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Is there room for optimism on Zynga?

While it's still not clear what are the strategy behind Don Mattrick's move to Zynga as CEO, the subject of a new approach for social casual games have been around for a while and they can possibly be connected in a positive thinking about the industry.

Thiago Appella, Blogger

July 2, 2013

4 Min Read

I was preparing this post when the industry got shocked about Don Mattrick leaving Microsoft Interactive Business Unit to join Zynga as CEO. This move could only come from Zynga - as industry pioneer, it's a clear sign of the much needed pivoting its approach on game development that will be followed by other social casual game companies. 

So, let there be a huge casual players audience: And then Facebook and iPhone were born. BOOM! Tons of potential new users for games were there with an absurd growing curve until the generation of smartphones, computer and internet penetration rate was finally so big that we could easily reach billions of users. 

Within this scenario Zynga pioneered and became the supreme leader in social games for a long time by introducing accessible free to play casual games for people that were not even being considered the target audience for game companies out there. 

After Zynga, a lot of companies were born to fill out market demands with the same approach being used so far focusing more on numbers than the actual game. It was a necessary approach for the time being as considering the "virgin" mass from those new platforms (Facebook and Smartphones). However, we need to agree, this approach doesn't perform as awesome as it was performing in the past. 

That audience is tired. It matured and users are looking for a step further. 

Supercell is one of those companies that realized that and it's already delivering a superior experience with HayDay and Clash of Clans. Some examples of that change: 

By introducing real multiplayer features. 
Sending requests through Facebook cannot be considered Social neither Multiplayer just because it uses a feature from a Social Network. Games are social by nature, but all social casual games were delivering an strictly single player experience with road blocks to activate users' friends list or a leaderboard to give the competition feeling. 

By providing a new monetization policy 
Social casual games have been too pushy on selling items and let people pay to win. Research all Free to Play games out there - from a mature industry, non casual/social - and realize by yourself that none of them offer premium items right in the beginning. That was exactly the opposite social casual games were doing. 

Engaging users 
By enabling a better social/multiplayer experience and not being pushy about monetization, they delivered a more fluid gameplay which users can spend more time enjoying the game. Supercell had to work hard to shape the game design mechanics to deliver real fun. 


Companies were built with too much metrics in mind and less game design and fun approach. Users realized that all games available in the market are actually the same - just with a different skin - and they are silently protesting about it. 

How come you could have success with a farming game in an extremely saturated market place full of the same product? Supercell did that with HayDay by delivering a much superior game where user engagement and fun were tailored for an exhausted audience. King is another company that shaped its approach with Candy Crush and they are now replicating to other games.

Perhaps Zynga realized that as well and decided it needed an external assistance to catch up with actual market demand. And nothing better than a game industry veteran, with years of experience at the golden age of Electronic Arts and lately at Microsoft to better pivot the change at Zynga, actually to pivot the industry as it is going to be followed by others. 

If this is true - and I hope it is - we will see the market for games being exponentially expanded as players tend to level up and demand different products. Thus, people will start moving to portable devices like Nintendo DS and PS Vita and probably going after games on their XBox One home center that is designed to mainly watch TV and Sports. Why not?  Jokes aside, I prefer thinking positively.

Congratulations Don Mattrick. 

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