Imagine yourself managing your very own virtual farm and being able to obtain fresh, organic produce, delivered right to your door step. This description seems more befitting to the popular Facebook game Farmville but it is not entirely based on virtual fiction. This concept is brought to reality by a farming cooperative in Kyrgyzstan which uses gamification concepts to raise investments and awareness for farmers.
The farming project known as MBF Farm, allows users to log onto the website to create their own virtual farms, akin to Farmville. After choosing their own plot of land, users can grow their own vegetable patches and livestock. Upon receiving the virtual inputs, participating farms would begin work on their customer’s orders and have them delivered straight to the virtual farmers home once completed.
MBF Farm was designed in hopes of overcoming the economically risky environment of Kyrgyzstan. As the country’s economy is cash strapped, loans rates are as high as 30% which in turn limits Kyrgyz farmers financial resources. With the project’s virtual farmers financing the production, the risk faced by farmers should crops fail are lessened in addition to receiving an alternative source of starting capital. In the long run, the system hopes to reduce the risk of volatile prices of goods in the market while providing a direct business to customer support.
It is encouraging to see how game mechanics from popular social video games are innovatively being utilized in solving real world problems. Yet, there lies unique challenges when implementing such gamification projects that may be difficult to resolve or anticipate for. Success of the farming project is highly dependent on the number of virtual farmers utilizing the platform as it would serve no purpose if no orders were being made. There also lie the obstacle of motivating new users to use the system rather than choosing the easier, conventional option of going to the local market to directly purchase goods. Fundamentally, the success of such a virtual project is reliant on a growing number of internet-savvy users and stable internet connectivity within the country. While Kyrgyzstan has the highest internet penetration in Central Asia, a recent survey indicates that only 14% of the population are internet users. Consequently, the effectiveness of MBF Farm may be limited to a smaller segment of the population.
Nevertheless, this case example shows plenty of potential and benefits should a similar virtual farming project be implemented in a more conducive environment. Most importantly, it goes to show that real world economic and social environments play a crucial role in determining the success of a gamification project. Should gamification developers and designers take heed of these factors, the effectiveness of their gamification projects are ensured.