Talking Copycats with Zynga's Design Chief
January 31, 2012 Page 2 of 4
Do you think Zynga is being ganged up on because it is the big kid on the block?
BR: Well it’s certainly never a surprise when you’re big and people come after you. I mean, I think that’s to be expected, the more well-known Zynga has become. We’ve certainly been in the news a lot lately having IPOed and all that stuff -- it catches a lot of attention.
I guess now Zynga's market cap turns out to be one of the bigger ones in games, and so yeah, we get a lot of attention, and there will always be that. It's not like EA’s never gotten attention like that either, and so nothing about that surprises me.
I just want to make sure that people realize how much innovation goes on at Zynga, and how many times we’ve delivered games that really are just fantastic and bring new things to the market. I feel like Zynga is substantially a driver of innovation in the space, and so I just want to make sure we get credit for that.
Can you speak specifically to that innovation? What kind of innovations and designs are you referring to?
BR: Sure, sure absolutely. So my first game that I personally lead at Zynga was FrontierVille, and that was certainly an example of something where we really tried to innovate a lot. So we added a bunch of things that hadn’t been seen before in social games.
It was the first time the concept of quests had been done in social games. There have been quests in MMOs and RPGs, but nobody had really done them on any significant scale in social games, and we added the idea. I call them "goobers," it’s like the little pieces of loot that fly out of things, look pretty and make it clear that "Oh, you just got a bunch of neat stuff here." It makes it clearer what your loot has been, rather than just having something scroll by in a window.
And then we added a bunch of other things. Some of them were social innovations. Like FrontierVille created the idea of what I call the "neighbor visit replay," where when you go visit somebody’s space -- their farm or frontier or whatever -- and sort of just kind of click and go. And your friend never even barely knows you were there, and certainly doesn’t see you on their screen.
Zynga and Reynolds' FrontierVille
Say I can visit you, I click on maybe your trees and your crops and your flowers or something, and what I get when I click on them, I get rewarded as if I had clicked on those kinds of things on my own farm. I’ll see them vanish and go away [in my browser], and you come back and those things are still there. But you see my guy there and you click on my guy and it kind of replays the things that I did. So what that ends up doing is it makes it a more social, personal experience. Essentially it recognizes that we’re both playing at different times but it kind of puts the illusion of synchronous play into an asynchronous situation.
We also invented the concept of what we call "reputation," which is where you get a heart every time you click on one of your friend's things. It's the idea of giving you credit for playing socially. Then those kinds of things have then been taken by some of our other teams.
So the CastleVille team -- which are some guys in Dallas but I know a lot of them were Age of Empires guys -- so I’ve been working with them and competing with them for a decade. They were like, "Man, we’re going to take the stuff we did in FrontierVille," and then they took a bunch of it to a whole new level. So they took the reputation and turned it into a currency, to spend the hearts and actually buy things with them.
But FrontierVille and CastleVille, those games aren't the ones that are under scrutiny.
BR: Well, but I mean those are our big games, right? Those are our biggest games, and CityVille is another game that was both widely-acclaimed as innovative when it came out, and then it has continued to innovate as it goes along. So you know one of the points is, if you look at the main stuff we’re doing, we’re a substantial driver of innovation in the industry.
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