Notebook > Lifestyle
Evan Hughes for WORLD

Cracks of boredom

Lifestyle | Women are the big force behind Zynga, Facebook, and the fast growth of the social net

Issue: "Clutching two, dropping four," April 23, 2011

Social gaming company Zynga has figured out how to make money from boredom. At last month's South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, Zynga game designer Brian Reynolds explained that his company's games take advantage of the "cracks of boredom that exist in everyday life . . . these micro downtimes of boredom are when people want to engage in the simple interaction of social games." The games help people "avoid the loneliness found in these personal downtimes."

Reynolds is on to something. Sixty million users each day-250 million a month-play Zynga games like Farmville, Cityville, and Frontierville. Analysts say the games are one of the reasons for the decline in soap opera popularity. They are especially popular with women, especially those between the ages of 25 and 44. The games can be played in five- and 10-minute "snack size bites." Early morning is the most popular time to play.

More than half of the players of Zynga games are women-and women are the big force behind the growth of the social net, according to Aileen Lee, a partner in a company that makes internet investments. She wrote on TechCrunch, "We're witnessing a generation of consumer web companies growing at an unprecedented rate in terms of both user adoption and revenue. But here's a little secret that's gone unnoticed by most. It's women. . . . Especially when it comes to social and shopping, women rule the internet."

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She cited data: "Women are the majority of users of social networking sites and spend 30 percent more time on these sites than men; mobile social network usage is 55 percent female." Women are th4e big users of shopping sites like Zappos, Etsy, and Groupon. Women have more friends on Facebook, spend more time on the site. They post more messages, pictures, and updates. She says none of this is particularly surprising since women are more social and often drive purchasing decisions.

So what's the appeal of Zynga? Some describe it as "addictive," and requiring more time than skill. Zynga-creator Reynolds described six classic elements that suck in people and make them keep playing: more choices; make the choices matter more; build a story and make the player the hero; hide patterns that players can learn over time (show, don't tell); create more surprise, suspense, and humor; add something. Zynga became even more addictive recently when the company added "RewardVille," a system of credits and rewards that can be used to buy more virtual stuff in the games.

Although the games, played on Facebook, iPhone, and other social networking sites, are free, players pay real money to buy virtual stuff (buildings, crops, etc.) and advance more quickly. They can even buy goodies to benefit nonprofits that work in Haiti. A day after the Japanese tsunami, Zynga announced a partnership with Save the Children to allow in-game donations through purchase of special virtual items to benefit tsunami victims.

Zynga also makes money through partnerships with companies that advertise and offer special items in the games. American Express recently announced that credit card holders can use their membership reward points to "pay for limited edition virtual goods, as well as physical and virtual game cards for Zynga's games."

Women & work

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently put out a Spotlight, Women at Work. Does it surprise anyone that young women (15-19) do less housework than other women? Or that older women (65+) spend more time on leisure activities? Or that women suffer fewer workplace fatalities than men? In 2009 only 319 women died on the job, compared to 4,021 men.

The percentage of women in the workforce continues to rise. In 2009, 59 percent of women were working, up from 43 percent in 1970. They are better educated. In 1970 fewer than one in four had attended college. Now two out of three have. In 1970, a third of female workers had less than a high-school education. That percentage has dropped to about 7 percent.

The BLS projects that women will continue to increase their work force participation. By 2018, about 6.5 million more women will be working, an increase of 9 percent. More surprising: The biggest increases are likely to occur among older women, with labor force participation of women 65 to 74 increasing 90 percent. The BLS projects that over 300,000 women 75 and older will be working: that's a 61 percent increase.

Women are outstripping men in the race to earn college degrees. When they were 23 years old, 23 percent of young women had a B.A. or higher, compared to just 14 percent of young men.

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