Sunday, July 25, 2010

Zynga: The Google Of Games?

Image representing FarmVille as depicted in Cr...Image via CrunchBase
That is common practice. To use a well known entity as a metaphor. At an event I attended during Internet Week, an entrepreneur on the panel said, "We are the Netflix for fashion." You don't buy dresses, you rent them. (Women In Tech-Media Event At JP Morgan: Internet Week) That is a great way to describe your company. If your company is not very well known, it makes sense to use a well known company as a metaphor. I'd love to be able to say about this blog, we are the Zynga of blogging (we are not, I am not), because Zynga, let's face it, is a well known name and it is huge. At the layperson level people probably are more familiar with the Farmville name than Zynga, but Zynga is big. So you have to ask, what's going on here?

New York Times: Will Zynga Become the Google of Games?
Mark Pincus, Zynga’s 44-year-old founder....... he had set out to build an enduring Internet icon, one that was synonymous with fun. ..... There has to be more than “a garage sale, a bookstore, a search engine and a portal ...... the opportunity to build an online entertainment empire was “like search before Google came along.” ..... the hottest start-up to emerge from Silicon Valley since Twitter and, before that, Facebook ...... While Facebook needed four and a half years to reach 100 million users, Zynga crossed that mark after just two and a half years. ....... the games are free to everyone ...... has been profitable since shortly after its founding. ...... investors, including Google and the Netscape founder Marc Andreessen, have put about $520 million into the company ...... Zynga has been valued at more than $4.5 billion ..... Silicon Valley’s next billionaire .... “He has nailed the next killer app, the next compelling thing that’s going to happen” in media. ...... Six million Facebook users, who grew tired of constant updates about their friends’ games, joined a group called “I don’t care about your farm, or your fish, or your park, or your mafia!!!” ...... Facebook started restricting the messages, and Zynga’s traffic dropped sharply. ..... little effect on revenue because many players who dropped out didn’t buy virtual goods. ..... about four times larger than its nearest rival, Electronic Arts. Playdom is third ...... Pincus is something of an aging whiz kid. ..... A serial entrepreneur, he sold his first company, Freeloader, an early Internet broadcast service, for $38 million, and took public his second, a business software maker called ........ talks of building a “digital skyscraper” ..... a visionary leader. ..... also known for his sharp elbows and irreverent style ..... brags about being fired from a consulting firm job for having little patience with his bosses. ...... “I didn’t believe in paying dues” ...... open about his distrust of many venture capitalists ...... a Silicon Valley firm turned down an investment in Zynga, telling him he was “not coachable.” ......"I did every horrible thing in the book to just get revenues right away." ...... “As the company has had more exposure and visibility, I have had to realize that more people take what I say seriously” ..... Twenty to 30 percent of visits to Facebook are to play games .... When Mr. Pincus first envisioned Zynga, most investors and peers doubted that a gaming start-up could become the next big thing. .....“Zynga has the most revenue, growth and happy customers of any three-year-old venture we’ve ever backed,” says John Doerr
Farmville was the next big thing because Farmville offered Facebook users that Facebook itself did not. Sitting down to catch up or talk serious topics can be socializing, but you can't do that all the time. That is why people play board games.

And traditional video games were missing a big point: the Internet. There was email before Hotmail, but they all missed a big point: the Internet.

There were other online games, but many of them were solitary exercises. To Farmville social is fundamental. Social has been as big a trend as search, and Zynga respected that.

And there has been the interactivity part. Playing Farmville is a very different experience from blogging. It is very different from taking pictures and sharing.

Free might not count for innovation, but it is. It is a big one. What if you did not have to download anything to play Second Life? What if it had been free? Keeping the game free has been fundamental to Farmville's growth.

There has been a monetization fit. Yahoo did display ads, fine. But Google could not have done that. Ads on Google had to act like search results to make sense. Similarly Farmville monetization had to be part of the gaming experience. There has been a great fit.

Pincus is not 22. Zuckerberg is not the norm in entrepreneurship. Most - the vast majority of - entrepreneurs are closer in age to Pincus than to Zuckerberg although the media will have you believe otherwise. I think Mark Pincus' age is an important detail in this story.

Pincus has had a track record of giving the finger. Out of the box thinking requires that. Bloomberg got fired too. And so he went ahead and started a company. Got to do something. What are you going to do with all that nervous energy?

Gaming as a basic fabric of the web experience, wow.

Every human activity ever, if you can figure out a way to take it online, there is a business model for that.

And there is room for reinvention. Believe it or not, Geocities was my first blogging platform. It was simple enough. But then platforms like Blogger came along and blogging took off. Geocities was a community before Facebook was a community. Facebook did not invent community, it reinvented it.

Farmville is a reinvention of gaming. The question to ask is, can Zynga re-reinvent gaming? Will it still be hot five years from now? Google is still around and fairly hot. Android and Chrome alone make it pretty cutting edge, I think.

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