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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 ago...you'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 Zynga.com 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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