 75 million people each month — roughly equal to the number who have played the classic arcade and desktop game Tetris during its entire existence.

Video games actually appealed to a huge cross-section. They appealed to everybody,” said Steinberg, publisher of “What happened is, as we went through the mid-’80s to the mid-2000s, you started to see gaming become more incestuous in terms of 18- to 34-year-old males making games for people just like them.”

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