The Economic Impact of Facebook Games

If there is something that I see colleagues at work doing on a regular schedule, it is them playing games on Facebook, such as Mafia Wars or FarmVille. Games built around scam schemes as the CEO of the company behind these games openly admitted during a talk he gave.

Frankly, I could not care less about people installing spyware or adware on their machines or being tricked into subscribing to scam offers. Those people are in charge of their own destiny and chose to enroll in playing those games at their own free will. If they are falling for these scams just to advance their score in a dubious web game, well, then that’s part of the lesson they have to learn.

However, considering the immense amount of time some users are investing into gameplay there clearly seem to be some addictive aspects associated with playing Mafia Wars or FarmVille. So, what I am actually more interested in is the overall impact these games could have on our economy. Let us estimate the impact based on the FarmVille statistics: According to Facebook’s press info sheet there are 150 million users (50% of the total user base) on Facebook that log on on a daily basis. Based on another source over 24 million of these play FarmVille on a daily basis. Now, not all FarmVille players are employed or play FarmVille during work hours, so let us do a conservative estimate and assume that on average five percent of the FarmVille user base spends ten minutes of their work hours each day for playing FarmVille. If the order of magnitude of my assumptions is correct the resulting figures are impressive: In total, those people would be spending 12 million person minutes (= 200,000 person hours, 8,333 person days or 22.8 person years) of working time each day playing FarmVille. Extending this estimate to a yearly scale (assuming 220 working days) this maps to roughly 5,000 person years of work lost each year.

Converting this loss of time into a financial loss (which is what most economic statistics are based upon) is probably really tricky considering that I have no idea about the demographics of the relevant user group. On the other side, while the impact is probably not measurable on a global scale, I still consider it impressive that a simple web game may occupy the workforce equivalent of 5,000 people each year.