LEHI -- A new Facebook game is designed to mimic Farmville, but instead of farming, participants will gather information about their families as they go.
The Family Village game debuted a couple of weeks ago without advertising -- and the creator is boasting a following of 14,000 people who have installed the game.
"I'm surprised. It's growing without any promotion so far," said Jeff Wells, of Lehi. "Once we start to promote it, we expect it to grow phenomenally."
Wells said his goal is to reach 2 million people playing the online game.
He developed the game because he wanted to share his enthusiasm for genealogy with others, and he saw a niche with 300 million people playing social games every month. Currently, Facebook has 850 million members around the world, he said.
"When I picked up the genealogy bug, I found it quite addictive and intriguing," Wells said. "It's like doing ministry work. I thought it would be interesting to take that research and make it a game."
Wells said the game is free.
How does he make money from those playing the game? His company sells upgrades to the game in the form of virtual enhancement items. One example: allowing a person to acquire otherwise free items more quickly.
While the whole family can play, Wells said his predominant goal is to reach women ages 25 to 55.
He explained the game as building a village populated by your own family.
"When relatives come up to you in the game, you are addressing them in period costumes, and you are getting them jobs they would have done in their time," he said.
Wells said while people are playing the game, the program searches online for family records to expand family information displayed in the player's museum.
"The objective is to pull people into looking into family history in a way they would not have been normally," he said.
Those who play the game acquire a better understanding of their ancestors as they dress them in period clothes and find them jobs in the community similar to work they would have done in their lives.
Wells said family history work is one of the top hobbies on the Internet.
The creator said he has found that the game has an appeal that reaches beyond a Utah audience.
"Forty percent of those who have played the game live outside the U.S.," he said.
And while he has realized that family history doesn't appeal only to members of his faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the interest in his game has increased his personal faith.
"What the game has done is, it has shown what we all feel -- we're all part of one big family, and we should treat each other as one family," he said. "If we understand our common genealogical roots, it takes down our political and economic boundaries. When we realize that we are all connected in some way, it enhances the way we feel about our community."
And Wells said gathering family history brings families together.
"The stronger families are in any religion, it makes religious participation that much easier," he said.
More information about the game is available by searching Family Village on Facebook or at familyvillagegame.com or funium.com.