Social games behemoth Zynga denied Monday a rumor that FarmVille, its wildly popular Facebook-based game, would be switching from a free to a subscription-based model at the end of March.
A fan site called FarmVilleFreak.com--yes, that's how popular this game is--re-posted an alleged e-mail received by a reader that announced FarmVille would be moving out of beta and into an expanded version on March 31. It would cost $5.99 per month and would feature new levels and achievements.
That would, of course, make the first day of the allegedly non-free FarmVille to be April Fool's Day. And a Zynga representative, in an e-mail to CNET, says the rumor is not true.
FarmVille, with over 75 million monthly users, is already making a lot of money for Zynga. But, according to blogs like the AOL-owned Games.com, it's not yet sufficient for the company to consider going public. Currently, the game makes its money by charging users for virtual goods that help them get ahead, for which they can fork over cash or complete third-party offers and surveys.
The companies fueling those offers came under some serious scrutiny last year over the revelation that there were hidden fees attached to many of them. Some wondered, in the wake of the media frenzy, whether Zynga would have to look elsewhere for revenues--thus far, it hasn't made any indications that it will. But a recent survey estimated that only about a third of avid social-game players actually pay real-world money for virtual goods, which puts the viability of a subscription model into question.
Several months ago, Zynga--arguably the most profitable company to make a name for itself on Facebook's developer platform, as well as a major buyer of Facebook ads--raised a $180 million round of funding led by Russian investment firm Digital Sky Technologies, which also has a sizeable stake in Facebook. The round was largely interpreted as a way for longtime Zynga employees to achieve some liquidity without actually going public, indicating that its rumored IPO might be further down the road than some expected.