“Sometimes, you just have to get up in the middle of the night and milk those cows,” senior Jack Christian said.
Christian isn’t a farmer. And those cows aren’t real.
They’re part of a best-selling farming game called Hay Day. Christian played Hay Day for years, starting his freshman year and stopping last year.
The game was created in 2012 and has been popular for years, but recently the Hay Day craze took hold of Country Day.
A Nov. 13 poll of 110 high school students showed that 34 percent said they owned or played Hay Day at some point, and 62 percent of those students currently play the game.
When players first open the game, they learn that their “uncle” is unable to take care of his farm, so the responsibility of caring for the farm is now the player’s.
In the earliest levels, the farm is small, with basic crops like wheat and small animals like chickens.
But by harvesting and selling crops and products, players earn coins that can be used to buy production buildings, pets and decoration items.
Players also earn experience points, which allow them to “level up.” When players level up, they receive diamonds, a more useful currency than coins. There are 600 possible levels.
The players’ farms can be upgraded once they reach certain levels and unlock orchards, docks, a boat, specialized workplaces to produce jewelry or other goods, and even the players’ own town.
Furthermore, players can combine forces as “neighborhoods.” The members of a neighborhood can chat with each other and help each other when they need a certain product.
Members of a neighborhood also compete in a “derby,” where they must work together to finish tasks – such as filling a certain number of boat orders – and receive prizes, such as new materials or decorations, for their farm.
Eventually, players can unlock farm helpers (non-player characters – NPCs) to decrease the amount of time spent on maintaining the ever-growing farm.
As with any game, limits have been put in place to challenge players. The barn and silo can store only a certain amount of goods, so players can’t hoard their harvests. In the highest level of the game, the barn can store only 300 items.
And while expanding their farm and selling and buying goods, players still need to feed their animals regularly.
As of October 2018, the game had 800,000 downloads and $5 million in worldwide revenue, according to Sensor Tower, a software company that provides statistics about a variety of apps. The game’s publisher is Supercell (which also published the award-winning game Clash Royale).
But Hay Day’s rising popularity in the high school among sophomores began last summer during the pre-calculus course, according to sophomore Sarina Rye.
One day, sophomore Allie Bogetich (who first downloaded Hay Day in fifth grade but lost her farm and made a new account two years ago) said she saw on Snapchat that sophomore Ashwin Rohatgi had Hay Day.
In class, Bogetich asked Rye and sophomore Kaelan Swinmurn if they had Hay Day, and both girls said they had an account but had stopped playing.
They re-downloaded the app, signed in and started playing after class, Rye said.
After that, Rye said, the number of players increased rapidly. In a few days, sophomores Ming Zhu and Brian Chow made accounts and joined.
After a math test, the class created an invite-only, SCDS-exclusive neighborhood named “🅱️amp 🅱️ountry 🅱️ay” (inspired by the “B” emoji meme).
And when school started, other sophomores, like Elise Sommerhaug and Charlie Acquisto, downloaded Hay Day and joined the neighborhood.
“(At first), I thought it was the stupidest thing ever,” Sommerhaug said. “But it’s addicting.”
Sophomores’ Hay Day conversations found their way into various classrooms, including Algebra II Honors, a class with both sophomores and freshmen. Thus, freshmen joined.
Some, like freshman Arijit Trivedi, are new to the game. Trivedi joined in late October because “a lot of people were talking about it.”
Others, like freshman Dylan Margolis, are longtime players. Margolis said he started playing about four years ago, took a two-year hiatus and then went back to the farm once Hay Day gained popularity at Country Day.
Students in Algebra II Honors introduced even math teacher Patricia Jacobsen to the game.
Jacobsen said her interest in the game began when sophomore Lili Brush walked into class early in the year talking about one aspect of game play: pigs in the game don’t die when players get bacon from them.
As the year progressed, students started to play the game immediately before class or ask classmates if they could lend some wheat or other crops.
Jacobsen said she became more and more curious about what kind of game they were playing.
Brush told her the name of the app, and Jacobsen said she started playing and couldn’t stop.
Why is the game so popular and addicting?
First, Margolis said, the game is friendly to beginners because it is very easy to understand from the get-go.
Players thus progress through the first levels very quickly, which entices them to keep going. When their pace slows, they play more, out of habit — they still expect to clear, say, 10 levels per week as they did in the past.
And the workload, Jacobsen said, mimics the levels; instead of one big challenge, there are many smaller undertakings: growing grain, feeding the livestock, harvesting the food and collecting eggs, milk or bacon from the animals.
“It (provides) a great sense of accomplishment,” she said, “which is ironic because the more time you spend on the game, the less you’re actually accomplishing in real life.”
Jacobsen also said she plays the game because it is unique.
“It’s not like a car-racing game or some of the other video games that I’ve seen,” she said.
“You just do these little jobs, and there’s no violence. I mean, the pigs don’t even die when you get bacon; they just get a pressure-cooker over them. That’s really cool and just refreshing.”
Jacobsen said the game also emphasizes helping fellow “neighbors,” unlike games where the goal is to defeat other players.
Neighbors can donate their produce to help others fulfill their boat orders, or expand their barn.
“I don’t think that anyone is ever really selfish on it,” Jacobsen said.
Christian added that the game also teaches players about managing their (fake) money.
Players can buy goods or new machines but also have to find the balance between selling produce to do so and saving enough produce to complete their tasks.
Even farms can be bought and sold, with risks attached.
Christian and Bogetich said they also like the intricacies of a game about a “simple” subject.
There are so many paths players can take, according to Christian, from decoration and organization of the farm to the products made or harvested and what to do with them.
Of all the farms in the neighborhood, no two look alike.
“I really love just how endless it is,” Bogetich said. She described her farming style as focusing more on what the farm and its occupants need rather than trying to be the best or the most lavishly decorated.
Furthermore, she said the game does require planning or math to complete all the tasks at different times to get the most out of one’s farm.
And there is visual and audio appeal, according to Jacobsen and Bogetich. The animals are very “cute”; their noises are “happy and soothing.”
But even a family-friendly farming game has its downsides.
Margolis said he wished that Supercell updated the game more, because leveled-up players quickly run out of things to do.
“I’m only about 19 levels away from not collecting or getting anything, just making my farm perfect,” he said.
Trivedi agreed, saying the game gets repetitive and requires a lot of rare material to expand and level-up.
Furthermore, the game’s tasks can be addicting.
“You can just log on for five minutes a day, or you can spend hours a day on it,” Acquisto said.
In the Nov. 13 poll, seven of the 21 students currently playing Hay Day said they don’t play the game every day. But seven also said they play the game one to two hours every day, and four said they play it three to four hours a day.
Christian even said one of the reasons he stopped playing Hay Day was because it was so time-consuming.
“Over break, a whole hour would go by where I would just be taking care of my chickens and trying to grow stuff,” she said.
“For the first two weeks, I was really into Hay Day, and I was playing it instead of doing my homework,” Trivedi said.
As more people play the game, the toll on the Wi-Fi increases considerably, senior educational technology specialist Fred Jaravata said.
“It’s as if you stream a movie on Netflix; it’s taking a lot of the bandwidth,” he said.
So Hay Day, like all gaming apps, is blocked on the school Wi-Fi.
And though the app is free, there are (equally addicting) in-app purchases.
Diamonds allow certain processes in the game, like harvesting wheat, to occur faster.
They can be earned by leveling up – but earning many is rare, according to Margolis – so the app allows users to buy them.
Since many players find the game time-consuming but still want to level up, buying diamonds can seem like a logical option.
The most popular in-app purchase is a pile of diamonds, which costs $1.99; the most expensive purchase is a trunk of diamonds for $69.99, according to SensorTower.
Most Hay Day players at Country Day haven’t spent any money on the app.
“To me, there’s no pride in just buying your way through the game,” Jacobsen said. “I like to earn it by making stuff.”
“It provides an extra challenge to not give in and spend money,” Margolis added.
However, Bogetich said she’s spent at least $100 worth of iTunes gift cards on Hay Day.
But Bogetich’s purchases are nothing compared to how far some players are willing to go.
A thread on the Hay Day subreddit (r/HayDay) asks how much money players have spent on the game. While most of the players said they only spent a few dollars if any, one user said they and their then-girlfriend met up every Sunday and bought $100 worth of gems.
They said they spent hundreds of dollars on Tom, one of the NPC farmhands, alone.
When the user and the girlfriend broke up, she logged in and sold all their belongings, then deleted the user’s account.
Despite all this, Hay Day has maintained its popularity for six years. Can it survive, and thrive, longer?
Rye said she thinks it will because of the game’s frequent updates.
According to the Hay Day website, there have been 72 updates since the game launched. And these updates don’t simply change the quality of the game or fix bugs. They added fishing, the town, neighborhoods and derby leagues.
Furthermore, Margolis said, the makers add levels every time someone is close to running out of them.
Christian added that there will always be a market for such games.
“All the young kids like to play and get addicted,” he said. “It just stays with that certain generation of kids, so I don’t think it’ll ever go away.”
Rye also said that the game can bond people, as it did with the math class; the members of the “🅱️amp 🅱️ountry 🅱️ay” neighborhood even watched movies together.
However, Jacobsen said the appeal of the game, for her, doesn’t last forever.
After reaching a certain goal on the app (hers was adding a bunny to her farm, which was unlocked at level 31), she’s been spending less and less time on the app.
Still, she said, there are always new goals that can be quickly achieved, so she still plays Hay Day.
“I think (the producers made) the game so that there’s always something just around the corner that you can achieve.”
And because players cannot buy their way through levels (there is a limit to what diamonds can do), they have to earn their way though.
Furthermore, she said, players can’t really lose the game.
Jacobsen said she learned at a teaching conference that one of the reasons students love video games as opposed to, for example, a math quiz is because in games, if players lose, they can just start again and keep trying.
“You might not be able to make enough ice cream or feed your cows, but there are no serious consequences,” she said. “It’s not like you get booted off Hay Day.”
Bogetich said that, as with many games, its popularity will fluctuate and the game will go out of style one day.
However, she said there will always be people who play it.
“All the moms are going to keep playing it,” she said.
“And then at some point,” like at Country Day, “someone will rediscover it.”