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Snobbish, Arrogant and Elitist - Why Attitudes to Zynga Suck

SF Weekly published an expose of Zynga's dubious business practices. But it revealed a snobbish, elitist and just plain wrong attitude to social games.

I read this article from SF Weekly on Zynga’s business practices with increasing anger. My bile rose and rose, and not for the reasons you think.

My Farmville farm. Yesterday.

The article claimed to be an exposé on Zynga’s dodgy business practices: copying other people’s games, disdaining innovation, being strongly focused on the bottom line.

All fair comments. All written about before (see, for example, Why suing your rivals makes good business sense, or Zynga CEO Mark Pincus: "I Did Every Horrible Thing In The Book Just To Get Revenues")

But that’s not what made me angry.

It was the sneering attitude to social games that pervaded the story.

Snobbish, elitist and wrong

Author Peter Jamison talks about Zynga’s “inane forms of entertainment” and its “brand of simplistic entertainment”. He says:

“At a time when traditional "console" videogames — the kind bought in a store and played on a computer or entertainment system such as a Sony PlayStation — aspire to be classified as works of art, it might seem odd that such confections as FarmVille enjoy widespread attention and financial success. In 2007, for example, publisher 2K Games released a spellbinding console game, Bioshock, in which players make difficult ethical decisions in an underwater city-state founded on the libertarian ideals of Ayn Rand.

Next to such immersing products, Zynga's games look cretinous.”

The snobbish arrogance in this statement makes me almost speechless with anger.

It might seem odd…

it might seem odd that over 233 million people enjoy Zynga’s games every month*.

It might seem odd that Farmville (despite its waning popularity) was played last month by five times as many people as have *ever* played Modern Warfare 2.

It might seem odd that 55% of gamers on Facebook are women. That 79% of them are over 30.**

It might seem odd that amongst Facebook gamers, a third log on every day just to play an “inane form of entertainment”. A further third log on multiple times a day to play.

It might seem odd that a third of gamers have never played another game before discovering Facebook games.

You know what I think. I think that making incredibly expensive, hard-to-play games that require proprietary hardware and prior experience to enjoy is a dumb way of providing gaming entertainment to a global audience.

It works for some. It doesn’t work for all.

Zynga (and Playfish and Playdom and 6Waves and Crowdstar) have found ways to make games that appeal to a broader cross-section of society than traditional approaches have ever done. They have done more to make games mass-market than anyone other than Nintendo. They are the true mass-market of gaming.

And this article sees no merit in their achievements.

I think that attitude sucks.

When will gamers grow up

Multi-million dollar development budget games have a place in the market. So do casual, accessible, browser games that appeal to a different demographic.

The gamers are saying it: 233 million people are playing Zynga’s games alone

The products are saying it: Facebook games get more users than any traditional games title.

The revenues are saying it: Zynga is making perhaps as much as $500 million a year from social games.

So when will gamers stop sneering, stop hiding behind their bleating “but Farmville isn’t a game” and start realising that Zynga have done something that traditional games have never done.

They have made gaming something for everyone. Isn’t it time we applauded that?


This post originally appeared on GAMESbrief.

* This figure is the aggregate for all Zynga’s games and is not de-duplicated. People playing multiple games are double counted, so the actual figure is probably lower than this.

** These points come from PopCap’s research into social gamers. See www.gamesbrief.com/resources.

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