With a massive membership of more than 230 million gamers, one of the biggest challenges that social game company Zynga faces is keeping up its growth. One of the secrets to its success is the ability to use its existing hits (Farmville, Texas HoldEm Poker, Mafia Wars, etc.) to cross-promote new games and help launch those games. Its other advantage is that so many people now play its games that new games now get free a ton of press and blog coverage.
Last week, Zynga introduced its latest game, FrontierVille. Speaking at the Wired Business Conference today, Zynga CEO Mark Pincus reports, “FrontierVille is the most successful launch we’ve ever had.” More than 100,000 people tried the game the first day, with roughly half of those coming from blogs and news sites. Pincus says the second-day retention rate (people who came back to play again on Day 2) was 70 percent. Less than a week later, the game has more than one million daily active users.
Zynga spent more money developing FrontierVille than any other game so far. It lets players interact with their friends’ game boards, increasing the social aspect of the game beyond simply buying someone a virtual gift. Players of FrontierVille get a plot of land out West and have to help each other to develop their farms. Pincus believes there is a huge opportunity in pumping up the social aspects across all of his games. In Farmville, for instance, Zynga recently turned on a new farmer’s market feature where players can sell their produce. Up next will be craft fairs, which will allow different players to specialize in different skills such as wine making or energy production.
In other words, Farmville and other Zynga games will behave more like virtual economies, with trade centered around specialization. And where there is trade and markets there are more social interactions, just like in the real world.
The other big opportunity is to link the virtual goods in the games with real-world goods or e-commerce goods via affiliate marketing. “There is a lot of opportunity for you to take game mechanics and incentives and intersperse it around all sorts of things we do,” says Pincus. Zynga’s first big partner in this regard is 7-Eleven, which now offers Farmville-branded Big Gulps, Slurpees and other items. But Zynga needs to be careful with exactly how many virtual goods it gives away, because they have a real cost and players have a huge appetite for them as the company recently learned with Mafia Wars.