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Helen Popkin
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msnbc.com
updated 6/1/2010 1:55:22 PM ET 2010-06-01T17:55:22

FarmVille … it’s not just for Facebook anymore. Just as Zynga is looking to extend its virtual agriculture game and other properties (YoVille, Mafia Wars) to websites such as MSN and Yahoo, real world companies are looking to get a piece of the playtime action.

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It’s all part of the “gamification” of life, reports Advertising Age, “where competition and points are increasingly a part of offline activities.” According to the industry publication, companies such as 7-Eleven, JetBlue, H&M and Tesla Motors are seeking out ways to engage customers with the surprisingly effective method of (pretty much) worthless rewards.

“Basically game mechanics are a way to get consumers addicted to things,” Tim Chang told Ad Age. And he should know. He’s the dude who coined “gamification,” and he’s the principal at social game backer Norwest Venture Partners. Games “keep people engaged to keep doing things, as opposed to what goes viral quick: You click, you watch and then never see it again."

So insidious is the FarmVille dynamic that Time magazine recently named it one of the 50 Worst Inventions, right up there with New Coke and Red Dye No. 2. It’s hardly even a game, Time contends. “It's more a series of mindless chores on a digital farm, requiring the endless clicking of a mouse to plant and harvest crops.” And yet, according to Zynga, more than 10 percent of Americans have logged on to the virtual crop fields.

No wonder this “gamification” now goes beyond the FarmVille Slurpee cups soon to be available at 7-11s everywhere. Ad Age points to H&M’s recent campaign with Booyah, the company behind the Monopoly-like mobile game MyTown. Like the location-based social network Foursquare, MyTown players check in with real world locations, for which they can also can also “own” and “charge rent.”

“During the campaign,” Ad Age reports, “H&M was the most searched location within the game, 700,000 users checked in to its retail stores, and 8 million saw its virtual goods.”

Companies, of course, are the big winners here, as increasingly engaged “players” (i.e. consumers) become immersed in brand awareness. The losers? Anyone who thought they could escape “FarmVille” and the like by simply logging off Facebook.

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