Building Social Success: Zynga's Perspective
November 4, 2009 Page 2 of 4
There's room for innovation within a genre. Do you worry that when the concepts are something simple like farming or harvesting that it doesn't give you a lot of insurance to not be cloned as a game, whereas if you had more of a high concept that it would be something less possible to be cloned?
HD: People are going to try. It's been going on in many spaces forever, and not just the games space. People are going to try to attempt to clone you. I think it's still going to be hard for them. Part of that is that we've had such dominant traffic capabilities at this point in time that people seem to be preferring the original experiences that we're providing for them moreso than the other opportunities that they have.
If indeed there are 60 other farm games out there [as suggested by one speaker at GDC China -- Ed. note], why are they playing FarmVille? It's because it's a great experience and a great game.
Nobody's knocked off Rollercoaster Kingdom, right? One would expect that will probably happen. I don't think they're going to be as successful, because we provide a really great opportunity for them.
Is that why you're making investments into bringing over experienced game designers from the PC games industry? These are people who can create experiences that are robust.
HD: I think that is absolutely why we're doing it. We're probably one of the few companies that has. [In my GDC China presentation] I talked a little bit about breaking game guys.
We take those game sensibilities, and really want to apply those in a social manner. It's just a different way of thinking, and it's an analytical approach to game design. But at the end of the day, it makes for an experience that is now a meaningful part of 20 million peoples' daily lives.
We do tremendous focus studies. One of the things we did early on that was really smart was that we had a lot of web DNA, and really started to focus on a lot of game stuff.
You're not making experiences that are not consonant with what Brian Reynolds, from Big Huge Games [and now at Zynga] did in the past, but the strategy core gameplay aspect that your company concentrates on touches on what he has experience with. But the themes of his work might be different from what you guys might be willing to launch. How does that work?
HD: I think Brian is a perfect example of a guy who is excited and engaged about using an analytical and data-driven approach to doing his game design, and taking his knowledge base of the genres in which he has worked and extending them into a different vehicle created around this notion of social interaction.
You come from more of a games background than a web background.
What do you think is the key? There has been a lot of talk about how production values are only going to get higher, and the competition is only going to get fiercer. Is that how you see the market shaping up on the social experience?
HD: Absolutely. I think the days of the indie developer are beyond us. If Flash is going to be the ubiquitous thing that comes out there, and you're going to need guys who have that sensibility, then you're going to need to have a support team.
Let's assume it gets to a million or two million DAU [daily active users]. That's a pretty significant task that you have to take as a company. So now you're a ten-person company, right? As you grow, it grows exponentially from there. I think the game is changing.
Do you worry about falling into the same trap that console games fell into? They got more and more elaborate, and then became more and more focused toward a hardcore audience. That could be a danger for your space, right?
HD: We've actually made investments into some innovative games that were incredibly hardcore. If you look at Guild of Heroes, for example, we did roll that out. It was a version of Diablo built in Flash, and it wasn't successful, and we didn't support it any longer.
The truth of the matter is that we kind of did, and were mindful of it, and we tried to build specifically for that casual, social platform. We've gotten really good at that. We've varied, but we've found our sweet spot right now.
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