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: