Social gaming

Image representing Zynga as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

There was an interesting article in the New York Times about FarmVille. The only major error I have to comment on is that, given my experience at Tagged, saying Zynga is profitable is a massive understatement.

I think it’s instructive how companies like Slide and RockYou could have been so slow to capitalize on game designs that date back to 1980’s bulletin board systems. Perhaps they’ll study that in b-school. With 20-20 hindsight, this model does complete sense—interaction and bandwidth limitations are pretty much the same relative to the existing technology in each time period are strikingly similar in both BBSs and social networks. And just to further emphasize that it was not first mover that defined success, but rather failure to capitalize, I’ll remind the audience that neither FarmVille nor Mafia Wars were original ideas on Facebook—both were swiped from competitor products.

I will give Zynga (and the others) this. They have a far more mature understanding of social virality than the days of Plaxo, Tagged, or even RockYou/Slide. Earlier social gaming (like the first such app, Zombies) used traditional models based on optimizing signups and invites, but the Zynga model is optimizing views and clicks and they’re doing a good job. Remember, FarmVille only launched in June and now is all over the Times.


This is Mafia Wars, Zynga’s copy of Mob Wars. Note the use of various promotions to cater to instincts of people to bring their eyeballs here daily — gambling with daily chance, limited time offers and jobs, cross selling their other applications like Farmville, etc.On this screenshot showing a fold and a half of content, you only see one “social” touch point (at the bottom). That’s because the social aspect is only used like e-mail for messaging—and even then, only for notifications because real interaction like in Diplomacy or Chess would need much more brainpower than simply clicking.


Clicks are optimized here; social interaction is minimal here.

Trust me, they make a lot of money off of this.

Before any of us start rationalizing, part of learning is admitting when someone does it better than you. Hats off to Zynga.

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