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Building Social Success: Zynga's Perspective
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Building Social Success: Zynga's Perspective

November 4, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

With Facebook being a really broad platform that everyone is involved in at a basic level, do you think there is a way to attract a more traditional gamer into participating?

HD: It's an interesting question, and it's one that I think about. Gaming is part of your life. It's not your entire life. If you want to build your profile to be more gamer-centric, you'll do that inevitably anyway.

But I think it's a niche market, and the sweeter spot is to go wider and to build things that are really palpable, where moms and dads are playing with their six-year-old kid. That's a really interesting effect that's happening for us.

But you can't have a six-year-old kid on there. You mean they're playing with their kid locally?

HD: The kids are managing their farms.

Isn't that dicey, though? That's a gray area, right? The kids aren't really supposed to be on Facebook.

HD: It's a gray area. I know, they're not supposed to be on Facebook. You're right. But we hear this all the time. "My kid is managing my farm!"

I'm only asking because I think that kind of thing happens all the time, and I think if parents are watching, it's not a danger. But it does open up a legal gray area, right?

HD: Well, no. You have to be 18 and above to join Facebook, and what happens in the home is really the responsibility of the parent. It's not our responsibility. We just happen to make an experience that is family-oriented and widespread casual. They share that experience because they feel that it's approachable and it's sanguine.

How do you choose what route to go down next? Farming and restaurants have already had some established games with some success in those themes. Is that where it is? Or is it because you think they're accessible to the broad audience?

HD: I think they're A, accessible to the broad audience, and B... if you look at evolutionary trends with simulations, we've now opened up a new trend. We see this happen in the casual space all the time as well. In the simulation space, there have been a couple of successes.

You look at those successes, and then you innovate upon those to make them much more social experiences. It's the same thing that Playfish is doing with many of their games, where they took a look at the Nintendo DS and said, "Okay, these are the ones that are successful, and we're going to make that a social experience."

That's true. It's a dicey issue. People in the industry -- not necessarily in the audience -- get frustrated with this concept of looking towards other games for inspiration. How does that affect your moves? Or does it not affect your moves?

HD: It doesn't. We love to make great social experiences. Maybe where you're getting a little bit tripped up is that you're looking directly at the game experience and not the whole package, which is really this notion of building social interaction in and amongst games. That's the entire experience. The game is somewhat of a vehicle of that. That's the whole experience, and that's a lot of the artistry we're bringing to the table.

I think that's a fair point. I'm getting neither here nor there about it, personally, in the sense that I don't care. The copying issue is what it is. But I think a lot of the outside view is ignoring that there's an art to the social gaming aspect of it.

HD: It's a super-key important element. That experience that we're providing... if we're getting 15 percent of the U.S. population in traffic on a daily basis, it's resonating with somebody.

They're like, "Oh, this is cool. I can play a game for five or 10 minutes, and I can broadcast that to my friends." That's how the platform works. "I like to do it with Zynga more than any other, because they're providing me that social experience."

You talked about breaking designers and getting them to understand the social experience. How do you do that?

HD: Analysis, analysis, analysis. It's been like that. [In traditional development] It's just like, "Oh, it's going to be a great experience," and this and that. We'll spend two years down a ship cycle, and, "Oops, I was wrong!"

So now it's like, "If we do this, I think we can measure that, and here's how we're going to measure and tweak it later down the road."

So it's essentially analysis of seeing if people are using the game in the way you were expecting them to, and then modifying and tweaking things if they're not?

HD: What's exciting to Brian and other game developers in the social space is you stay with your game and you monitor it live. You see how the game is responding to your design decisions, and you can alter and adapt immediately.

That is super-exciting for guys who have invested. A standard console game developer, if he has a 30-year life cycle, he's going to get out maybe 15 titles, and that's it. You've got 15 shots to make your decisions correct. Here, you can make a decision on a daily basis and alter it, tweak it, and live with it for a longer period of time.

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