游戏邦在:
杂志专栏:
gamerboom.com订阅到鲜果订阅到抓虾google reader订阅到有道订阅到QQ邮箱订阅到帮看

回顾社交游戏公司Zynga创业史(四)

发布时间:2011-12-21 19:32:06 Tags:,,,

作者:Dean Takahashi

更加成熟的Pincus?

当Zynga文化变得越加成熟之时,Pincus亦然。他并不像是《FarmVillains》(游戏邦注:佐治亚州技术教授Ian Bogost在SF Weekly发表的一篇文章)描写的那般“邪恶”,我们可以发现Zynga的很多员工都是来自于其早前初创公司Support.com。如果他并不是一位好老板,怎么还会有如此多的人愿意追随他?(请点击此处阅读第一第二第三部分

mark-pincus(from businessinsider.com)

mark-pincus(from businessinsider.com)

而对于Bing Gordon来说,Zynga兴起于动荡且多变的游戏产业时代。他在2010年秋天说道,除了Pincus,没有人能够更加巧妙地度过这个特别的时期。

Gordon表示:“Mark是个具有先见之明的人,而正是这一优点深深吸引了我。在拓展用户群时他具有深刻的洞察力,明确了游戏的易用性和好友间的交流等重要性。”

Gordon坚信Pincus所做的这些都不是为了凸显自己。他说Pincus总是很乐意待在幕后,并且从不会嫉妒任何员工的成功。想起早前一份关于Pincus领导风格的负面备注,Gordon解释到:“Mark与之前相比发生了很大的变化。之前的Mark并未接触过任何大事业。2008年,人们都还不相信Mark有能力经营一家大公司。因为他早前曾被董事会赶出公司。而这也是大多数投资者所关注的焦点。我在公司的角色便是确保这种情况不会再次发生。”

早前,Pincus非常不善于表达,他总是因为讲话不像一名CEO而遭到议论。当2009年春天,Colleen McCreary出任Zynga人力资源主管时,她便帮助Pincus解雇了30名未能达标的员工。后来,Pincus便更加专注于一些更重要的领域,如商业模式,招聘,企业间的合作关系,未来投资以及游戏本身。在Web2.0峰会等多种演讲场合,Pincus总是不断地强调未来将是社交游戏的天下,并且他们会将将广大社交游戏玩家当成永久用户。这与亚马逊或者谷歌等大型网站的做法一样。Pincus希望引导Zynga走向一个真正的目标,而不只是昙花一现。

Gordon补充道:“我曾经对Mark说过,我认为你能够成为一名世界级的CEO。对于我来说,目前在Zynga的工作就像是我80年代在EA的经历,但是Zynga现在的发展远比那时候的EA快了3倍,并且我所接触的也是一些更加聪明的人。”

“能够创建4家公司便说明他是个聪明人。所以你就必须雇佣一些有才能的新秀,并在他们身上下赌注,给予他们足够的权利,冒险一搏。”

有时候,投资者会不满Pincus的做法而欲将其挤出公司,而Pincus也会收到一些来自于员工的负面反馈。但是风险投资家们和董事会成员并未拥有Zynga的主要控制权。Pincus仍然拥有该公司的最大股份,并且主导着董事会和表决权。这与Facebook首席执行官Mark Zuckerberg在争取投资时占据着有利的协商地位是一样道理。如此Pincus便拥有更多时间能够针对性地改变做法,让自己成为更受欢迎的领导者。他一直在努力学习成为一名大公司的CEO,而这也是他之前从未尝试过的。

但是并非所有人都认可Pincus的做法。风险投资公司Elevation Partners联合创始人Roger McNamee在《纽约时报》中说道:“Zynga本应成为最佳创业典例。但是他最终却成为了哈佛商学院关于创始人过激行为的案例——对于我们来说这绝对是个警示。”

但McNamee曾经与Zynga的最大对手EA首席执行官John Riccitiello合作过,所以他发表如此言论也是情有可原。然而还有一些问题存在。Andrew Trader这名Zynga早期员工在2010年3月离开了公司,后来Pincus却着要求其返还之前公司授予的股票。据报道,Trader不得不针对此事与Zynga做个了结。根据《华尔街日报》报道,这种“追回利益”的行为不只出现在Trader身上,而且这种做法之后给Pincus带来了负面影响。

创建zCloud

Zynga之所以能够创造出完整的游戏网络主要归因于快速发展的“基础设施建设”和新的“云计算”服务,如亚马逊的网络服务,后者将自己数据中心部分出租给其它小公司。Zynga首席技术官Cadir Lee在2010年秋天采访中表示,这种做法能够帮助Zynga更好地创造一个灵活的云端基础设施服务。

Zynga最初基于托管式基础设施。当《FarmVille》发行时,他们便转向于公共云服务,即接受亚马逊的网络服务。这意味着他们必须完全依赖于亚马逊的数据中心,不论他们的要求是否合理。但是从2010年开始,Zynga便打算创建属于自己的数据中心,即zCloud,发展到现在已经越来越庞大了。这是Zynga采用的一种混合方法,即他们既能够使用自己数据中心的资料,也能够根据不同需求而利用亚马逊的公共云服务。

但是这么做的代价却很大。Zynga在2011年将投入超过1亿9900万美元于基础设施中,比起之前的6千200万美元明显增加了许多。但是这种公-私混合云服务能够让Zynga以较低的成本提供与亚马逊同等的服务。如今Zynga旗下有许多正处于不同发展阶段的游戏,而Zynga可以根据不同需要为它们选择不同的服务器。投资于自己的数据中心也能够帮助Zynga省钱。例如,它能够计算出如何减少功率的使用,如何帮助Zynga节省成本等,而这是利用亚马逊数据中心所不能做到的。

Lee表示,《FrontierVille》便受益于Zynga从《FarmVille》中获得的经验。Zynga认为《FarmVille》中的分析,存储,云计算以及游戏应用架构都是该公司宝贵的竞争优势。其后来的很多游戏都借鉴了这些代码和功能。Zynga通过收集和分析数据,以帮助设计师创造出迎合玩家需求的优秀游戏。他们同样也在保护虚拟商品免受黑客侵袭方面下了巨大投资。

Zynga现在可以带着其数千万的用户继续发展,也有可能在短短几周时间内便失去无数用户。他们可以根据需求将游戏转移到专属云服务zCloud上,或者从中移开。在1天时间内,Zynga可以在自动化形式下添加或者排除1000个服务器。每天能够传输超过1TB的内容,而其现在的存储能力已经达到10TB了。(后来Zynga表示其每天能够加工15TB的游戏数据。)但是,现在的Zynga还会不时出现运行中断现象,其主要原因还是归咎于对亚马逊的依赖。

然而Zynga自身的数据中心也具有风险性。如果对于Zynga游戏的需求突然下降,Zynga本身的基础设施将会受到牵连而造成巨大损失。这也是为何Zynga选择既拥有自身数据中心又依赖于外部资源的原因。

作为Zynga基础设施工程的首席技术官,Allan Leinwand表示Zynga更倾向于灵活性。他们既享受着亚马逊提供的“四轮轿车式”服务,同时也在努力创造着不一样的Zynga应用。

Leinwand说道:“也许有一天我们想要的是一辆轿车,或者Winnebago房车。亚马逊的四轮轿车只能帮你触及公共云服务。而一旦我们更加了解自己的应用,我们便需要变得更有灵活性。于是我们创造了zCloud。亚马逊虽然是一个很不错的平台,但是我们的某些应用其实更需要的是跑车或者是18轮的特定汽车。我们必须为满足不同玩家的需求而定制不同的云服务。”

不论如何,Zynga正在尝试着这样的选择,即跻身少数公司的行列创造属于自己的数据中心。只有一些大型公司,如Facebook,谷歌和苹果创建了属于自己的数据中心,而这也是他们在获得了上百万用户基础后做出的决定。多亏了如此操作,这些公司能够进一步拉近与用户之间的关系,也因此坚定了他们统治世界的决心。

走向国际市场

2010年春天,Zynga便开始思考如何恢复发展。除了拥有大量Facebook用户基础和自身的数据中心基础设施,它还迫切需要更多全球用户。美国社交游戏市场的发展在后病毒式传播时代中开始慢慢减速。而且Facebook也并未主导着每一个海外市场。例如在日本,Zynga便需要寻找新的出路。

所以Zynga便在2010年6月与日本软银(拥有日本手机领域绝对的控制权)签订了协议。软银同意投资1亿5千万美元于Zynga在日本的经营活动。那时候,Zynga总共募集了超过5亿2千万美元的投资于社交游戏中,其中更是包括来自于谷歌(他们正规化着创建属于自己的社交网络亿挑战Facebook)悄然投资的1亿美元。

2010年4月,每个月共有2亿5200万玩家在玩Zynga游戏。但是当看到许多游戏的玩家慢慢流失后,Zynga认为是时候开辟新的市场了。在日本,Zynga力图拓展手机游戏,并制造出符合日本用户需求的内容。软银首席执行官Masayoshi Son称,他非常期待能够与Zynga合作创造出强大的社交游戏。Zynga同样也坚信日本拥有与美国一样广大的手机市场和发展前景。

Zynga同样也希望开拓亚洲市场,在这里免费在线游戏刚刚兴起,并且广大玩家都极力拥护虚拟商品。该公司开始积极寻找海外优秀的收购目标,并且为一款游戏同时发行了不同语言的版本。

不断地实践着推广努力,Zynga于2010年8月发行了第一款国际版本的《Zynga Poker》,并针对于Facebook中的香港和台湾玩家发行了中文版本。这款游戏本身就拥有高达2千8百万月活跃用户,但是该公司希望通过这些本土化策略帮助它获得更多用户。Zynga总是无止尽地追求着更多用户,而现在他们更是竭尽全力地去实现这一目标。

很快,Zynga发行的每一款游戏便同时都带有不同语言。但是在日本,事情的进展却不是很顺利。Zynga计划同时在网络和手机两大平台发行游戏。但是在日本,由DeNA,Gree和Mix控制的游戏网络发展得非常迅速。所以那些初创企业团队们很难在此获得较好的成绩,要不就是创造的游戏早已过时,要不就是难以创造出大受欢迎的游戏。如果Zynga未做好万全的准备便强行挤进日本市场,他们可能便需要花费比预期更长的时间才能做出成绩。

走向手机领域

Zynga所采取的最佳行动便是在初尝iPhone游戏市场后便迅速离开了。而其对手SGN则在2009年中旬一头扎进了iPhone市场。

Mark Pincus发现苹果平台仍然很贫瘠。他希望苹果能够将iPhone转变成一个“具有社交性”的设备,就像是Facebook对于社交游戏的做法那样。苹果并不具备在好友圈中迅速推广游戏或者让用户更快发现游戏的功能。所以Pincus希望苹果能够推出应用内置付费功能,让玩家也能够在iPhone上购买免费游戏。

Zynga的竞争者如EA,SGN以及Gameloft深信不疑地坚守于手机市场中。他们砸下重金以学习如何从新的智能手机平台上赚钱。与此同时,Zynga将更多的钱投入在Facebook平台上,从而获得了更多用户并赚得比手机游戏更多的利益。但是Zynga也并未完全离开手机领域,而且当手机市场的前景越来越明朗之时,Zynga也觉得是时候转向这里了。

随后,Zynga便开始追赶其他对手了。它曾试图收购Ngmoco,这是前EA高管Neil Young创办的iPhone游戏开发公司。Bing Gordon非常赞同这一决定,因为他同时是Zynga和Ngmoco的董事,而Kleiner Perkins也同时投资于这两家公司。

但是最终,日本的DeNA于2010年10月以4亿3百万美元的高价收购了Ngmoco。DeNA在日本的手机领域已经收获了上亿美元的收益,他们希望借此收购而拓展西方社交手机游戏市场。

如此收购创造了一种有趣的竞争模式。当Zynga正在与Playfish和Playdom相抗衡时(以及后来的EA和迪士尼),他们也意识到DeNA和日本手机游戏社交网络公司Gree也对世界手机社交游戏的最高统治地位虎视眈眈。而他们也积极地展开与Zynga的竞争行动。

zynga-words-with-friends(from venturebeat)

zynga-words-with-friends(from venturebeat)

2010年10月,Zynga任命雅虎前高管David Ko为该公司移动部门的高级副总裁。2010年12月,Zynga收购了美国手机游戏开发商Newtoy,该公司开发了《Words With Friends》这款iPhone拼字游戏,在短短时间内便创造了1千2百万的下载量。这是Zynga在7个月以来进行的第七笔收购交易,但这次明显更加针对于手机领域。

Zynga为笔收购支付了5千330万美元,这是Zynga收购其他任何一家公司的最高数额。那时候,Newtoy仅有23名员工,而Zynga本身已有1千3百名员工。如此看来,移动领域是Zynga在除Facebook外趋向多元化的另外一种方式。

《黑帮战争》的制作人Justin Cinicolo在帮助Zynga跻身手机领域中扮演着领导角色。在2010年秋的一次采访中,他表示“Pincus现在更想要涉及手机领域,而我们知道,在这里要想获得如网页游戏的那般成绩必须投入更多的时间。我们已经对社交网络了解透彻了,所以有必要开始拓展其它领域的游戏市场。”

但是与此同时,Zynga也必须面临一些大问题。因为即使是在Facebook游戏领域拥有主导地位,也不能帮助它在手机游戏领域中获得更好的发展。

《CityVille》引起轰动

CityVille(from venturebeat)

CityVille(from venturebeat)

Zynga曾经有段时间一直在寻找能够延续《FarmVille》热潮的后续游戏。《FrontierVille》虽然拥有所有优秀的游戏元素,但是却未获得如《FarmVille》般的广泛关注度。所以该公司将更多的精力投入于下一款游戏中,即由经验丰富的游戏设计师Mark Skaggs领导创造的游戏。Skaggs先创造出一款大型游戏模式,然后交给其他人完成剩下的工作,而他自己则立刻转向新游戏开发。

Zynga于2010年创造了《CityVille》。曾经致力于《FarmVille》并且是前EA设计师的Skaggs表示,《CityVille》的开发团队中有95%的人从未参与游戏开发工作。这个团队在开发游戏中借鉴了Zynga其它游戏中一些成功的机制,如收集奖励,抢夺战利品等。随后他们便开始关注如何才能让一款城市类游戏更有趣。结果他们创造了一款简单的城市模拟游戏,虽然一次游戏只需要几分钟时间,但是却能让众多玩家一天内反复回到游戏中进行体验。

他们创造的这款城市模拟游戏便是《CityVille》,其中包含了一些新的Zynga游戏元素。游戏中,在城市地图上有一些移动的好友动画和图标,如此设置会让玩家感觉这好像是一种即时游戏,同时游戏还渲染了3D多边形表达方式,即允许城市转动,并让玩家从不同视角观看游戏画面。同时游戏中还有新手教程,帮助新手玩家更方便地进行游戏,它既包含了《FrontierVille》的社交功能,即允许玩家在好友的帮助下前进,同时也允许玩家购买Facebook Credits而更快地前进。从外表来看,这更像是《模拟城市》或者Playdom的《Social City》。但是Zynga的游戏更简单且更适合Facebook平台,即并未涵括太多交互性内容。

Zynga在2010年11月17日宣称将发行《CityVille》,该游戏还同时具备四种语言的版本,并且这是Zynga首次定位不同区域而发行的游戏。但是在公告发布后的数周,Zynga还一直在调整游戏。直到12月2日的1点22分,Zynga最终发行了这款游戏。发行后的24小时内,共有超过29万名玩家体验了游戏。这是Zynga有史以来最好的发布成绩,甚至高于《FrontierVille》的11万6千名玩家。

更多玩家继续涌向游戏。在发行5天后,《CityVille》便吸引了650万名玩家。他们在游戏中创建了超过270万个家和50万间面包房。这款游戏的时机把握得非常好,因为这时候《FarmVille》已经慢慢衰退了,而这也促使Zynga的月活跃用户从2010年春天的2亿6千万下滑至1亿9380万。但是随着《CityVille》的发行,这个数值将慢慢回升,在发行的第12天,已经有2千6百万玩家体验过这款游戏了。

在接受采访时,Zynga副总裁,也是领导《CityVille》创作的Mark Skaggs说道:“这种感觉很有趣,我们好似再次体验了《FarmVille》发行时的那种乐趣与兴奋。我们瞬间充满了干劲并希望将其做得更好。”

《CityVille》的发行明确体现出Zynga在社交游戏领域不可阻挡的实力。在二手股市中,Zynga现在的估值已经达到了50亿美元,远远高于竞争对手EA,后者收益为40亿美元。《CityVille》在2010年12月24日用户数首次赶上《FarmVille》,尽管这时候后者还拥有5千8百万名用户。1月3日,《CityVille》超越了《FarmVille》的最高纪录8千376万用户,这是在2010年3月获得的记录。2011年1月14日,《CityVille》的用户数突破了1亿,这仅仅是该游戏发行的第43天。在电子游戏的50年发展史中,《CityVille》是用户数量增长最快的一款游戏。如此也将Zynga的月活跃用户数带至2亿9660万。在Facebook中,《CityVille》的用户数甚至是排名第二的应用的5倍之多。

作为Zynga董事会成员,Bing Gordon表示《CityVille》是合理安排游戏内部奖励的产物。他认为该款游戏的成功证明了游戏是网络中一种“社交通用语”,在这里我们会遇到不同人并且通过与他们玩社交游戏人加深彼此之间的关系。《CityVille》的成功推动了Zynga在2010年第一季度的利润增长,用户购买游戏内部虚拟商品的次数变得更加频繁了。

《CityVille》的成功吸引了更多赞助商的关注。在2011年5月,Zynga与梦工厂签订了协议,将在游戏中推广他们的电影《功夫熊猫2》。而用户可以在他们的城市里建造《功夫熊猫2》主题的免下车电影院。Zynga并未拥有较有名的游戏专营权,但他们知道如何通过虚拟商品植入品牌内容,从而为游戏创造更多价值。

《CityVille》的成功让Zynga希望能够获取更大的成功。其随后便发行了《CityVille Hometown》,即该游戏的手机版本,并且他们还宣称将在腾讯平台发行中国版的《CityVille》(即《星佳城市》)。后一行动能够帮助Zynga更好地走进腾讯这一拥有超过6亿7400万中国用户的平台。

《星佳城市》由Zynga位于北京的工作室开发(其前身是Zynga在2010年5月收购的XPD Media)。该工作室的开发团队成员都是来自于中国的设计师,美术人员以及开发者。《CityVille》可以说是迄今为止Zynga旗下最全球化的游戏。

本文为游戏邦/gamerboom.com编译,拒绝任何不保留版权的转载,如需转载请联系:游戏邦

How Zynga grew from gaming outcast to $9 billion social game powerhouse

Dean Takahashi

A more mature Pincus?

As Zynga’s culture matured, so did Pincus. He wasn’t quite as evil as the FarmVillains piece made him out to be, since there were dozens of employees from his previous startup, Support.com, who were working at Zynga. If he were such a jerk, why would anybody want to work for him again? He outlasted even the expectations of insiders who thought Zynga would bring in a more professional game industry CEO at some point.

To Bing Gordon, Zynga arose in a disruptive, game-changing time. Nobody rode out this period better than Pincus, Gordon said in the fall of 2010.

“He was prescient and it was wildly interesting to me,” Gordon said. “Mark has a spectacular insight when it comes to audience building, ease of use, and communication with friends.”

Gordon believed that Pincus wasn’t in it for the limelight. He said Pincus happily stayed in the shadows and was not jealous of his own employees’ successes. Reminded that he wrote a negative memo about Pincus’s leadership style early on, Gordon said, “Mark is a different person than he was then. I had said that Mark had never worked at scale before. In 2008, people thought that Mark could not run a big company. There was a previous board that threw him out. That was a concern for normal investors. My role was to make sure that didn’t happen.”

Early on, Pincus was tough on weak performers. He had to be told when he wasn’t talking like a CEO. When Colleen McCreary arrived as chief people officer in the spring of 2009, she had to help eliminate 30 employees who weren’t meeting goals. Over time, Pincus focused on areas that mattered the most, such as the business model, recruiting, partnerships, future investments, and the games themselves. In speeches like a talk at the Web 2.0 Summit, Pincus liked to wax poetic about a future where people played social games so much that the company could consider them perpetual customers. That was how users behave with established sites such as Amazon or Google. Pincus wanted to make Zynga into a destination, not just a passing fancy.

Gordon added, “I said to Mark, I think you can be a world-class CEO. For me, it felt like working at EA in the 1980s, but three times faster and with smarter people.”

Gordon added, “Somebody who started four companies is smarter. You have to hire a lot of No. 1 draft picks, bet on them, give them authority, and take risks on them.”

There was a time when it seemed like investors might want to throw Pincus out of the company. He got a lot of negative feedback from employees. But the venture capitalists and the board didn’t have control of Zynga. Pincus still had a big ownership stake, and he had control of the board and voting power. Much like Mark Zuckerberg, he had been able to negotiate from a position of strength when it came to getting investments. So Pincus had more time than he otherwise might have to change his style and become more people-friendly. He learned to become the CEO of a very large company — something that he had never done before.

Not everyone agreed that Pincus is right for the job. Roger McNamee, a co-founder at Elevation Partners, told the New York Times, “Zynga should be an example of entrepreneurship at its best. Instead it’s going to be a Harvard Business School case study on founder overreach — this will be a cautionary tale.”

It’s worth noting, however, that McNamee was the former business partner of John Riccitiello, CEO of Zynga’s arch rival EA. Of course he would say that. Still, there were some problems. Andrew Trader, one of the earliest employees at Zynga, had left the company in March 2010. Later on, Pincus attempted to take back some of his stock option awards. Trader reportedly had to get a settlement from Zynga. That reported happened to others, according to the Wall Street Journal, and such “clawbacks” didn’t sit well with some people. Those clawbacks would later come back to haunt Pincus.

Building the zCloud

Zynga’s whole game network was possible because of the rapid growth of internet infrastructure and new “cloud computing” solutions such as Amazon’s web services, where it rented out computing power from its data centers to small companies. That helped Zynga create a flexible cloud infrastructure, said Cadir Lee, chief technology officer, in an interview in the fall of 2010.

Zynga started with a hosted infrastructure. It moved to a public cloud, adopting Amazon Web Services, when FarmVille took off. That meant it could tap Amazon’s data centers whenever the demand justified it. After a while, in 2010, Zynga started to create its own private data centers, dubbed the zCloud, as it became bigger and bigger. It was a hybrid approach that let Zynga use its own private data centers as well as Amazon’s public cloud, depending on its needs.

The bill to do this wasn’t cheap. Zynga would spend more than $199 million on infrastructure in 2011, up from $62 million the year before. But the hybrid public-private cloud could do what Amazon did, with lower costs. Now that it had a bunch of major games that were all in their various stages of life, Zynga could move around servers as needed. By making investments in its own data centers, Zynga could save money. If, for instance, it figures out how to reduce power usage, the costs savings will flow to Zynga’s bottom line, not Amazon’s.

FrontierVille benefited from a lot from what Zynga had learned running FarmVille, Lee said. Zynga considered its analytics, storage, cloud computing, and game applications architecture to be competitive advantages for the company. Many of the games shared code and functions. Zynga gathered data and then spit it back out in a form that can help the game designers create better games for users. It also had a huge investment in security to protect its virtual goods from hackers.

The company could now grow its users by tens of millions or lose that many in a matter of weeks. It could move games on or off its own private cloud, known as the zCloud, as needed. In a 24-hour period, Zynga could add or subtract 1,000 servers in an automated fashion. It could deliver more than a petabyte of content per day, and its storage was now in the tens of terabytes. (Later, Zynga would say it processed 15 terabytes of game data per day.) Still, every now and then, Zynga had outages, partly because of its dependence on Amazon.

But owning data centers also came with risks. If the demand for Zynga’s games were to drop dramatically, as has happened on occasion, Zynga would get caught with too much infrastructure on its hands and losses could result. That’s probably why Zynga will likely own part of its data centers and will rely on external hosts for the rest.

Allan Leinwand (pictured above), the CTO for infrastructure engineering, said that Zynga preferred flexibility. It appreciated the four-door sedan that Amazon offered, but he said there were times when Zynga’s applications needed something different.

“Maybe one day you want a sports car, maybe another you want a Winnebago,” Leinwand said. “A four-door sedan is what you’re getting with the public cloud. Once we knew our app, we knew we needed to be flexible. We made zCloud better for our games. Amazon is making a great platform, but we wanted a sports car for some applications and an 18-wheeler for certain applications. We needed to customize the cloud to meet the needs of our players.”

In any event, the fact that Zynga was considering such an option of owning its own data centers puts it into rare company. Only the biggest companies, such as Facebook, Google, and Apple, have invested in owning their own data center operations, when their user counts run into the hundreds of millions of users. And thanks to their cloud operations, those companies have the closest relationships with customers and that is why they believe they will rule the world.

Going GlobalVille

Zynga was thinking seriously in the spring of 2010 about how to restore its growth and position itself for an initial public offering. Beyond its Facebook empire and its data center infrastructure, it needed a global audience. The U.S. social game market had stalled in the post-viral era. But Facebook wasn’t the ruler in every overseas market. In places such as Japan, Zynga needed to find other ways into the market.

So, in June 2010, the company struck a deal with Japan’s Softbank investment firm, which also had rich holdings in mobile. Softbank agreed to invest $150 million in Zynga’s Japan operation. At that point, Zynga had raised more than $520 million to invest in social games, including an unannounced $100 million deal with Google, which was planning its own social network to challenge Facebook.

In April 2010, Zynga’s games were played by 252 million people every month. But many of the games were seeing people trickle away, so the company knew it needed to open new markets. In Japan, Zynga sought to expand into mobile games and produce local content for Japanese users. Masayoshi Son, CEO of Softbank, said he looked forward to working with Zynga to create a social game powerhouse. Zynga also believed it needed to be in Japan to understand the future of mobile behavior in the U.S.

Zynga also wanted to expand into the Asian markets, where free-to-play online games were born and customers were very receptive to virtual goods. The company started looking for overseas acquisitions and it built up an ability to launch its games in multiple languages on the same day.

As part of its expansion effort, Zynga launched the first international version of its Zynga Poker game in August 2010, launching the game in Mandarin Chinese for Facebook players in Hong Kong and Taiwan. The game had 28 million monthly active players already, but the localization effort was aimed at grabbing even more. Zynga had a voracious appetite for more users, and now it was willing to go to great lengths to get them.

Soon enough, Zynga was launching games in multiple languages on the very first day they launched. But in Japan, things weren’t going so well. Zynga was planning to launch games on both the web and on mobile. Big gaming networks operated by DeNA, Gree, and Mixi were growing fast in Japan. But the team didn’t execute well in startup mode in Japan. The games they created were late and weren’t big hits. If Zynga was going to break into the Japanese market, it was clearly going to take longer than it hoped.

Going mobile

One of the best moves that Zynga made was withdrawing from the iPhone game market after its initial foray. Rival SGN was diving headlong into the iPhone in the middle of 2009.

But Mark Pincus found that Apple’s platform was wanting. He wanted Apple to turn the iPhone into a “socially enabled” device, much the way that Facebook had enabled social games on its network. Apple didn’t have a lot of the features that would allow games to spread like wildfire among friends or make it easier to discover games. He also wanted Apple to launch its in-app purchases to enable free-to-play games on the iPhone.

Rivals such as Electronic Arts, SGN, and Gameloft had no qualms about the market. They were investing heavily in learning how to make money with the new smartphone platforms. Meanwhile, Zynga made a ton of money by focusing its teams on Facebook, which generated far bigger audiences and far more revenues than mobile games did. But Zynga stayed on the mobile sidelines so long that it had to start buying its way into the market when mobile began to look more promising.

Zynga later made a run at playing catch-up. It offered to buy Ngmoco, the iPhone-focused mobile game company started by former Electronic Arts executive Neil Young (pictured below). Bing Gordon would have been ecstatic at such a deal, as he was on the board of both Zynga and Ngmoco, and Kleiner Perkins had invested in both of them.

In October 2010, Japan’s DeNA acquired iPhone game maker Ngmoco for $403 million. That price was something like 13 times revenues — a very high price. But DeNA was on a billion-dollar run rate with its business on mobile phones in Japan, and it is intent on expanding to Western markets for social mobile games.

The acquisition set up an interesting competition. While Zynga had been fighting with Playfish and Playdom (and later EA and Disney), it now had to realize that DeNA and Japan’s mobile gaming social network Gree were also gunning for a worldwide mobile social gaming empire. And they would be more than happy to trample over Zynga.

Zynga brought aboard former Yahoo executive David Ko as a senior vice president for mobile in October 2010. In December 2010, Zynga made its biggest move into mobile with the acquisition of Newtoy, the McKinney, Texas-based creator of Words With Friends, a Scrabble-like word game on the iPhone that had become a huge hit with 12 million downloads. The acquisition was Zynga’s seventh deal in seven months, but it showed it was serious about mobile.

Zynga didn’t announce it at the time, but the company paid a hefty $53.3 million for Newtoy, which was started by brothers Paul and David Bettner. That was the most that Zynga paid for a company, but the price was low relative to other kinds of gaming deals. At that point, Newtoy added a mere 23 employees to Zynga’s tally of 1,300. Mobile was yet another way to diversify beyond Facebook.

Justin Cinicolo, the former Mafia Wars producer, assumed a leadership role in Zynga’s push into mobile. In the fall of 2010, he said in an interview that Pincus had more patience now for the mobile market to come into its own.

“He is more willing to do things like mobile where we know it will take some time before it becomes as successful as the web business,” Cinicolo said. “We have a good understanding of the web. Now it makes sense for us to spread our games everywhere.”

Of course, Zynga had to figure out how to deal with a big problem. There was no guarantee that its big position in Facebook games would help Zynga at all in mobile games.

CityVille’s population explosion

Zynga had been looking for a sequel to FarmVille for a while. FrontierVille had all the right elements for that, but the game never hit the same mass market as the farm game. So the company put a lot of its effort behind the next game that was spearheaded by veteran game designer Mark Skaggs. Skaggs had established a pattern of creating a big game and then handing it over to others to run while he moved on to something new.

Zynga created the CityVille team from scratch in 2010. Skaggs, who had worked on FarmVille and was a former Electronic Arts designer, estimated that 95 percent of the people on the team had never worked on a game before. The team started with established play practices that had been successful in other Zynga games, such as picking up rewards, or loot, upon achieving something. Then it focused on what would be fun to do in a city game. The result was a lightweight city simulation that can be played in a matter of minutes — but which players feel compelled to return to on a daily basis.

They created a city simulation game called CityVille, which included something new for a Zynga game. It had animations and the icons of friends moving around on a city map, creating the illusion that it was a real-time game. the game was also rendered with 3D polygons that allowed the city to be rotated and viewed from different angles. And it had a guided tutorial to teach new people how to play. It included the FrontierVille social features that allowed players to progress by helping their friends, and it allowed users to buy Facebook Credits to advance faster. On the surface, it looked like SimCity or rival social game Social City. But Zynga’s game was simple and suited for Facebook, which didn’t allow a great deal of interactivity.

Zynga announced CityVille on Nov. 17, 2010, saying it would be available in four languages at launch, the first time Zynga had localized a game for different regions at launch. But CityVille wasn’t quite ready to let CityVille out. For weeks, Zynga kept tweaking the game. Finally, on Dec. 2, Zynga launched the game. At 1:22 am that day, the game launched and the staff drank champagne. In its first 24 hours, more than 290,000 people played the game. That was Zynga’s best launch ever, much higher than FrontierVille, which had 116,000 players on day one.

The crowds kept coming. After five days, Zynga had 6.5 million players. They had built more than 2.7 million homes and created 500,000 bakeries. The timing was good, since the decline of FarmVille meant that Zynga’s numbers had fallen to an overall 193.8 million monthly active users, compared to 260 million monthly active users in the spring of 2010. The grown soon became exponential, with 26 million users playing CityVille by day 12.

“This feels fun,” said Skaggs, the Zynga vice president in charge of CityVille, in an interview at the time. “It’s like reliving the fun and excitement of the FarmVille launch. We are buzzing with energy about how to keep it going.”

CityVille helped create the impression that Zynga was unstoppable in social games. On the secondary shares market, Zynga now had a valuation of $5 billion, larger than publicly-traded rival Electronic Arts, which had $4 billion in revenue and was one of the largest console game publishers in the world. CityVille passed up FarmVille on Dec. 24, 2010, when it still had 58 million users. On Jan. 3, CityVille passed FarmVille’s all-time high of 83.76 million users, a previous record set in March 2010. On Jan. 14, 2011, CityVille hit 100 million users, just 43 days after the game launched. In the 50-year history of video games, CityVille was the fastest-growing game ever in numbers of users. It pushed Zynga’s users to more than 296.6 million on a monthly basis. On Facebook, CityVille was five times bigger than the next closest app.

Bing Gordon, the Zynga board member, said that CityVille shows what happens when you structure rewards in games the right way. He said its success was proof that games are like a “social lingua franca” of the web, where you relate to people or deepen your relationship with them by playing social games with them. CityVille drove Zynga’s bookings and revenues upward in the first quarter of 2010, as users bought virtual goods such as batteries.

The big numbers drew sponsors. In May 2011, Zynga launched an in-game deal with DreamWorks to promote the film Kung Fu Panda 2. Users added 15 million Kung Fu Panda 2 themed drive-in movie theaters in their cities. While Zynga didn’t have well-known game franchises, it figured out how to cash in on brands with its games through simple virtual item integrations that were basically ads.

CityVille was so successful that Zynga ran with it. The company later launched CityVille Hometown, a mobile version of the game, and it also announced it would launch a version of CityVille in China on the Tencent social network. The latter deal could give Zynga access to China’s most popular internet service portal, with more than 674 million users.

The so-called Zynga City game was under development at the Zynga China Studio in Beijing. Zynga acquired that studio in May 2010, when the studio was known as XPD Media. The studio has a team of local Chinese game designers, artists and developers. Zynga would also launch it on a new social network in the future. CityVille went more global than any game Zynga had ever made.(source:venturebeat


上一篇:

下一篇: