The Identity of Fake Leonard Speiser is Revealed!

Too much fun.  Tonight, we revealed the identity of Fake Leonard Speiser to, well, the real Leonard Speiser.

The key to obfuscation was simple: there was no one Fake Leonard Speiser.  A group of people who have worked with Leonard before all had access to account.  Consider it a form of “Twitter Improv”.

Yes, this is the kind of fun we have in Silicon Valley.  It’s because we’re geeks.

See below for the kickoff email.  We had fun with this all weekend.  I hope Leonard (and fans) did too.  I’d like to think that even though Fake Leonard was just around for a few days, he was starting to develop a real personality.

Goodbye, Fake Leonard.

From: Adam Nash
To: Elliot Shmukler, Chris Yeh, Bart Munro, Ben Foster, Shri Mahesh, Michael Dearing, Kenny Pate
Subject: Welcome to the Fake Leonard Conspiracy
Date: Fri, 25 Sep 2009 11:10:37 -0700

Merely by reading this email, you have been inducted into the Fake Leonard Speiser conspiracy.

Yesteday, Leonard made the mistake of issuing this tweet:

Clearly, this was a desperate cry for a prank.  We will oblige him.

Behold, Fake Leonard Speiser:

Instead of just one of us making up fake lines from Leonard, we are *all* going to contribute.  Kind of like a live, Twitter improv.

Here is the commitment:
For the next few days, every one of us will make *at least* one tweet from the Fake Leonard account.  Don’t worry about being consistent with the tone of everyone else too much – just shoot out lines that you can imagine Leonard saying.

Follow @fakeleonard, and tweet/respond/retweet his posts, to help get his followers up.  If someone wants to run around and follow a broad swath of his social network, all the better.

This is all in good fun, so nothing too personal or offensive.  🙂

The account password is:

Please try to make your first tweets today… I got mine in.

Email me with questions.

Update: I’ve been reminded that this is the second online gag I’ve played on Leonard Speiser… in the first, the co-conspirator was

Farmville Economics: Risk Adjusted Crop Profitability

It’s clear that my addiction to spreadsheets and Farmville knows no bounds, so as predicted, here is my fifth post on the topic.


Here are the quick links to my first four posts:

The wizards at Zynga have been busy, and with regular updates every week (or even more frequently), a large number of new crops have been introduced.  As the comments on my other posts have become quite demanding, here are two of my original tables, updated for all the new crops (as of September 20, 2009):

Crop Profit / Day
Super Berries 900.00
Asparagus 183.00
Sugar Cane 177.00
Peas 176.00
Tomatoes 174.00
Green Tea 170.40
Grapes 170.00
Onion 166.00
Sunflowers 165.00
Coffee 162.00
Blackberries 162.00
Blueberries 156.00
Carrots 150.00
Raspberries 132.00
Broccoli 129.00
Cabbage 116.50
Red Wheat 84.67
Aloe Vera 80.00
Peppers 77.00
Yellow Mellon 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

Assumptions: All numbers are normalized for one planting square per day, and assume a “perfect” farmer who can operate all 24 hours of a single day.  It’s assumed that you will need to harvest, plow, and plant every cycle for a given crop.

As it turns out, many times players are optimizing for experience per day, rather than for profit.  As a result, here is an updated table that shows experience per crop, with the same assumptions:

Crop XP / Day Cycle (Hours)
Super Berries 24.00 2.00
Strawberries 12.00 4.00
Raspberries 12.00 2.00
Blueberries 12.00 4.00
Blackberries 12.00 4.00
Aloe Vera 8.00 6.00
Pumpkin 6.00 8.00
Tomatoes 6.00 8.00
Sugar Cane 6.00 8.00
Green Tea 4.80 10.00
Asparagus 4.50 16.00
Rice 4.00 12.00
Carrots 4.00 12.00
Peas 4.00 24.00
Onions 4.00 12.00
Soybeans 3.00 24.00
Peppers 3.00 24.00
Grapes 3.00 24.00
Coffee 3.00 16.00
Sunflowers 3.00 24.00
Broccoli 2.50 48.00
Eggplant 1.50 48.00
Squash 1.50 48.00
Yellow Bell 1.50 48.00
Pineapple 1.50 48.00
Cabbage 1.50 48.00
Wheat 1.00 72.00
Cotton 1.00 72.00
Potatoes 1.00 72.00
Corn 1.00 72.00
Red Wheat 1.00 72.00
Artichoke 0.75 96.00
Watermelon 0.75 96.00
Yellow Mellon 0.75 96.00

It’s fairly obvious from the numbers above that crops that can be planted and harvested multiple times per day have a significant advantage. This advantage is largely due to the +1 XP you get from plowing a square, and the multiple turns per day. While the longer duration crops have higher experience, they don’t generate enough experience to match the multiple cycles of crops like the berries, or the 8-hour crops like Tomatoes.  Of course, this ignores the time value of money, the primary topic of my first blog post on Farmville Economics.

It seems as if Zynga has been doing their homework when building out their technology tree with additional crops.  Using my 15 coin / XP estimate, the table combining the value by coins and experience is dominated by the new crops:

Crop Profit + XP / Day
Super Berries 1260.00
Blackberries 342.00
Blueberries 336.00
Raspberries 312.00
Sugar Cane 267.00
Tomatoes 264.00
Asparagus 250.50
Green Tea 242.40
Strawberries 240.00
Peas 236.00
Onions 226.00
Grapes 215.00
Carrots 210.00
Coffee 207.00
Aloe Vera 200.00
Sunflowers 210.00
Broccoli 166.50
Pumpkin 159.00
Cabbage 139.00
Rice 132.00
Peppers 122.00
Red Wheat 99.67
Pineapple 88.50
Yellow Mellon 88.25
Corn 86.67
Potatoes 80.00
Soybeans 78.00
Yellow Bell 76.50
Watermelon 62.00
Squash 55.50
Cotton 54.00
Eggplant 46.50
Artichoke 41.00
Wheat 36.67

The title of this blog post, however, is Risk Adjusted Crop Profitability.  One of my orginal concerns was that measures of profitability were not properly taking into account the amount of risk that each crop incorporated.

When you plant a crop in Farmville, it grows for an allotted time.  During that time, you cannot harvest the crop, nor can you recover your capital.  It’s completely illiquid.  After that time period, you have an equivalent time period (100% of the growing time) to harvest the crop.  At that point, your investment is liquid and recoverable.  After the harvest time has expired, over the next equivalent time period (between 100% and 200% of the growing time), your crops will wither square-by-square, until none are left.

As a result, a crop that yields a few more coins of profit, but that involves an up-front investment of fifty coins, may not actually be worth the risk of withering.

In case you think I’m being melodramatic, it’s a very common problem.  People invest all of the wealth into planting crops, get distracted or misunderstand the rules, and then end up with withered crops and no money left over to re-plant.  They have to depend on “lotteries” and “helping neighbors” to recapitalize.  (In fact many don’t, which may be a problem Zynga needs to monitor.)

So how do we model risk-adjusted profitability?

In typical financial modeling, you would have a “cost of capital” – namely a borrowing rate that would be your cost of money over a period of time.  However, for this analysis, it didn’t seem appropriate – maybe I’ll revisit sometime in the future.

To model the Farmville risk, I tried to literally focus on the following facts:

  1. How much capital (coins) up front you risk by planting one square?
  2. What is the risk that you won’t be available during the harvest time?
  3. Probability of harvest + Probability of wither = 100%
  4. Multiply the profits per cycle with the probability of harvest
  5. Normalize to a risk-adjusted profit per day

In order to model #2, I’ve used the following assumption: you are expected to check Farmville once every 24 hours.  You can replace this with your own number, but given that Farmville has 15M+ active daily users, this assumption seems fair.

So, assuming any hour is the same as any other (on average), there is a 1/24 probability that you will be able to check Farmville in a given hour.  24 * 1/24 = 100%

I’m also assuming that your ability to check on a crop in any given hour is independent of the ability to check any other hour.  This keeps the probability calculations simple.

This means that for shorter lived crops, there is real default risk:

  • There is a 23/24 chance in any hour that you will not check on the crop.
  • This means, for a 4-hour crop, there is a 23^4/24^4 = 279841 / 331776 = 84.3% chance that you’ll miss checking on the crop during harvest time for full profit.
  • This means, for a 4-hour crop, there is an 84.3% chance you’ll miss the withering time, where you’ll receive partial profit.  (I’m assuming a linear decay rate)
  • This results in a default rate of 71.1% on a four-hour crop.

Using calculations similar to those above, I generated an expected profit per cycle.  I’ve regenerated the table (ignoring experience) for the crops, and ranked them by risk-adjusted profitability:

Crop Risk-Adjusted Profit / Day Risk of Complete Default
Peas 226.53 12.97%
Broccoli 217.37 1.68%
Grapes 206.37 12.97%
Sunflowers 201.57 12.97%
Asparagus 185.57 25.62%
Cabbage 181.47 1.68%
Super Berries 154.22 84.35%
Coffee 153.35 25.62%
Red Wheat 142.52 0.22%
Onions 135.58 36.01%
Yellow Mellon 130.15 0.03%
Green Tea 126.03 42.69%
Carrots 125.98 36.01%
Corn 123.93 0.22%
Peppers 117.11 12.97%
Sugar Cane 115.57 50.61%
Pineapple 115.54 1.68%
Potatoes 114.40 0.22%
Tomatoes 114.27 50.61%
Yellow Bell 99.87 1.68%
Watermelon 91.44 0.03%
Blackberries 80.30 71.14%
Rice 79.19 36.01%
Blueberries 78.89 71.14%
Cotton 77.22 0.22%
Soybeans 74.87 12.97%
Squash 72.46 1.68%
Pumpkin 68.82 50.61%
Aloe Vera 67.61 60.01%
Eggplant 60.71 1.68%
Artichoke 60.47 0.03%
Strawberries 56.35 71.14%
Wheat 52.43 0.22%
Raspberries 38.19 84.35%

Now, I’ve made quite a few simplifying assumptions here, so don’t confuse this with a PhD thesis in Farmville Economics. But it’s amazing to me how this list of crops, more than any other table, best reflects my own internal preferences on what to plant. Maybe that’s because the “once a day” estimate of average availability best fits my own time table during the week.

Another way of revising this estimate is to look at the “risk of complete default” as highly correlated with the “stress level” you feel when you plant a given crop.  Super Berries are awesome, but there is no question that when I plant them, I am hyper-aware of the need to check on them within a 2 hour window to harvest my profits.

Definitely an interesting lens on the topic of profitability.  Please feel free to share alternative views on how to evaluate the risk-adjusted profitability of Farmville crops here in the comments.

Update:  Here are additional posts on Farmville Economics, published after this one:

Farmville Economics: What Price Experience?

Despite the fact that some people find my recent preoccupation with Farmville amusing, the traffic to my original series of blog posts on the Personal Economics of Farmville has been extremely high.  This isn’t surprising given the incoming links from the Zynga Blog and the Wall Street Journal.


Here are the quick links to my first three posts:

Well everyone knows that bloggers can’t resist traffic, so as a result, I thought I’d add a fourth post to the series, highlighting some of the insights into the economic value of Farmville experience points.

It all started with the analysis I presented in the second post, which modified the profitability matrix for each Farmville crop by adding an economic value for Experience.  Here is a snippet:

The question is, how do you blend the value of experience and coins? The truth is, the function for valuing experience is probably too complicated to get right.

However, I did find a simplistic proxy.  1 experience point = 15 coins.

Why? Well, it turns out you can just sit there, plow a square for 15 coins, and get 1 experience point.  You can then delete the square and do it again.  So at least, in theory, you can “buy” an infinite supply of experience points for 15 coins each.

Boy, did that start a firestorm.  It turns out, there is a well-worn analysis that says that Farmville experience is actually worth 10 coins.  Why?  If you plow a square of land (-15 coins, +1 XP) and plant soybeans (-15 coins, +2 XP) and then delete, you spend a total of 30 coins, and you get +3 XP.  Thus 30/3 = 10 coins / XP.

It’s a more complicated series, and it ignores the liquidity issue of requiring the purchase of 3 XP at a time, not 1 XP, but it’s a pretty good proxy for the “cheapest” way to buy experience.

The more I thought about this, however, the more dissatisfied I became with the answer.  The reason?  It ignores the incredible time cost of those set of actions:

  • Click the plow tool.
  • Click the square.
  • Click the market tool
  • Navigate dialog, click soybeans.
  • Click the square
  • Click delete tool
  • Click the square
  • Select “Accept” from the “Are you sure” dialog

Ugh.  For 3XP.  Can you imagine trying to get 4500 XP this way?  I can’t.

As a result, I’m even going to invalidate my original 15 coin / XP assumption.  In fact, you’ll notice that for truly painless actions, like buying a building, the number of XP gained is typically 1/100 the price of the item.  For example, when you pay 250,000 coins for a log cabin, you also get 2500 XP.

I think this effectively bounds the range of the value of XP.  Clearly, it’s worth more than 1/100 of a coin, because you ALSO get the log cabin, which is a pretty snazzy farm improvement.  It’s also clearly more than 1/10, because the time cost of that process is clearly extracting value beyond the coins.

So, value of XP is:

0.01 coins < 1 XP < 0.1 coins

I’m guessing the value of XP is close to 20 coins.  A haybale is only 100 coins, and it gives you 5 XP.  Since a haybale is a pretty negligible improvement, you can assume that most of the price is actually for XP.  So, that would bound the range even tighter:

0.2 coins < 1 XP < 0.1 coins

Now, I know what you are going to say: “You can sell the haybale for 5 coins, making it even cheaper!”.  The problem there is that now you have to go through the delete process, with the confirmation dialog.  Ugh.   I’m trying to avoid that work.

In fact, my analysis is still missing a “cost” for the implicit clutter a haybale creates on your farm.  You have a limited amount of space, so the “price” of a haybale is really:

Cost of haybale = 100 coins + MIN((time cost to delete haybale – 5 coins), opportunity cost of lost 1/16 of a square of land)

Maybe in a future post I’ll explore the opportunity cost of clutter in more detail.  It’s certainly the thing that would prevent you from literally filling your field with haybales to buy experience.  (Interestingly, Farmville just rolled out an improvement today that lets you buy haybales continuously!)

Finally, I have to share a tip that was posted on one of my earlier articles that has represented the single largest improvement in my Farmville quality of life:

If you “fence in” your farmer, then Farmville will harvest, plow, seed a square immediately, without waiting for the farmer to walk to it.

I was skeptical of this advice at first, but I tried it this weekend, and it speeds planting a large farm by AT LEAST 50%.  I use ducks to “fence in my farmer”.  I keep several in a box at the edge of my farm, and first thing I do is walk the farmer into the box.  I then move one duck to close the trap, and boom, 15 minutes added back to my life.  🙂

Your mileage may vary.  Enjoy.

Update: I’ve posted the following new articles on Farmville Economics: