What’s up, Zynga?
Tell me Zynga, what’s happened to you? Games like Mafia Wars and FarmVille were smash hits. Even many of your haters agreed that you hit the nail on the head when it came to producing successful games. But even more important, those games made Facebook a legitimate gaming platform. Those games—and others like The Pioneer Trail and Words With Friends—are some of the biggest reasons why the number of gamers is higher than ever.
Things have changed. The vast amount of FarmVille-like games is one thing. CityVille, CastleVille, ForestVille, and the rest all fail horribly to seem original, but it’s hard to complain as they’re just as fresh as many big-budget sequels. When you announced Dream Heights, everything took a turn for the worse.
You tried to purchase NimbleBit, developer of the very successful mobile game, Tiny Tower. Much to your surprise, they didn’t take the bait. So instead, you decided to go ahead and outdo them at their own game. Videogames are no stranger to ideas being taken, but typically the roles are reversed. More often than not, the up-and-coming developers are the ones that use others’ ideas and try to make their own blatant ripoff. Anyone who knows of The Great Giana Sisters will understand exactly what I’m talking about.
What you did in this case, Zynga, is the complete opposite of “If you can’t beat them, join them.” You couldn’t buy out NimbleBit, so you got frustrated and attempted to market their game better than they could. At that time, NimbleBit co-founder David Marsh tweeted: “Even when you refuse to go work for Zynga, sometimes you end up doing work for Zynga anyway.“ You received a lot of criticism from that incident, but you’re used to it so I’m sure it didn’t bother you.
We moved on from that incident. Once Dream Heights was released, most of the public backed off from the issue and went back to their “Villes” and Words with Friends. When Zynga Slingo was released, we had a jolly good time with that, and you had a jolly good time remaining the king of social gaming. That is, until just recently.
It didn’t just catch you off guard, but Draw Something quickly became the talk of the entire social gaming world. While OMGPOP took a simple Pictionary approach, it was something that the fans seemed to enjoy. Many games have taken that approach before, but none have become as big as Draw Something. In fact, few games in general have gotten that big. A couple weekends ago, OMGPOP’s hit became the biggest game on Facebook, even without the handicap of being mobile-only.
This made you furious, didn’t it? Not only was Words With Friends dethroned, but it was beaten by a different company’s game. You just couldn’t stand that, could you? You wasted no time and did the same thing you did with NimbleBit. After the weekend, you approached OMGPOP and made an offer to buy it.
And then they did it. They took your offer of over $200 million. So what happens now? You’ve said that Draw Something won’t be introduced into the With Friends series of games. Are you going to leave the OMGPOP crew to work on it as they always have or will you eventually take over and add the Zynga influence all over the place? Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of upside to the Zynga influence. You’ve proven you can give games long, healthy lives. There’s no question you’ll do the same here. What worries me most is the dangerous pattern you’re falling into. You need another blockbuster hit, something new and original, straight from the minds of Zynga. With that, you’ll be able to remind everyone why you’re as big as you are.
Yes, Zynga, it is fully possible to make something new and original. You don’t need to purchase your way to the top, like you did with Words With Friends, and you don’t need to imitate in order to eliminate the competition. Remember FarmVille? That game single-handedly defined social gaming. It wasn’t because you outdid someone else, or because you bought your way into that position. FarmVille‘s legendary status is solely due to your attempt at something new.
What’s stopping you from doing it again? With the successes of games like Words With Friends and Draw Something, browser-based Facebook games have been seeing declining numbers. If there’s one company that can save the platform, it’s you. You’re still able to be original, Empires and Allies was proof of that. Lay off the “Villes” and the copycat games. Even if those games are all excellent, they won’t be able to revolutionize anything. You have plenty of talented people in your network. Talk to your employees, fans, and colleagues. Figure out what you can do to produce a new smash hit, then do it.
If you continue with the “If they won’t join us, we’ll just beat them” model, you’ll run out of competitors to either buy or squash. Either that, or you’ll pick on the wrong company, and they’ll beat you at your own game. I don’t know exactly when things changed, but hopefully your ability to make a statement is still there.