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Forty-Five Minutes With Five Minutes

March 18, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

And so the question then becomes one of ethics. Your game industry is so different than ours. In America, there's a tremendous amount of backlash and argument over monetization and retention. A lot of traditional game designers with a background in console games are very, very pissed off about what they see as manipulative game design practices in social games. I'm sure you've encountered this.

SX: Yeah, yeah. China's even worse.

That's what I've heard.

SX: They ask people to give like 10, maybe 100 thousand U.S. dollars per month just for like [to] buy a weapon, or sword, or whatever. I don't know, I try to stay away from this topic. It might affect my willingness to do this business. [laughs]

Yeah, but there are a lot of people who talk about this. I remember there was one discussion going on at ChinaJoy. There was an argument, there was one person saying, hey, as long as the user wanted to buy, and then they get a happiness right after buying it... they were creating some value to the human society. But there was one saying -- just like you said, I mean psychology-wise, not everybody is that capable of defending against that.

Just like Inception, right? You get trained to defend yourself in your dreams, right? Not everybody gets that training, so when there are people who are really capable of manipulation, then you easily get manipulated.

It's a big point of discussion.

SX: Yeah, but I really think, either way, you have to create happiness first. Either way. Because however good you are... I mean yeah, you're good at manipulation, but still you have to create happiness first, otherwise people would not get attracted.

Well, that's what attracted me to meeting you guys -- when I saw [co-founder] Ellison [Gao's] talk, and it was "Philosophy, art, inspiration... and then turn into Zynga after you've mastered that part." Emotion, inspiration, creativity, [pumps down fist] then turn into Zynga. Not from the beginning, right?

SX: Right. There's always a discussion whether you want to design a game from a whole bunch of objective data, or you make the call subjectively. So we are more of this subjective part. I'm not saying that's right; we are still learning and making up the objective part, but I think what Ellison's also saying in the company internally is… [pauses]

I think a human being needs to more depend on this subjective call. That's the Tao and the yin yang part. It's very interesting and I just want to explore a little bit more about the yin yang concept. Basically what yin yang says, what Tao says, is this very simple concept.

If there is a yin there is always a yang, right? If there is a positive there is always a negative. So, meaning, you cannot overly depend on either side.

I mean, if you overly depend on objective, you lose the subjective call; if you overly depend on subjective, you lose the objective. So there's always the bad side and the good side of it, so I think you have to very smoothly, conquer every different skill in order to win in the long run.

But when it comes to actually operating the games, do you then get really objective, really focused on metrics? You know, really focused on AB testing, all that stuff.

SX: Yeah, but that's stuff that we're picking up right now. So we're far away, way far away from the masters. That's the stuff that we're really bad at.

BZ: Just to elaborate a little bit more, it used to be in the office that we'd talk about ARPU, DAU a lot. Nowadays he's [Gao] all about retention, and more importantly user engagement. You know, people have to like our game first before we can monetize or something. But users have to like our game, they have to be happy, they get what they want from our game first. That's what we're really focusing on right now.

I think that for the long term health -- and I could just be a romantic -- but I think for the long term health and value of social games, we have to move toward that, right?

SX: Right. Definitely, we cannot be too romantic, just like you said. But I think the good thing is we're definitely making baby steps forward. The dream of the company is to create social happiness, so we think this is the very beginning of everything.

So we're more thinking we're working in the internet game industry more than the social game industry. I think all the games will move from offline to internet; that must be a trend. So what kind of games we're going to make? A lot of stuff can be decided, and then done in the future, because game and learning happiness, you know, it's just human nature; it will not be killed.

I was always telling people at the marketing side, when they go into a new market, new country, the advantage of a gaming company is that we never have to worry about need. You're not P&G, you're not McDonald's, who always have to do like customer need study to learn whether they have the need to eat this food or use this product. For gaming, there is always a need. So we don't have to worry about it; just have to create the right product.

Ellison spoke about the need for games to have opportunities for learning. That the player will, by playing the game, get to learn and grow along with game.

SX: Games are all about learning; I think this is a very influential concept for the company.

Yeah, you have to insert a learning response in different [ways] in the life of the game, so that it'll actually create the lifespan of the entire game. It's not like we just create one core mechanism at the very beginning; the user, ultimately, will get bored of it.

So you have to insert more learning points on the way, so that user always has something new to explore and learn. And the learning itself always creates the true happiness. That's the Tao part. Because if God didn't create people who like to learn, then human beings cannot evolve.

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