The Sisyphean tasks of Pinduoduo’s gamification – Part 3: Duo Duo Orchard and Duo Duo Ranch
The Sisyphean tasks of Pinduoduo’s gamification – Part 3: Duo Duo Orchard and Duo Duo Ranch

Sisyphus, a king In Greek mythology, was punished for cheating death. In the underworld he had to roll a large boulder up a hill. Every time he almost reached the top the boulder would roll down again. Sisyphus was cursed to repeat the same task every day. That’s what it felt like when I spend a few days trying out the gamifications inside the popular Chinese e-commerce app Pinduoduo…

I’ve described gamifications with hong bao, virtual red envelopes that hand out ‘lucky money’, coins, beans, cat food and a wheel of fortune in the Pinduoduo (PDD) app. My experience so far has been that it is really, really difficult to win any free product of cash in these games, while PDD does keep you coming back and incentivizes users for pestering your friends or scrolling through endless feeds of free product.

And then another game caught my eye: Duo Duo Orchard. Not being very familiar with farm simulators like Farmville (really, I’m too old for that shit) I quickly got drawn in. While I had promised myself not to get tricked by PDD anymore I soon found myself growing mango trees and raising cows…

Duo Duo Orchard

Clicking on the tree in the main menu of Pinduoduo took me to Duo Duo Orchard, a Tamagotchi/Farmville-like game originally launched in 2019, in which you can grow a fruit tree. When you start with a new tree you first choose a type of fruit. I picked mangos. PDD promised to send me a box of this specific fruit when the tree is fully grown.

After watering four more times I was told I could come back tomorrow at 5:33 to get 226 grams of water. I think my wife might have been right about that agenda. Also, my water supply had doubled for some reason.

Eventually I had one remaining turn of watering, but no more water left. Fortunately, the app had a button with suggestions for getting more water. And there were quite a few options:

  • Come back every day for free water (10-20 grams)
  • Buy train tickets on Pinduoduo (100 grams)
  • Look at products for 1 minute (20 grams, twice a day)
  • A ‘three-day plan’ in which I can get 100 grams on the first and 50 grams on the 2nd and 3rd day.
  • Group-buying items (120 grams, twice a day)
  • Ordering products (128 grams for the first order, 240 grams for the second order and 348 grams for the third order)
  • Every day during mealtime I could get a ‘happiness bag’ (30-50 grams)

Every time I thought I had a game under control new blinking buttons appeared on the screen inviting me to click and spend even more time with the tree. New options also kept being added to the various menus I could open and every day I returned to the tree there seemed to be more or different buttons on the screen. I longed back for the time I had a clear screen with just a tree in the middle. 

I looked up other people’s experiences with the game. spent two weeks getting the fruit. To get the fruit you need to let the tree grow through several phases, each with their own number of waterings: germination (watering 5 times), flowering (20 times), fruiting (60 times), and maturity. As I had calculated this last phase takes at least 200 waterings (seemingly you can get 0.5% deduction per watering if you have enough nutrients), but according to the blogger it could take over 400 times when you had insufficient nutrients and your efficiency could drop to 0.05%. 

To replenish nutrients, you need to get packages of fertilizer, something I never bothered to try. To get fertilizer you either need to buy products or be very lucky in the lucky draws or when opening treasure chests several times. You can seemingly also team up with friends

The blogger’s conclusion was that it isn’t a scam, but it’s simply not worth the time and money you need to spend on getting the free fruit. It’s also virtually impossible to win the fruit without buying products. Furthermore, there were people complaining about the quality of some of the fruit they received after spending hours watering their trees.

The game had 11 million DAU’s by June of 2019 and 60 million by December of 2019. Just consider how some of these people have planted tens of different trees in Pinduoduo. ‘Some people watch TV series the whole evening, others just spend time on Pinduoduo’, one article remarked.

Pinduoduo is not the only one with a virtual orchard: Meituan (Xiaomei Orchard), JD and Alibaba (Baba Farm) have their own versions.

Duo Duo Ranch

The second day I got back to Duo Duo Orchard I noticed a button with a cow in it next to my tree. I made the mistake of clicking on it. Before I knew it, I was in a separate game, Duo Duo Ranch, and I was raising a cow. The prize when the cow would be fully grown? You guessed it: free dairy products!

You need to feed the cow and get food by doing small tasks:

  • Looking at products you can get for free (800 grams, 4 times a week)
  • Entering the Duo Duo Ranch from your account page (100 gram per day)
  • Check-in for free food (6 times a day)
  • Come during mealtimes (980-500 grams, 3 times a day)

Every time I fed the cows, they gave a bit of milk. 

Sometimes cows disappeared, at which moment I could replace them with bigger and stronger cows that produce more milk. One day, when I checked-in I found a pig eating the cow food! I had to chase him away.

This was the time I decided it was better for my sanity to quit the Duo Duo Orchard and Duo Duo Ranch. As I said, I never played Farmville, but I sincerely hope that it is more rewarding for the people that spend time playing it. In PDD these games are just another way to get you to return to the app, even multiple times a day, buy products and recruit friends.