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Zynga's new platform may be first step toward Facebook divorce
Zynga's new platform may be first step toward Facebook divorce Exclusive
March 1, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi

March 1, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi
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    35 comments
More: Social/Online, Exclusive, Business/Marketing



Social gaming giant Zynga formally unveiled its Zynga Platform on Thursday, freeing itself from the constraints of Facebook...at least, partially.

The web-based platform, launching later this month on Zynga.com, will separate the company's games from many of its Facebook constraints, placing users in an environment where nothing will distract them from the company's bottom line: no friend requests, event invites, YouTube links, or pet photos will be seen here. It is as if Facebook was stripped away of everything that isn't a Zynga game.

The move, says the company, is the result of its years-in-the-making attempt to not only increase the retention of existing social game players, but to draw in those who aren't already playing.

Zynga's mantra -- repeated to Gamasutra by no less than three employees in two separate phone calls -- is to see 1 billion people playing its games together. And with a current monthly active user count north of 240 million, the company says that number is more than feasible.

But is cutting out all of the other social networking distractions enough to do that? And furthermore, is Zynga making its first step toward eventually divorcing itself from Facebook?

Friend...or zFriend?

Zynga's internal research suggests that players of its games (or indeed, any games) stick around longer if they have more people to play with. And on Zynga's new platform, the company hopes, finding new playmates should be a snap.

"They want a place where they can find dedicated social games, where the feed is just about gaming," Zynga's John Schappert tells Gamasutra. Schappert is the well-known COO the company poached from EA last year.


Zynga.com's "Social Stream" connects players who aren't necessarily friends.
In this new Zynga Platform environment, users will be able to expand their pool of game-playing allies without necessarily tapping into their Facebook friends feed.

Zynga is calling these new proto-friends "zFriends." zFriends can be discovered and connected with in a way new for the company: typically when playing a social game on Facebook, players are limited to their personal friends feed in order to tap into the social aspects of its games, such as item requests.

On the Zynga Platform, the company is introducing what it's calling the Social Stream, which allows players to send out requests to thousands of other people playing the game, friends or otherwise. Players can then connect with each other as zFriends, and continue playing together without necessarily accessing each others' personal information.

The feature, says the company, should keep players engaged longer: rather than sitting back to wait for their traditional friends to help, players should receive near-instant gratification from an enormous pool of candidates.

Leaving Facebook Behind?

Zynga.com would appear to most observers as Zynga's first step toward an eventual divorce from its co-dependent relationship with Facebook, the social network that claims some 30 percent of its microtransaction revenues.

Industry watchers may remember some tension between the two companies back in 2010, when Zynga CEO Mark Pincus publicly called out the social network for its closed network, amongst rumors that Zynga would cut itself off from the network after Facebook made its Facebook Credits currency system mandatory.

The two companies eventually reached an agreement that sees Zynga continuing to monetize its games using Facebook Credits until sometime in 2015. And, indeed, Zynga.com will continue to use Facebook Credits, as well as Facebook Connect, but is Zynga setting itself up for complete independence once that agreement has expired?

Repeated questions to COO John Schappert on the subject did not reveal much in the way of its future plans ("We have a great relationship with them," he said more than once), though it is hard to imagine the company -- which was responsible for 12 percent of Facebook's revenues in 2011 -- isn't itching to cut out the middle-man on its microtransactions.



Will they go?

The question remains: will Zynga's rabid playerbase bother going to another website to play its games, leaving the comfort of Facebook behind?

"I think we're going to find that out as we launch and make progress," Schappert tells us.

"We're trying to make the friction as low as possible. You log in on Facebook Connect, you pay with Facebook Credits. We didn't want to break that user experience, we want to make it as seamless as possible."

To get an audience of 240 million players to emigrate would be quite a task. Getting that number up to 1 billion, as the company claims it can do, will be even harder. But Schappert seems bullishly optimistic that it will happen.

"It will happen organically," he says. "People will choose where they want to play."

The Zynga Platform will launch on Zynga.com later this month.


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Comments


Alex Leighton
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I tend to think people will move on to the next fad, rather than joining a whole other website. Unless, of course, zynga.com becomes the next fad. I think Yo-Yos are due for a comeback though.

Joe McGinn
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Yeah this is a complete waste of money for Zynga. They are believing their own press releases too much - they actually think people LIKE Facebook games. In reality they are even more of a time-waster throwaway than iOS games.

Aaron McPherson
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The main advantage of this development, as I see it, is that it will allow people who are dedicated to these games to avoid irritating their friends and family with dozens of irrelevant posts. In order to progress in these games, you have to post a message to your wall every time you need a specific item or component. In the beginning, this wasn't too much of a problem, but with so many different games, the flow of messages can overwhelm your Facebook page, undermining its intended purpose. Also, many games reward you for having more "neighbors," which is a problem if you don't have many friends who are into this activity. The invention of zFriends should help players avoid having to friend people they don't really know in order to progress in their games. In short, it should benefit both Facebook and Zynga to have more of a separation between the Facebook platform and the games.

Tom Baird
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But at the same time, this flooding of friends' Facebook walls, and the requirement that you have as many friends as possible (forcing you to advertise for them to progress) was a very large cornerstone to their marketing and acquisition of new players. zFriends may help them recycle users(in which case it'll still be obnoxous to be jammed with requests for games you don't play), but moving to their own portal completely cuts them off from being able get new players, who've not played a Zynga game yet. This is going to be really important if they want to quadruple their user base(as claimed in the article), because recycling users to new games doesn't expand the user base, it only maintains it.

Joe McGinn
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a) No one is dedicated to these games, not even the people who play them.
b) Without the friend-spamming, they would sink like a stone.

Luis Guimaraes
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That awkward moment when Facebook's metrics for "active" users aren't optimistic enough...

Deanna Whaley
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I will more likely go to zFriends to play Zynga games then play them on Facebook. They always annoyed me on FB so I would end up "hiding" all posts from friends that played them so I wouldn't have to see them. I had always hoped that Zynga would have come out with a FB game that would allow non-FarmVillers, etc. to get on their friends' farms (maybe as an animal) and steal their crops and kill their chickens...then it would be like taking care of a real farm with farmers having to protect their assets and make it more challenging.

Dedan Anderson
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"The feature, says the company, should keep players engaged longer" ? I guess spamming is a feature, i always thought a sure fire way to keep people engaged is by making a GOOD GAME - silly me.

k s
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I have to agree Alex glorified slot machines are not really games.

Jason Lee
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I'm for this, and while I think social games are here to stay I don't think facebook games are. Whatever the 'next big' social website is, it's going to have games built into its design. Meanwhile, facebook was never intended to be a gaming platform, and I think some issues like inability to be synchronous and other limitations is what bred Farmville and the army of asocial skinner boxes we see now.

The completely cynical answer will be all the 'damage' of Zynga will be self contained in their little website instead of all over our facebook, but I honestly think a new platform change will open up new affordances for design possibilities, fresh metrics that will reinforce real social interactions + strong design = more profitability, and we might actually get some real games out of the Big Z.

Darcy Nelson
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I think it's weird that Facebook is being treated as something that's getting in the way of users' enjoyment of Zynga games, when Facebook is the vehicle by which non-gamers got exposed to those apps in the first place. Also, I kind of hate myself for this but I can't help but think that Zynga is taking a page out of Playfish's book here. (IE, central website with loads of casual games, its own currency.)

Dave Smith
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if Zynga can leverage their success on Facebook to make real, enjoyable games, i'm all for it. i seriously doubt their management has the ability or vision to successfully make the transition.

Darcy Nelson
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They could buy a new development team in that case, har har.

Elton Britto
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I believe this would be a good move. Since people wont have to add random people just to play games over facebook. Leaving social network to just networking and not unnecessary game requests. Zyngas platform would also cater to the gaming audience who would have a huge pool of people to choose from just for sake of social gaming. Believe this will click since this would be one big gaming community.

Nooh Ha
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Wow, there are some remarkably naieve and puerile comments here. Zynga makes games that are primarily targeted at 30+ females. They may not appeal to you nor meet your design or gameplay expectations but they are not targeted at you in the first place so complaining that they are "not real games" is like me saying Baseball or Basketball are not enjoyable or valid sports because I don't like them. They quite clearly do appeal to Zynga's target market as evidenced by their $1bn+ annual revenues and 153m unique players/mth. If you want to complain, complain to the 45 year old moms that form the heart of this playerbase. Zynga are simply listening to what they want from a game and catering to their needs.

E McNeill
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Zynga can (and should) still be criticized for their design methods and goals, but you're right that it's puerile to say they don't make games or that nobody likes them.

Luis Guimaraes
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Game developers really have no need to be concerned. Zynga is an ally! "Social" games also do an important job of clearing negative preconceptions around the "videogame" term, something casinos do not.

Jacob Germany
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When people say they aren't games, are they simply stating blind insults, or are they commenting on their true lack of challenge, skill, creativity, drama, narrative, or any number of other aspects of the human experience that typical "games" bring? Are the "45 year old moms" that "form the heart of the playerbase" really asking for these games? Do they really have needs being catered by them? Or is it possible that they are feeding into psychological and neurological phenomena to create a classical conditioning-based addiction? Is it possible their targeted demographic is simply testing the game "waters" with skinner boxes with cartoon graphics because of their prejudices against classic "games"?

As naive and puerile as these comments supposedly are, I think the worst argument that could be made on either side is that Zynga's financial success is somehow proof of their quality, their worth in the games industry, the underlying appeal of their games, or their ethical behavior. I'm not sure any Zynga opponent will be convinced Zynga is great because they make money.

Harry Fields
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So the dog is biting the hand that fed them. Classic.

Fiore Iantosca
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and the stock just passed their high mark. As someone posted here before, very naive comments from posters here. Just because YOU don't like Zynga doesn't mean they won't be successful. You are NOT their target market.

Luis Guimaraes
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"And the stock just passed their high mark".

Naive me, thinking it was all about manipulating their stock prices...

Jacob Germany
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Because the stock market is the surest indicator of long-term success in untested waters in a technological market.

Yes, it's definitely not simply a short-term response to seeing the company in headlines in a neutral-to-positive-light combined with allegedly overcoming the reason their stock dipped so low in the first place, that being a dependence on Facebook. Definitely not.

Guyal Sfere
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They're a public company now, so when the discussion is "Zynga", it literally is all about the stock price, independent of what any individual employee of Zynga wants to accomplish. Considering how much this forces companies with rich histories (EA, eg) to focus on profit at the expense of a reduction in the richness and variety of their output, what does that mean for a company where their high water mark for rich gaming content is - so far - somewhere in the neighborhood of FarmVille?

Phil Maurer
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I think you are horribly wrong. As Zynga is still going to require FB login, and use FB currency, this is just fluff. This will not be a real step to divorce from FB.

All I see is another attempt to bolster the over inflated market cap on Zynga. Lets be honest they have been declining numbers for years, everything they said in the past was BS, and they got called out on it when they went public. Zynga is the Enron of gaming.

Tomas Majernik
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Anybody else thinking, they might be doing their separate system/site to offer gambling services in the future too? I mean, they said (not long ago) they are considering making Zynga Poker "real" poker with real money. This way they could bypass Facebook, which hasn`t been keen of gambling idea in general.

Achilles de Flandres
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I think this is a really good idea.

The whole reason why I dont' play Zynga games or any games for that matter on FaceBook is because I don't want to annoy everyone I know with constant updates about my Farm/City/Castle. And I don't like getting annoyed when my friends bug me to join their Mafia.

I would be interested in playing these games on a different client, where you know people are on there because they want to play games.

Bruno Patatas
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Ha, I just love the comments on Gamasutra every time there is a Zynga related article.

"Are the "45 year old moms" that "form the heart of the playerbase" really asking for these games?"
No, they aren't. Spread throughout the world, Zynga has a group of agents who enter in peoples homes forcing them to play.

"Do they really have needs being catered by them?"
Can anyone explain me what kind of needs games like GOW or COD cater to? It's like if outside social games, all the games are this big epics that change the player's life and his perception of the Universe!

This is a great move from Zynga, and can't wait to see how they will develop their third-party publisher side. And while a lot of people is crying and moaning that Zynga doesn't make games (what is a game, then?), Pincus is laughing on his way to the bank. The success of Zynga is proven, and for quite some years that people are saying it's a fad. It has been quite a long fad, hey?

Tomas Majernik
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A lot of people will tell You Lady Gaga can`t sing, and she is probably laughing on her way to the bank too. Does that make her a good singer? No.

Spread throughout the world. Well, spread through Facebook, that`s enough for me. I would bet You only a tiny bit of the current playerbase would be playing those games if they were not available on Facebook. Over the years we people developed some (odd) habits - we can`t live without mobile phones nowadays, everybody must have (at least!) one, we (people of 21st century) now start our day waking up and the first thing we do is turning on our computer - it is just normal. And then for many people it is absolutely normal to log on Facebook once the compter is on, no matter if there is something to do/someone to chat at that moment. Only to be online. It is inevitable, just like breathing... And while I am there, doing nothing, reading who is eating, who is feeling sad, whose cat wet the carpet and all those important things to my life, I might try some games as well. Well, I get like 100 messages a day about them anyway, so let`s see...

Pick a group of potential cusomters (casual "social" gamers), get a tool to target them (Facebook) and be sucessful (have a great profit in the field where You have no competitors). Does that make the thing you are selling great? Not a tiny bit.

Nooh Ha
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So what if Zynga's games are not great in your or anyone else's eyes. They seem to be perfectly acceptable to the 150m+ that play them every month and that is all that counts, surely: the satisfaction of the gamers themselves. Bob Dylan can't sing also but does that mean he is in the same category as Lady Gaga? Their appeal lies not in their vocal range and strength but in other areas: Dylan's amazing song-writing and Gaga's flamboyant performances. These appeal differently to different people and both will have radically different target markets.

Zynga is simply the latest in a long line of developers to deliberately target the older female market with colourful, highly simplistic games featuring little by way of traditional gameplay. Dating back to the late 90s with sites like Lycos Gamesville followed by community oriented services such as Pogo and then download portals such as Big Fish Games, these services have catered almost exclusively to the same demographic as Zynga. More traditional core gameplay-based titles (adventure games, RPGs, sports etc) have been tried and failed. Over the last decade these companies have found that accessibility and fun trump complexity and challenge. It's why the casual download charts are almost always dominated by hidden object games and have been for 5 or more years.

Finally, to suggest that Zynga has no competitors is, frankly, silly. As an open platform, Facebook is as democratic and meritocratic as games platforms come.

Luis Guimaraes
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operant_conditioning_chamber
http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/the-skinner-box

Dave Smith
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because i care about quality independent of user numbers.

Jacob Germany
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@Bruno Well, thanks for replying to me without replying to me. I'll respond anyhow.

First, I would find your points more potentially valid if I didn't get a strong sense of condescension in your words.

Second, I was asking questions relating to what the parent post was stating (with authority, but without citation). Thus, asking about their needs was a reference to the parent post claiming that these older women had needs and wants that Zynga was serving. Whether they have needs or not is a valid enough question, but the question I asked "Noah Ha" assumed that they did, since he made that claim.

Third, your sarcasm really evades the question I asked of whether the targeted demographic are asking for these games. You can think "it's obvious they are because they're playing them", but it's hardly that simple. This makes the assumption that all consumers make wholly educated and informed decisions every time they consume something. Is that true? If it is, can one easily explain how consumers purchase, say, cigarettes while also trying to quit? If you say "That doesn't count", why not? Is video game addiction not addiction? Is social gaming on Facebook not addiction? Why not? Are there not plenty of similarities, especially when they so closely fit the "Skinner box" description? Do they not appeal to neurological reward mechanisms tied into our very chemical reactions?

And before you, or another similar commenter respond with some condescending remark about how ridiculous it is to equate social games with nicotine, let's be clear that I'm not. I'm simply asking questions to illustrate the point that consumption does not mean there are valid needs being filled, or a valid demand that is not somewhat manipulated.

Is it not possible that these people are simply doing something placed before them because 1) serious games are for boys/nerds/kids/people-with-more-time/etc and 2)I got another level! Let's see if I can get another!

Your, and many others', assumption that Zynga's userbase and financial success is somehow indicative of being their worthiness as a company, or that they somehow don't deserve criticism or the like, seems to me deeply flawed.

Cody Scott
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Zynga just bit the hand that feeds them

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Troy Walker
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considering Facebook just did a faceplant on the market of speculation.. they've forcasted the doom of Facebook's viability in the long term.

probably the right decision in the long run..

doubtful a great success in any direction.


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