I like this story.
A few years ago, during my Gamestop days, our store started carrying prepaid cards for Farmville. This was the height of Farmville’s popularity; it had become an obsession by many nontraditional gamers (Baby Boomers, nuclear-family moms, etc.) and a one-word punchline for “core” gamers.
In case there was any uncertainty if you’d be seeing a “virtual farm” segment 20 years from now in VH1′s inevitable “I Love the 2010s”, the numbers speak for themselves. Zynga, creators of Farmville and its countless spin-offs, scored $597 million in gross sales in 2010 (about 70% of the social gaming market share at the time) and caused traditional game publishers to drastically rethink their business model.
Back to Gamestop. For a while, these $10, $25, and $50 cards only collected dust. I guess word eventually got out that we had them in stock, however, because before too long I found our store flush with a demographic we didn’t usually see outside of the holiday season: old ladies.
I know, I know. Gamers come in all shapes and sizes and I shouldn’t make assumptions about the kinds of people that play certain games, but I’m not being glib. At my store, the customers interested in Facebook credit were almost exclusively old ladies. All sorts of old ladies too. I saw old ladies with grand-kids, getting their Feeding Frenzy fix. I saw old ladies out on their birthday dinner come in to show their bewildered families exactly what they wanted that year as a gift. I even saw an old lady come by the store every day for a whole week looking for some kind of mythical “double coin” version of the Farmville card which I’m convinced didn’t actually exist.
These women exhibited a level of fanaticism typically reserved for, well, people like me. You know, nerds.
But I haven’t mentioned Marge yet. Marge put them all to shame. Marge was probably 70. Marge frequently wore a hospital band on her wrist. Marge saw my Starbucks cup one day and told me I should boycott them because they supported “O-BAM-a” and not the troops. Marge did not want a bag. Marge wanted her receipt folded vertically in thirds and wrapped around her cards. Marge came in twice a week and Marge cleaned us out.
Marge was a character. And, although I’d hide my coffee when I saw her walking up, I looked forward to her visits. Marge was living proof that the hobby I loved was expanding into new territory and reaching audiences even Wii Sports hadn’t found. As someone who grew up trying unsuccessfully to explain what these video game things were all about to the various grown-ups in my family, nothing could make me happier than seeing games reach as many people as possible.
I mused this to Marge one day, while sneaking sips from my Caramel Iced Coffee as she dug through her purse.
“You know, Marge, I think its so cool that a year ago, you thought we were that store you go to when your watch battery dies and now you’re one of our most regular customers. Most people here think Farmville is a big joke, but say what you will, it’s always exciting to see people find a game that really clicks with them for the first time. I mean, just because it’s not one of these big blockbuster titles that we are used to selling doesn’t mean the fun people have with it is any less legitimate.”
Marge eagerly nodded in agreement as I spoke, then added, “It’s a great way to keep up with friends and family, but I just don’t care for all of those killing games they usually play.”
“That’s what’s so great!”, I responded. “There’s games for everyone. You really love your Farmville, while other people out there are more into violent games like — “
Marge cut me off.
“Like Mafia Wars,” she said.
I smiled, fighting back a laugh.
“Like Mafia Wars.”