When its monthly active users climbed above 54 million recently, Phrases took the number one spot on a list of top Facebook applications from Zynga's FarmVille, which trails by just 450,000 users, according to AppData, an independent application traffic tracking service.
Developed by Takeoff Monkey, Phrases is an application that allows a user to post images, quizzes and sayings from a huge, pre-generated collection on his or her Feed. But Phrases recently cut off users in the United States, leading some to believe that FarmVille will quickly move back into the number one spot. (Phrases' "daily active user count is dropping fast," the Times of India reported. "[T]he app is in danger of falling even further back than second place if US audience remain locked out" [sic].)
What the conversation doesn't take into account, though, is that, regardless of where it lands on AppData's chart, FarmVille is seen by users as an entirely different sort of application than the ones it often competes with for spots on the leaderboard.
First of all, FarmVille is a serious time commitment. If you use Phrases, you use it for seconds at a time. That level of commitment on FarmVille will get you nowhere. A confession: I had to stop using the game because I wasn't getting anything else done. If you don't log in often enough to check up on your farm, then you are punished: your crops wither and die. It takes many, many hours to plant and harvest crops, pick fruit from your trees and tend to your animals. The only way around this is to throw real money at the game in exchange for in-game items.
And that's the second point. Zynga is a money-making machine. Recently valued at more than $5.5 billion, Zynga will bring in about $300 million this year because of in-game micro-transactions. Whereas most applications -- on Facebook and elsewhere -- make money by selling advertisements against a critical mass of users, Zynga is taking the majority of its profits straight from the wallets of users. Instead of waiting until you have built up enough money to buy a pretty pink barn, why not just throw a few coins at the game and enjoy the instant gratification?