Zynga has managed to capture the attention of 72 million active users, who obsessively play their simple, mindless games every day. Whether you want to be a farmer, mafia don or city planner, these games tap into a fantasy life that most users could never dream of leading. For five minutes a day, Zynga users sneak time from their home and work lives to complete the seemingly mindless task of clicking rapidly on a few icons and dragging virtual items from one spot to another.
That’s all part of Zynga’s business strategy. The start-up is valued at almost $10 billion dollars, and has become one of the most successful gaming companies of today, without ever having made a game for a console. While we can clearly see their success, little is really known about what Zynga is planning next.
“Our goal is to create the best entertainment experience that has that right combination of social,” VP of Product Development at Zynga Mark Skaggs said to Techland about the company’s plans. “When we talk about social we mean playing together with friends. We’re continuing to evolve.”
Zynga’s strategy, at least for digital games, seems to be this: Take what they know works from their popular games, reskin it with a different title, add a few new features and appeal to the same user base that likes their other titles. Skaggs says that Zynga has discovered that what people want is something simple and not time consuming that they can play while doing other tasks like talking on the phone. These players want a persistent space they can come back to that they can personalize through decorating. And, while in the beginning most of these games appealed to women who used these games to stay connected to friends, Skaggs says that the demographic for Zynga games is now equally spread between men and women ages 24 to 35 and 35 to 50. It seems to be working, especially with their latest title Cityville. The game has about 90 million active monthly users, helping Zynga retain the top Facebook game developer spot.
However, there are a few problems that have arisen. Looking closer at the company’s stats, older games don’t seem to be retaining their appeal. One of their games, YoVille, only boasts 7 million monthly active users, down from an all time high of 19 million. Skaggs says the company will never phase out the games, but just pay less attention to titles that are no longer as popular. “We have games fade in popularity, but we still know there is a set of very dedicated players. We add new content and continue to service them, but not as much at a level as high trafficked games,” he adds.
But what happens when one of your previously biggest games is losing players at a rapid rate? While Farmville is still one of Zynga’s most popular games, it isn’t nearly as trafficked as it used to be. Recently, in order to bring players back to the game, Zynga launched their biggest expansion to the game, Farmville English Countryside, which gives users an additional farm. It might have seemed like a new direction for the company, but Skaggs points out that expansions like this one that give users the same experience in another virtual location have already been implemented in other titles.
“English Countryside aids in creating a long term game play experience for those who might want a slightly different flavor of the same game,” he says, adding that a very similar process was implemented when the Cuba and Bankok levels were added in Mafia Wars. So far, it seems to be attracting some old players back to the game, but many other users have voiced concerns that Farmville English Countryside is just a duplicate of the original Farmville game with a new title –- and they aren’t being fooled.
Mobile seems to be a different problem, and Zynga is looking to improve their gaming experience on devices. Their previous method of taking their games from Facebook and transferring them directly to the mobile platform doesn’t seem to be working, and the company is aware of that. They are looking into new ways to customize the mobile experience for players, which might lend some insight into why they are snapping up these smaller mobile companies. On the other hand, they are completely happy with their other mobile only games like Words with Friends, which is a completely different kind of game play that seems more suited for the platform.
One thing is for sure: Zynga will not break their relationship with Facebook. “We’re great partners with Facebook,” he says. “There’s great opportunities, and we do believe in what they’re doing.“ In fact, they’re so happy with the social network that they plan to release a couple more titles for the platform by the end of this year. He’s not spilling any details about what these new games might be, but we’re betting that if you’re a fan of any of the other games, you’ll gobble these new titles up.