Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The unlamented decline of Zynga

There's been some discussion on the blogosphere recently about Zynga's apparent decline. Ted at Terra Nova thinks the novelty is wearing off. Spinks thinks it's part of the end of the MMO era.

About 4 years ago when Farmville was at its peak many commenters on MMO games publicly deplored it. Our hobby seemed to have slid down some spectrum towards brain dead accessibility from complicated virtual worlds like Ultima Online and Star Wars: Galaxies via WoW to games that were essentially just clicking to see a number go up. Why oh why, people like the Common Sense Gamer asked, do people play games that only require 5% of their mental processing power?

The answer, of course, is simple.

Because those games require only 5% of their mental processing power.

The question that doesn't get asked enough then, is what were these people doing with the other 95%? Knowing the answer to this is the key to understanding whether Zynga's business model is about to die a miserable death.

I don't actually know. But here's a guess.

Facebook is for many people about sex. It is a way of meeting and chatting up strangers that for a lot of people has become an element of modern courtship. I think many Farmville players were using chat programmes to flirt with some people and gossip with other people about who they flirted with. But online chat has dead times. Rather than stare at the screen waiting for a message people alt-tabbed and played a Zynga game. That's their business model.

Of course they don't want to raid with WoW players or pvp or any of that stuff - they're not actually gaming, they don't think of themselves as gamers and the last thing they want is to be lured into some activity that demands attention over what they're really doing (flirting and gossiping).

Speculation about Zynga's falling revenues and outlook needs to take into account two things:
- is Facebook still a popular element in modern courtship behaviour?
- are there better things to alt tab to?


  1. Doesn't entirely fit with the notion that the majority of players are 30+ women (I don't mean that those people aren't having sex, but it implies a similar number of men involved in those chats, so what are they doing while chatting?)

    Also the people I know who are most into those games are women who chat to their friends while playing. So I think you may be right about the chatting but I don't think it's about courting.

    1. Depends what they're chatting about. Chatting about who's going out with who is within the meta.

      But my point really is Farmville etc are all alt tab games. To know if they're viable in the future one needs to look at whatever they are alt tabbing from and see how that is changing.

  2. I never quite understood why games like Farmville were actually ever compared to MMOs like WoW; they're online but that's where similarities end imo. the typical gamer either buys himself a console and plays Harvest Moon there (if he actually likes the farmville concept) or gets himself Shopkeeper on PC or whatever. the Facebook crowd is not the same as the gamer crowd - which is where I agree with you. it's mostly about social networking, chatting and/or meeting strangers and the "game" is the excuse to do it excessively. I don't consider Farmville any more a game/MMO than I would Habbo Hotel.

    One can therefore not be careful enough to draw conclusions between the world of Facebook games or MMOs - just like you can't directly compare the console market versus handy games either. whatever it is that marks the demise of Farmville (if you wanna call it that) need not bear any meaning for games like WoW or GW2.
    as for payment models - I think the average MMO player doesn't care less about the model as long as he's excited about the title and feels he can play it for good value.

  3. On reflection courting was a poorly chosen word. I think what the 87 million "Farmville players" were and are actually doing as their principle activity falls within the meta activity of reproduction of the species. Flirting, dating, meeting up, getting married, honeymooning, giving birth, reporting what baby said today and debating what school is the best one to go to. And of course discussing each step in great detail with sympathetic friends.

    Another word for this might for some people be simply "life" but I mean something more narrow than that. I specifically exclude hobbies, including playing games. I don't think gamers would alt tab to Farmville during a boring wipefest raid, we have better pastimes to fill the space (like the Bejewelled mod).

  4. Hiya Stabs! I can't agree with you on this one. It seems to me that the premise depends on the players being young and/or single. However, my personal experience is that very few young and/or single people ever played Farmville. My widowed and patently non-dating 74 year old mother played Farmville. My aunts played Farmville. My 53 year old-married-to-one-man-since-18 older sister played Farmville. In fact, most of my family played because they could help each other out. But they certainly weren't looking for a good time beyond that.

    I do have a 22 year old son who plays other Zynga games. However, he never chats (they all text BTW) and if he "wants some" he leaves the house and goes and "hangs out" at the local party (he texts his friends for the address.) He plays these games while he's waiting for dinner to finish or for his buddy to come over or any other time he is bored. They are simple filler; something to do while waiting for something else to happen.

    So these games are simply family rebonding experiences or time fillers. When they cease to serve that purpose the people I know move on. At first they moved on to another game like Pirates. But they soon realized that all these games were the same thing over and over. They got bored. They left. Just like all MMO players do when the game gets boring.

    Zynga failed because they didn't understand this. For a time they appealed to everyone on Facebook who was inclined to play these games. Once the novelty wore off, Zynga failed to produce new stimulation. They churned out the same old crap people were bored with.

    Of course, calling these games MMOs is a huge stretch. There isn't any real interaction in these games. However, they seem to follow an MMO type model so eventually Zynga's demise was inevitable. People hate being bored.

    That's why we all play Eve far longer than most MMO models predict we will. That'swhy we have such loyalty to it. Eve is never boring if you don't want it to be.

    1. Fair enough, guess I'll scratch this theory. Thanks for sharing your insight.