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More of the same from Zynga. A lot more.
More of the same from Zynga. A lot more. Exclusive
June 26, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi

If a big presentation Tuesday at its headquarters in San Francisco is any indication, Zynga is a company that is in love with numbers.

At its second annual "Zynga Unleashed" event, general manager after vice president after chief officer were introduced and brought on stage, each sharing a torrent of large digits projected behind them on stage. 

We found out how many words are played in Words With Friends every minute (64,000), how many millions of messages are sent between players (about a million a minute), how many billions of bubbles have been popped in its newest arcade game, Bubble Safari (115 billion, for those keeping track), even how many "bingos" have been called in Zynga Bingo (that's 69 million, if that information is of use to you).

The figures blurred together after the first five or so. An hour into the presentation, they became meaningless, as some of them (16 trillion poker chips won daily in Zynga Poker, for example) verged beyond human comprehension and just became noise.

There was a certain strategy in blinding us with digits, though: Zynga seems hellbent on proving its continued success, despite what stock prices and analysts may be saying. The bullish way the executives assaulted us with these facts flew in the face of the company's recent struggles, with its stock price plummeting to less than half of its initial pricing as its daily active users dropped over 8 percent in May.

If one were to simply watch the presentation without this context, one might be convinced that these losses just don't matter, and big changes at Zynga may not be necessary just yet. And if today's news is any indication, there isn't much new coming out of the house that FarmVille built anytime soon.

Of the five new games announced, three of them had Ville in the title: one of them being another FarmVille, another inhabiting the well-worn realm of food-themed games, and one of them, The Ville, such a facsimile of EA's The Sims that the title even shares the word The. Other new titles included another title in the time-proven "match-three" genre with Matching With Friends, and Zynga Epic Slots, a slot machine simulator. A brief presentation tried to make the game out to be more than it was by calling it an "epic slots adventure" and promising exotic themes and locales like forests and alien worlds.

Instead of announcing anything truly new, the company used the opportunity to tell investors, the media, and even its employees that all is well, and that its new games could safely continue iterating off of each other (and, indeed, successful games from others), and that any gameplay innovation would come not through big new ideas, but through baby steps, as the company continues to closely monitor its players and respond bit by bit as they continue to evolve their tastes.

"I feel like the company is trying lots of new genres," Zynga's director of design Wright Bagwell told me when I brought this up to him after the presentation. "I feel like we're trying a lot more new things...than the console industry."

Those new experiments don't necessarily translate to new titles: in fact, ask Zynga mobile executive producer Jon-Paul Dumont, and he'll say that the company is innovating constantly by continuing to study its players and continually update its games.

"If you look at the lifespan of a game like FarmVille...if you had a preserved version of that game from 3 years'd be amazed at how much that game has changed and evolved," he says.

Those little changes don't equate to something outsiders are necessarily going to see, especially on Wall Street, where investors were not impressed with today's announcements. Zynga shares took a hit immediately following the presentation, closing at a 5 percent drop from yesterday. Many analysts were expecting to see an obvious change today to directly combat its declining users, but instead we saw what appears to be more of the same.

It is entirely possible that Zynga's on the right track. Its upcoming Zynga With Friends Network, announced today, should do a lot to keep its players playing by unifying a singular Zynga experience across devices (and indeed, across both Facebook and its own site). And by opening its extremely valuable API to third-party developers, the company could potentially attract a ton of new games to its service and, potentially, the diversity that investors may be waiting for.

But these changes are both unproven and potentially long-term. And if today's event represents all of the announcements Zynga has for the next few months, it looks like its shares are going to stay low for quite a while.

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E McNeill
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Naming their The Sims clone "The Ville" is bordering on self-parody.

Also, one of their bold new announcements is a slots game. ...

Shea Rutsatz
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... but it's "epic", apparently! Who doesn't want to play slots in an alien world?

Ian Uniacke
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slots with alien graphics is a whole new "genre" of game

Tiago Rodrigues
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I like how Checkpoint commented on this announcement: "Why don't we just stop pretending that our games are gambling Skinner boxes? Let's make a slots game!"

Ian Uniacke
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Am I the only person cynical enough to wonder if I use Zynga's platform and have success will they steal my game and make their own?

Luis Guimaraes
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To "wonder" you say? Yeah, that's very cynical of you.

Marc Schaerer
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Why would they?
That would be stupid if you bring in users and cash while their design team has been locked in 'the same shit over and over again' blockades for 2 or so years already.

They just try to get their stuff spread even further without relying on not being absolutely incapable themself any longer as they did for just too long

Chances are higher that they would just change terms to milk you more once you are more successful cause you are trapped into their platform with your users

Brad Borne
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Farmville 2? Can anyone explain to me how that works, if they are constantly iterating Farmville 1?

Will Farmville 1 and 2 be incompatible? Are they going to pull the plug on Farmville 1 eventually?

Frank Cifaldi
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We asked, they're not saying yet.

Vin St John
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If "Mafia Wars 2" is any indication, they understand that certain more dramatic changes (like making the switch to 3D graphics, etc.) would not go over well with an existing playerbase if they replaced the current game. But if they create a "sequel" they can see if the player base moves over to it naturally.

Sort of funny, though, because Mafia Wars 2 bombed... I wonder if they'd just be better off giving you a menu to play "1" or "2" when you entered the Farmville app.

Craig Timpany
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Oh, and in case anyone else is having the coffee-snort moment about Mafia Wars 2 being '3D': what Zynga really mean is that it's isometric. It's still 2D sprites.

Mark Sivak
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What company doesn't do "more of the same" these days?

Blizzard is releasing and has released Diablo 3, a new WoW xpack, and a new SC2 (xpack? I don't know what they are calling it). Valve is lining up DOTA 2 and HL3.

We will have Borderlands 2, Max Payne 3, and Halo 4 before the end of the year. Along with a new Hitman, Tomb Raider, and LEGO Lord of the Rings (should be awesome)

I guess you have to get in that obligatory Zynga hate.

Tiago Rodrigues
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I guess the "more of the same" critique is more in the sense that Zynga really needed to impress the investors, and didn't. Diablo 3, WOW expansions, and all these other sequels will (probably) sell. A lot. Zynga's "releases", however, left a feeling with the stakeholders that it's just not heading up.

Bart Stewart
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I also thought the tone of this piece was oddly hostile for something labeled as "News" rather than "Opinion."

Bernardo Del Castillo
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Oh, I dont think it was hostile enough. And its not obligatory hatred, it's a most voluntary hatred that most devs are happy to profess.

And yes it is true that most present software is iterative, there is no surprise there.
Improvement and innovation are not cheap or easy to achieve, so I find hypocritical to throw stones for lack of creativity. As long as there is a search for improvement.
In that sense, I don't think any of those companies listed are the messiah, noone is. But I personally dislike anyone with such hostility, bluntness and decided lack of respect as Zinga regularly shows. Their press, their developments, their litigious attitude, and their completely relentless bullying have clearly stained the vision that the audience has towards them.

And believe me, I know the world is a rough competitive place, but I feel when we lose respect for other people's work the medium is lost.

ANYWAY! Please, if you dish out so much as Zinga does, you've got to be willing to recieve some karma.

Michael Joseph
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So top insiders were able to sell their own class A shares for 12.00 before the general lock-up period expired. Good for them considering the price is now less than 6 dollars a for for the general peons inside the company.

I seriously don't know how they can expect outsiders to have any confidence in them when the execs and board members at the very top used creative ways to dump their shares ahead of the other insiders. If they believed in what they were doing surely they'd want to hold onto their own personal stakes and wait for the stock to hit the stratosphere.
The greater the ambition of a person, the lesser the amount of trust another should place in them. Call it the inverse-trust law.

David Phan
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Zynga stock down 5% after the "unleashing" to $5.76

Let's see how fast executives begin to jump ship to GREE or DeNA.

Marc Schaerer
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Don't see how that would help, switching from Titanic 1 to Titanic 2

GREE and DeNA have more than enough problems and troubles ahead with the changes in Japan and the new law in Korea which I consider to be put in place in other asian and western countries in some form within a handfull of years too after the problems with Smurfville and non-adults spending tons of cash and the general dept situation among teens and young adults.

William Conroy
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The problem with over-reliance on iteration is convergence on local optima. Without a bit of mutation, such as new ideas and a break in "group-think", staleness is inevitable.

Jeremie Sinic
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I must say I laughed at the figures jokes. At least it shows they are good at tracking stats.

David Paris
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Bah, Zynga bought, mismanaged, and terminated Warstorm. Clearly this is the root of their current downfall.