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Zynga acquires A Bit Lucky to tap into 'mid-core' social games
Zynga acquires A Bit Lucky to tap into 'mid-core' social games
September 17, 2012 | By Tom Curtis

September 17, 2012 | By Tom Curtis
More: Social/Online, Business/Marketing

In an effort to expand into new genres and attract more players, social game giant Zynga has acquired A Bit Lucky, once Facebook-exclusive developer that focuses on bringing hardcore game genres to casual audiences.

The California studio originally made a name for itself with Facebook games like Lucky Train and Lucky Space, though just a few months ago the team decided to shut down those titles to focus exclusively on its new Unity-based multiplatform title, Solstice Arena.

The game will now become part of Zynga's catalog, and will be available on tablets, Mac, and PC. Current details about the game are sparse, and Zynga did not clarify whether the PC and Mac versions will be available via the web or as client-based downloads.

Zynga did mention, however, that games like Solstice Arena will appeal to a 'mid-core' player demographic, and will help the company expand beyond its more casual social titles on Facebook and mobile.

Zynga manager Bill Jackson told us, "When we're talking about 'mid-core' games, we're talking about deeper, rich gameplay experiences that are attractive to a wide range of players, but are definitely enjoyed by core gamers as well. Think deep strategy gameplay...but broadened for the more casual audience."

A Bit Lucky's social RTS Lucky Space tried to do just that one year ago, blending hardcore strategy mechanics with the accessibility of a traditional Facebook title. While the game never saw explosive growth, studio founders Frederic Descamps and Jordan Maynard believe that Zynga's social expertise and advanced infrastructure will help them bring these types of experiences to a wider audience.

"I think there's a very interesting opportunity in mid-core multiplatform games," Descamps told us, "We've seen what it can do with [the Zynga-published] Horn... And Zynga has really unsurpassed expertise when it comes to operating very large-scale games, scaling them up, marketing them to gamers, etcetera. The combination of that plus our expertise in making great games I think will be really interesting."

Zynga did not disclose the exact terms of the acquisition, but said that all 20 members of A Bit Lucky's Team will become part of Zynga San Francisco, where they will continue to develop Solstice Arena. The studio joins other recent Zynga acquisitions including Draw Something's Omgpop, mobile studio Wild Needle, and numerous others.

Zynga's Jackson also pointed out that A Bit Lucky is just one of several teams working on developing games for new audiences. Just recently, Mortal Kombat co-creator John Tobias joined Zynga San Diego to create another mid-core title, and Civilization veteran Soren Johnson joined Zynga's Baltimore branch earlier this year to create a new, unannounced project of his own.

Over the past several months, Zynga's taken a lot of flak for its slow performance on Facebook, and while the company would not acknowledge this criticism outright, this move toward 'mid-core' development certainly implies that Zynga's looking to find new paths to success beyond its traditional hits like FarmVille, CityVille, or Words With Friends.

[Update: A Bloomberg report suggests that Zynga paid between $20-$25 million for the startup, according to "two people with knowledge of the deal."]

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Carlo Delallana
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The acquisition is another validation of an upcoming shift in mobile as its becoming a complimentary platform to players in more traditional spaces. When the iPad first came out I dreamed of playing something as deeply engaging as Starcraft on it with local and online multiplayer. F2P mid-core to hardcore games is going to be an interesting race on mobile and tablets as these devices become more capable.

Now what effect will the Zynga name have when it comes to attracting mid-core to core players (as a whole) on mobile is unknown. Horn, published by Zynga, is a fantastic game with an average metacritic score of 87% is currently ranked 463 in games and 543 in grossing games. Compare this to Bastion which is ranked 10 in games and 44 in grossing games. Could the Zynga brand be toxic to games targeted to folks who have a deeper background in games? Are they trying to attract the IGN, Gamespot, Kotaku, Joystiq players who pretty much have an ambivalent or negative opinion on Zynga's history when it comes to their flagship titles? It's an uphill battle for them and they know it which is why they're making these strategic moves. The thing I hope they realize is that the payoff for these moves might come slowly as they begin to repair their reputation to audiences with a higher ARPPU*

(*it's how the bean counters see the hardcore gamer)

Dave Ingram
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That's a great point. Continuing my point above, it seems that Zynga would do well to hide it's core brand and focus on the identity of any subsidiary that targets core gamers. The Zynga name turns me off of a game immediately, but then again, if i open a game that looks like a casino full of ways to annoy my friends, it won't matter how it's branded.