ScamVille? A New Online Game? Who's Up For The Challenge?

Michael Arrington from Techcrunch wrote a very insightful article titled "Scamville: The Social Gaming Ecosystem of Hell," exposing Zynga and its scam-laden lead gen-type offers devised for their ever-popular Facebook games of Farmville and Mafia Wars. I challenge one of the more ethical game developers to actually use Arrington's expose to develop the real thing - an actual Facebook game called "ScamVille!"

Michael ArringtonMichael ArringtonArrington delivers a very in-depth account how Zynga has created a self-perpetuating business model for users to pay "real currency" for "game currency" so they can level up faster and gain quicker positioning and advantage in the game.

November 6th UPDATE: Since this blog was posted, a number of subsequent reports have surfaced to support Arrington's thesis. Most notable is a Time Magazine article titled, "Are You Getting Scammed By Facebook Games?"  In that story, the elaborate on how lead-generation works with games such as Farmville: Advertisers lure players in with an offer to take a bogus survey or IQ test. Once it's completed they require a cell-phone number to send you the results. When you enter your cell number and create a password, you have unwittingly subscribed to a service you never wanted but will be billed for. If you're a kid, the mysterious charge then appears on the phone bill of the parents, who often find that phone companies will not cancel services from a third-party provider — even if the parent cannot find out who that provider is.

The reason that Facebook, nor MySpace object to this cycle of deceit even though they are in a position to regulate this and even though Zynga is not adhering to the rules set up by these social networks is based strictly on greed. Facebook and MySpace turn a "blind eye" to these tactics because they're garnering such a huge cut of revenue back from these developers in advertising. According to Arrington, "if they turn off the spigot, they hurt themselves."

Marc Pincus, Founder of ZyngaMarc Pincus, Founder of ZyngaWith recent announcements that Zynga's annual revenues this year will top $100 million and the company is primed to go public, Mark Pincus, founder and CEO brags about attracting users like a drug dealer handles the sale of  drugs. "Once hooked, Pincus says, players spend real money on virtual goods to help them advance to higher level - thereby enriching Zynga." And since the game is never-ending with new levels continuously being added, addicted players come back for more and more... with no Rehab in sight!

So here's my challenge to game developers like Playdom and Playfish before they fall into the same trap as Zynga. I ask that they send their developers into a think-tank to develop "ScamVille" using some of the insights from Arrington's expose. The over-riding premise of the game would be to show how you can play a clean game by beating the evil lords of "ScamVille." With each new level, players rise through the court systems to finally expose "ScamVille" to the Supreme Court of Public Opinion.

Along the way, you'll be rewarded for small wins like surfacing documentation as to monthly and quarterly ad revenues of Facebook and income statements of Zynga. Higher levels will be obtained as more and more of your followers sign protests that are presented to Facebook and MySpace. Players will also ascend to higher levels of play by exposing companies like Offerpal and SuperRewards that are ripping off people by pitching them to add offers to their apps.

The ultimate goal of the game is for all players to collectively motivate Facebook and MySpace to change their ways. This will be accomplished when the players show  enough protest so that the  two networks make the right moral decision to enforce their own rules on subscription and scams.

There's an old saying that says "you play the game you know you can win." If ethical online game developers are good at what they do, I ask them to take on this challenge and fight fire with fire. In stead of caving into the tactics of Zynga, expose them for what they are on the turf you are so adept at!  Show them you can beat them at their own game on an even-playing field!

Who's up for the ScamVille challenge? If so, a company named Pectopah may have already security the rights to the domain name!  Check them out at which will re-direct you to their web design company, out of Toronto, Ontario.

Nov 3, 2009
by Anonymous


Let's all protect the idiots. It's a GAME! The reason it goes on is not because FB and MS allow it. it goes on because people are stupid enough to pay for it. Well, let them fend for themselves and write about something important instead of trying to protect the unprotectable. Save them from this scam and they will find another.

Nov 4, 2009
by Anonymous

Scams real and imagined on Facebook

I agree that Zygna and others on Facebook are running a potential scam, but only to the extent people are gullible enough to buy into it. I know you can level up faster in those games, by purchasing points, but I don't do it. I also don't give out my cell phone number to the stupid quizzes. People need to take responsibility and be alert to scams.

Nov 4, 2009
by Anonymous

Scams abound far and wide beyond Facebook

I never like joining any of those facebook games or applets that ask your permission. Perhaps it's an age thing or a distrust thing. But your challenge triggers a related idea.

Instead, develop a Firefox add-on tool that reads the web pages you're viewing and flags anything that appears to be a scam.

This could be very useful for anyone looking for jobs as there are so many job scams. And it could act as additional support to your spam filters when viewing email in a browser window.


Nov 4, 2009
by Anonymous

I hope this is an editorial...

...because your piece is very obviously biased against Zynga, as well as being poorly-informed. Both Playfish and Playdom also offer those same "hellish" (and entirely optional) CPA deals to allow users to earn in-game currency.

Nov 7, 2009
by Anonymous

I'm surprised by the lack of knowledge of pundits

If you understand how the money changes hands between developers, ad networks, mobile carriers, and affiliates, you'll see that all parties are guilty. That was the point of my article on TechCrunch-- the system is flawed by design. If games are "free", everyone is going to have to make money somehow. Zynga is definitely not guilt-free by Mark's own admission.

Nov 13, 2009
by Anonymous

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