The Personal Economics of Farmville

I’ve been playing Farmville, a social video game by Zynga, over the past week, and I have to say that I’m extremely impressed.  It’s a very simple simulation game, with well integrated social aspects to promote virality, a good technology tree, and clever virtual goods integration.


If you’ve played the game (and at this point, approximately 9 million people have), then you are likely already familiar with the primary economics of the game.  As a farmer, you have a certain number of plots.  It costs money (coins) to plow a plot and plant seeds.  Different crops take different amounts of time to grow, and are worth different amounts at harvest.  Quite simply, the question is:

Which crops should you plant?

Since I do love an excuse to crack open Excel, I built a simple model that tells you what crops are the “most valuable” to plant.  My model was simple:

  • Revenue is just the value of the crop at harvest
  • Cost is the cost of the seeds + the cost to plow the square

In order to compare crops, I had to normalize the values:

  • Normalized all revenue and costs to “one square”
  • Normalized all revenue and costs to “one day”, namely 24 hours

Thus a crop like Strawberries, which takes 4 hours to grow, can be theoretically planted 6 times in a single day.  Eggplant, which takes 2 days to grow, can be planted 0.5 times in a single day.

This model gives you the following simple table as output, ranked by “coins per square per day”:

Crop Profit / Day
Tomatoes 174.00
Sunflowers 165.00
Coffee 162.00
Blueberries 156.00
Carrots 150.00
Raspberries 132.00
Broccoli 129.00
Peppers 77.00
Rice 72.00
Corn 71.67
Pumpkin 69.00
Pineapple 66.00
Potatoes 65.00
Strawberries 60.00
Yellow Bell 54.00
Watermelon 50.75
Cotton 39.00
Soybeans 33.00
Squash 33.00
Artichoke 29.75
Eggplant 24.00
Wheat 21.67

(Note: I still haven’t gotten the revenue and cycle time for the new crops, Red Wheat and Yellow Mellon)

Most of the strategy guides that I’ve found across the web have basically gone just this far.

The problem with this model, however, is pretty obvious:

It assumes that your time has no value!

Listen, Raspberries might be #6 on this list, but you have to actually harvest and replant 12 times per day! (It’s a two-hour crop).  That only seems reasonable if you truly value your time at $0.  Theoretically, we should give some non-zero value to the time it takes to replant, and see how it affects the rankings.

To do this, I changed the model based on the following assumptions:

  • It takes roughly 15 minutes to replant your farm with a crop
  • 1500 Farmville coins are worth $1 (which is what Zynga charges to buy coins with PayPal or your credit card).

I then graphed out the ranking of the crops on a spectrum from $0.00 / hour value for your time, all the way to $1.00 / hour.

As you can tell from the range, the bad news is that even the best crop flips to being “negative value” per day at a monetary value of approximately $0.70 / hour.


click the image to see enlarged verson

This graph paints a very different picture.  If you rank crops by what hourly wage “zeroes them out” in value, you find that actually, your top three crops should be:

  1. Broccoli ($0.69 / hour)
  2. Corn ($0.57 / hour)
  3. Watermelon ($0.54 / hour)

If you accept the idea that 1500 Farmville coins is worth $1 (which is a bit of a stretch since you can’t convert back to dollars…), then these are the crops that pay you the best “hourly wage” for your time.

There are a few things I’ve left out here:

  • Trees / Animals. I haven’t run these numbers for trees or animals, but it would be trivial to do so.
  • Working capital. These crops require different amounts of liquid cash in your Farmville account.  That capital theoretically has a cost, but I didn’t model it.
  • Experience. Some people are playing for experience points, not coins.  Ignored here.
  • Capital Risk. The different crops have different windows of time to harvest before your revenue goes to zero and your crops wither.  This analysis assumes a “perfect farmer”.

If you find this model interesting or useful, would love to see links back here from anyone who pursues any of these different issues. I first got the idea to do this from this article on, so I just wanted to give them a little credit.

Of course, that assumes that there is someone else out there twisted enough to spend time analyzing the personal economics of Farmville…

Updates: I’ve now posted several follow-on posts about Farmville Economics: