FarmVille co says nay to Facebook's new chapter

Zynga, the software company behind the online game Farmville, has fallen out with Facebook over money.

Last Updated: 04 Jul 2011

FarmVille is one of the internet's most popular social games, in which users are challenged to cultivate a virtual farm. Non-players may be familiar with the concept, at least if they use Facebook, where updates on their friends' success in the nurturing of binary chickens can be a constant menace.

Like a farmer and his trusty sheepdog, Facebook and Zynga have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship - Facebook provides the networking platform that's fuelled the growth of the game, which in turn has been one of the social networking site's most popular features. It's played by around 83m people a month. Many of whom have perhaps never seen a real cow.

Now, however, Facebook is making moves to address the question that has dogged Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg throughout the site's phenomenal rise - viz., how the hell is the thing actually ever going to make any money? Unfortunately for partners like Zynga, Facebook has decided to limit financial transactions on the site to its own virtual credits, and to take a 30% cut of all financial transactions made through it.

Zynga has apparently reacted like the sheepdog that's just realised his old friend the farmer is having him neutered. The company certainly has a lot to lose. Its game is free to play, but it generates cash through players buying virtual items for their farms. Zynga has estimated annual revenues of £100m. It has since threatened to turn its back on Facebook, and its 400m users, having launched its own site for the game last year.

As for Facebook, cash isn't the only thing troubling the ranch at the moment. It's also facing an increasing backlash over how it handles users' data. Several US senators have made public calls for Facebook to rethink its safeguards, and a number of high-profile users have deleted their accounts after the site introduced a new feature that lets non-Facebook websites post users' personal views without their consent.

All of which illustrates the growing pains of any successful online start-up. Yes, you can build a reputation being young and hip, but once you become the incumbent technology things become a lot more complicated - trying to make money and keep everyone happy at the same time.

The Germans had their own lesson in privacy this week - they've just been ruled responsible for the security of their own private wireless connections. In a curious state of affairs, a musician sued the owner of a network connection that was used to illegally download and file-share music while he was on holiday. The court ruled that the network should have been password-protected.

And so to a bizarrely relevant message from the Country Code: keep the gate shut.

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