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Zynga's Going Down. (silencedgood.tumblr.com)
175 points by dkrich 1577 days ago | hide | past | web | 107 comments | favorite

Tech stocks (in aggregate) have declined about 32% in the same time period. What this article fails to mention is that Zynga's stock price was at an all-time high when Zynga acquired OMGPOP. The stock has since floated around it's post-IPO price. OMGPOP is most likely unrelated to these fluctuations.

What is relevant is Facebook. Zynga's stock grew rapidly once Facebook's S-1 filings revealed that Facebook derives 12% of it's revenue from Zynga. This news cause a flurry of interest in Zynga, but the excitement has since waned, and both Facebook and Zynga have been scrutinized heavily since. This is to be expected, but I also expect that both company's stocks will perform well after May 18 and into next quarter.

Last, and possibly most important, is the misconception about how easy it is to launch a profitable mobile app to millions of users. Zynga now hosts about 80% of their games on their private cloud (the zCloud). This infrastructure separates Zynga from a group of 15 hackers who want to make the next Angry Birds. Zynga releases games in dozens of foreign languages; they have games on every social network and in dozens of countries, as well as in many emerging markets. The point is, it's easy to take pot-shots at Zynga's business model and claim it's a house of cards, but I think the reality is that Zynga is a well established company, with far vaster resources than many of their competitors. Mobile and social games are a clear-cut example of economies of scale.

> Last, and possibly most important, is the misconception about how easy it is to launch a profitable mobile app to millions of users. Zynga now hosts about 80% of their games on their private cloud (the zCloud). This infrastructure separates Zynga from a group of 15 hackers who want to make the next Angry Birds.

Sorry, I don't buy it. You don't need to host your own infrastructure to schlep virtual cows around. Zynga probably saves some money in self-hosting but that isn't going to make or break a title.

Yeah, zCloud only came into fruition late last year. Before that they were using AWS, and handling the same scale they do now. Private cloud is saving them money, but some other company could use AWS just as Zynga did before and handle millions of users absolutely fine.

Fair. But Zynga's games still suck. Perhaps their infrastructure is sound, but I run screaming every time I see their latest badly-programmed, ad-infested game take over my newsfeed.

A skilled independent dev actually puts time and effort into a beautiful UX. Zynga seems more concerned with churning out the next addictive rip-off, since they know their games have no staying power.

I don't think mobile and social games/apps are clear-cut examples of economies of scale. Accessibility to the cloud and scalable computing resources isn't exclusive to large companies but it may indeed be somewhat cheaper according to size. But even if it is cheaper, it doesn't automatically make mobile and social games more competitive according to the size of their creator's resources. Most economies of scale apply to segments where competitors are all selling equivalent products and can only compete on price or in markets that require extremely expensive infrastructures (billions). Most of the mobile and social games market is defined by small shops climbing to the top of the charts for a short lived but huge shot of revenue. Honestly the whole mobile and social app market strikes me as the furthest thing from an economy of scale IMHO.

Zynga is under-performing the Nasdaq by around 37% over the last 90 days. So no, tech stocks in aggregate have not declined 32% at all. The Nasdaq is around 2.5% below its 6 month high (off about 78 points).

A small list of major tech stocks not down substantially during ZNGA's public time frame: AAPL, INTC, HPQ, DELL, CSCO, MSFT, GOOG, ORCL, IBM, SAP, CRM, AMZN, RAX, BIDU, EBAY, EMC, and so on.

edit: just ran ZNGA against that list of stocks, and it's under performing all of them by a wide margin, and on average is below that group by roughly 35% over the last 90 days. It's blatantly specific to ZNGA, and given the date the plunge began, it is about the market questioning ZNGA's business as prompted by the OMGPOP acquisition. The only other big league disaster in tech on par with ZNGA right now is Groupon's stock.

"It takes nothing to produce a hot game. You merely need somebody with a computer, a good idea, and the ability to make a game. Making a game is not rocket science. Making matters worse for Zynga is that it does not and never will control the distribution channels."

Yes, that's why everyone with a CS degree has made millions of dollars. This is offensive to everyone that makes games.

His point isn't that everyone can do it, obviously that's not true, but that there is nothing about it that requires a multi-billion dollar company. To wit, the barrier to entry is low.

>You merely need somebody with a computer, a good idea, and the ability to make a game

The barrier to entry is low from the perspective of sunken costs other than development time, being a purely creative endeavor that you can work on with mostly free software tools.

However, the talent required to pull off a quality game and the time it takes are huge and only grow exponentially. That in recent years we've got a couple of indie games that were successful, that's only because on mobile devices the expectations for CGI quality are for the moment low. Plus, with these app stores, the budget required for marketing has decreased, if you're lucky enough to have your app featured.

And while you can create indie games for the desktop and be successful, as Minecraft shows, the expectations for quality CGI are much higher and so it takes an insane amount of creativity to fill the blanks.

Now, of course, Zynga games are not really on the same level as what id Software or Blizzard are releasing and you can certainly picture yourself pulling off games of the same quality, as Zynga games are nothing special, except for the social-network effects.

However you shouldn't underestimate the effort required to build a game from scratch. I consider it to be by far one of the most challenging fields in software development, as not only it requires great feats of engineering, but it also requires creativity and design. E.g. developers by themselves can barely pull it off without the help of a good artist that can draw.

> To wit, the barrier to entry is low.

... but the barrier to success on the scale of FarmVille or Draw Something is very high. That's when a company with massive amounts of money that can be spent to hire game developers and market to users has a distinct advantage.

"It takes nothing to win the lottery. You merely need to buy a lottery ticket."

Since this article is about Zynga as a publicly traded company, I interpreted the author's statement in terms of capital investment, not capability. To put the author's statement in perspective, compare Zynga to Valve. Both have been successful creating and selling games, but Valve is actively working to control its distribution channel. Which business model would you invest in?

No it is offensive to those who think to highly of themselves.

Game design is not a science. Try enough times and you will create a hit.

The quants at Zynga beg to differ about game design being a science. It literally is a scientific endeavour : experiment, collect data, iterate.

They use that 'science' for optimization of various metrics within the game: retention, monetization, etc. Game design begins much earlier, and a lot of it is not subject to the experimental method: look at their failed games like Mafia Wars 2, and understand that their fundamental flaws can't be iterated or experimented off.

This story (Draw Something losing ~5M customers/month) annoys me. It's an example of not knowing the difference between causation, correlation and coincidence. In at least some cases people are making that "mistake" for link-bait reasons and to push an agenda (eg they hate Zynga).

The idea that 5M/month Draw Something care about the Zynga purchase is ludicrous. It seems Zynga has made some annoying changes to the game, at least for those that use Facebook to login, but even so.

I think the only story here is that Zynga overpaid for something that was peaking. They may purchased OMGPOP just in case it turned into something huge. There's plenty of that going on (cough Instragram cough).

I've tried Draw Something. It's amusing and I can see the appeal but from all usage patterns I've seen the game has a pretty short shelf life. A game with a short shelf life is going to lose lots of customers once it peaks. It's inevitable.

As for how easy it is to make a game, that's actually hard. I believe you should also separate "normal" games from "social" games here as both are radically different.

Normal games are like blockbuster movies. You want people to buy up big. You deliberately build up the hype. There is very little in the way of long tail in revenue in most cases (other than sequels). I consider this a fairly "honest" or ethical practice because you pay the sticker price and you have your fun.

Social games are more like TV shows. You're trying to build a persistent audience and you're all about the long tail. The part that bothers me is the psychological trickery that goes into this. Social games are really about manipulating the psychological triggers for addiction and I don't really see a distinction between this and, say, gambling addiction.

Some people spend an awful lot on these games (I believe Zynga calls people who spend over $10k "whales" [1]). Zynga and similar companies like to whitewash this with "maybe they're just rich". I believe they know better. They are (IMHO) preying on the weak and those arguably with mental health problems ("it's not unethical, it's funethical!").

Successful social games are all about Big Data. Figuring out what works, what doesn't, analyzing your customer usage and adjusting to maximize revenue and retention.

They're not even "games" really. They're just exercises in repetition.

Anyway, rant aside, I don't like Zynga either but please don't confuse the OMGPOP purchase with a short shelf-life peaking purchase.

[1]: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/zyngas-quest-for-bigspe...

Your comparison between normal and social economic models within these games is interesting, especially how you equate it to ethics. But if you're going to gripe about people who spend enormous amounts of money who may not have it (ie. addicted players) you also have to consider people who spend enormous amounts of time as well.

Because if you're going to go there, then its equally as harmful spending time away from your friends and family in front of a computer screen, especially when you consider the fact that you don't need any money to do it.

"Yes StarcraftII, I will gladly give you $50 and hundreds of hours of my life away, but thank god you're way more ethical of a game than that one that takes up 2 minutes of my bus ride and cons me into spending $1.99 on my way to work"

Addiction is everywhere. Its a sad fact of life. There are people who are addicted to shopping, but Macy's doesn't turn away repeat customers. There are people addicted to food, but Olive Garden/ McDonalds doesn't turn away morbidly obese people. There are people addicted to drinking, but Safeway doesn't do a health scan and deny these people from buying liqour. Similarly, I wouldn't expect Zynga or Blizzard to be like "hey, you've spent $10k/1000 hours on my game, why don't you go see your family or put your money to better use".

The bottom line is: People don't like being manipulated. "Not turning an addict away" is different than actively seeking addicts (or purposefully turning people into addicts). McDonald's R&D doesn't attempt to solve the question "how can I convince someone to eat every single meal of the day at McDonald's."

What a strange example to choose since this is actually precisely what fast food companies do: the food at mcdonalds is designed around keeping you hungry despite eating it (its quite literally JUNK food). For example, a Coca Cola contains a ton of salt as well as sugar, so that your thirst is not quenched in the same way as drinking water. I'd list more examples but there is just so much literature around this now that a simple google search should suffice (even just watching Supersize Me would be a good start - -This movie is actually very related to your point as it deals with how McDonalds used to ask you to supersize, which is clearly a proactive position in making you eat vs. just not turning you away).

But even beyond that, there was just recently an article on how McDonalds is introducing snack wraps because they perceive that the best way to grow now is to convince people to eat at McDonalds BETWEEN meals as well. The article was basically centered around "where does the biggest fast food chain go from here?" (looking for link and will edit shortly if I find it). If you look at the advertising behind these new additions, they are trying to train people that they should eat these snacks in-between their other existing meals, "on the go". So basically, you're hypothetical is actually not devious enough: they've already been so successful at convincing their target market to eat all their meals at McDonald's that they now need to create new meals in order to grow!

Edit: I believe this was the article: http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2011/08/23/why-mcdonalds-w...

"a Coca Cola contains a ton of salt as well as sugar"

It's about 0.045g sodium per 354mL can. That's about 1/50th of a healthy daily sodium intake. What effect that has on thirst I do not know, but calling that a "ton" is simply false.

Check up on the facts to avoid repeating propaganda.

My mistake, you are absolutely right that it contains relatively little sodium -- however upon reviewing the facts upon your excellent suggestion, it is in fact a diuretic (due mainly to the caffeine content). Thus, it does very much cancel out the hydration it supposedly provides. So, yes I forgot the reason it works against itself but it very much does. So whereas drinking the equivalent amount of water would leave you satisfied an hour later, with Coke you may very well be going back to buy another bottle (also perhaps due to the crash from the initial sugar rush).

Coca Cola contains relatively little caffeine by fluid volume compared to, say, coffee. But more importantly, it's well documented that regular users of caffeine build up tolerance to its diuretic effects. From the Wikipedia page on caffeine:

"Most people who consume caffeine, however, ingest it daily. Regular users of caffeine have been shown to develop a strong tolerance to the diuretic effect,[34] and studies have generally failed to support the notion that ordinary consumption of caffeinated beverages contributes significantly to dehydration, even in athletes.[35][36][37]"

Here are the references:

[34] ^ a b c Maughan RJ, Griffin J (December 2003). "Caffeine ingestion and fluid balance: a review". J Hum Nutr Diet 16 (6): 411–20. doi:10.1046/j.1365-277X.2003.00477.x. PMID 19774754.

[35] ^ O'connor, Anahad (2008-03-04). "Really? The claim: caffeine causes dehydration". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-08-03.

[36] ^ Armstrong LE, Casa DJ, Maresh CM, Ganio MS (July 2007). "Caffeine, fluid-electrolyte balance, temperature regulation, and exercise-heat tolerance". Exerc Sport Sci Rev 35 (3): 135–40. doi:10.1097/jes.0b013e3180a02cc1. PMID 17620932.

[37] ^ Armstrong LE, Pumerantz AC, Roti MW, Judelson DA, Watson G, Dias JC, Sokmen B, Casa DJ, Maresh CM, Lieberman H, Kellogg M (June 2005). "Fluid, electrolyte, and renal indices of hydration during 11 days of controlled caffeine consumption". Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 15 (3): 252–65. PMID 16131696.

This is an incredibly thorough defense of a commercial soft-drink. You kind of sound like a coke dealer. Basically, all this stuff is bad because it gives you momentary pleasure at the cost of your long term health. It seems like splitting hairs to decide who to blame. Just say no.

Dude, I copy and pasted straight from Wikipedia. How exactly is that a thorough defense? I don't drink caffeinated beverages, so I haven't even got a dog in this hunt.

Any chance the added salt just makes it taste a little better? Maybe their scientists are working really hard at making coke taste really good (to the masses, IMHO all soda is gross)... which is addicting, because people like things that taste good?

  > McDonalds used to ask you to supersize, which is
  > clearly a proactive position
1. You're already inside of a McDonald's ordering a meal when they ask you the question. The question did not convince you to dine at McDonald's in the first place.

2. Eating a few more fries and drinking a bit more soda is not an encouragement of addiction. The extra bit of food and drink is not going to be the deciding factor in whether or not you end up so addicted to McDonald's that you have to keep coming back for more. (Note: I'm not saying that it's healthy)

3. French fries and soda are huge profit centers for McDonald's, which is why they encourage you to pay them more for a bit extra. There was no evil McDonald's marketing meeting where it was decided that adding "super size" as an option would keep people coming back to McDonald's like heroin addicts. McDonald's keeps people coming back by: 1) having food with a pleasing taste -- not necessarily healthy -- 2) via branding, and 3) consistency -- people can count on McDonald's food to taste the same anywhere within the same country.

  > they've already been so successful at convincing
  > their target market to eat all their meals at
  > McDonald's
Are you really going to claim that McDonald's target market is eating all their meals at McDonald's? Really?

Sounds good, but it's exactly contrary to how McDonald's operates. At McD's, the goal is to upsell continuously. To transform casual eaters (1x per month or so) to "heavy eaters" who visit on a weekly basis.

A few minutes work at the Googles will show you how this pervasive philosophy started with all of the kids menu items and advertising, and has continued onward with the McCafe and other additions.

The goal is for you to eat three meals a day at McD's. Make no mistake about it.

That's why advertising exists though. I'm sure McDonalds would be very happy if you ate there every day. That guy from Subway did and now hes a company spokesman. So I don't believe its about manipulation - because thats an essential part of taking people's money for any business.

I'm not sure if that's the right analogy. The closer analogy would be if McDonald's had their R&D team study the chemistry of addictive substances and deliberately engineered the food in that direction.

Maybe the better analogy would be if McDonald's tested whether people enjoyed their food enough to come back often, and iterated upon that metric to maximize it. Maybe they would use imagery and psychology in their stores and advertising to elicit an emotional response in people to enjoy the "experience" of McDonald's as more than just a food production and distribution service. Maybe they would tie in to other things that people enjoyed (I don't know, like movies or something) to associate McDonald's with the positive traits people perceived in other products. Maybe if they targeted their efforts at children, in order to bring in families and indoctrinate consumers as early as possible.

I actually have no problem with any of this. They're just making a product for people to enjoy. Just because they're running data sets, tests, and using social "science" (bah) to maximize products... so what? What makes that worse than building a product based on your intuition that happens to appeal to people as well on these lines?

I think Zynga is a foul company. I think their product has a net societal cost, and I think the crap they pulled on some of their employees prior to IPO is unconscionable. But I think this aversion to using psychology to optimize your product is misplaced. Nobody is getting hypnotized here. They are just using every tool in their arsenal to make their product perform as well as possible. They do this in an unashamedly metric-based way. Every product you encounter in life attempts to influence and manipulate you. The scientific approach just happens to be very good at optimizing processes.

Last point in this rant... I do believe Zynga makes most of their money off the weak and the crazies who will put thousands of dollars they can't afford into their farmville farm. I do believe that is morally repugnant, and it's well within their power to stop that (which I'm sure they'll never do). I just don't think the design of their games is an issue... it's their billing.

Sugar and fat are addictive enough that they don't need to lace it with anything.

Actually, I always thought it was good of Blizzard to have as one of the in-game tips "Invite your friends to Azeroth, but make sure to spend time with them in the real world too!"

The cynic would retort that they said this and then did nothing...

>did nothing...

They did build in a rest mechanic where you became rested by spending time logged out which then increased your xp gain. It was at least a nod to playing casually.

Yeah, I suppose that's true. And the dungeon finder thingy (after my time) seems like it works well for casual players.

They even added a raid finder which IMO is the biggest consession to the casual player. At one time you needed to be part of an active guild and spend a lot of time in game to see all the content. Now you can queue up and while there are harder versions of the encounter the only advantage is loot that helps you climb the treadmill and bragging rights not content.

The Forbes article definitely isn't praising Zynga. But, I also didn't read that it stated the loss of users had anything to do with Zynga. The article writer actually infers that the loss of users would have happened regardless.

"but they must know that if they had waited just one more month to sell, they wouldn’t have been able to command anywhere near that price after losing so many users."

It just references the omgpop acquisition because it was very recent which makes the story more interesting.

Spot on. Nowhere did it read that users left OMGPOP because of Zynga.

> As for how easy it is to make a game, that's actually hard. I believe you should also separate "normal" games from "social" games here as both are radically different.

Valid, but I think the author's point still stands. "You merely need somebody with a computer, a good idea, and the ability to make a game." That's true. Look at Tiny Wings. Andreas Illiger happened to be incredibly good at game design, and was a capable iOS programming. Granted, it's a rare combination. And perhaps it IS rocket science to make multiple successful games. But when you've got tens of thousands of young developers who enjoy making these games, probability dictates that occasionally one of them will strike gold.

I don't think social gaming is inherently more predatory. Long-shelf-life games are every developer's dream. Why make hundreds of little games when you can make a few big sellers? So every game developer loves features that keep users coming back, whether discovered intentionally or accidentally. Adding social capabilities to a game makes it infinitely more fun. (Remember when we played board games? It's really a return to the days when games were social endeavors.) Social capabilities are just another feature that keeps users coming back. It's just such a big draw that you can get users spending thousands of dollars. I fail to see how that's much different from hardcore console gamers spending thousands on the latest Xbox + PlayStation + games.

You are not distinguishing between "socializing" social like board games or TF2 and "spammy addictive manipulative" social like Zynga's wallspamming virtual onion selling . The $$$ and most of the press is about the latter.

Remind me of The Curse of the Cow Clicker at http://wired.com/magazine/2011/12/ff_cowclicker/all/1

I'm not sure but Zynga seems as a classical example of Christensen disruption.

With mobile and new social network games Zynga is basically disrupted and they are trying to keep they dominance by acquiring new mobile gaming companies. They want to think that social games are more like TV shows, but unfortunately social games are more like YouTube - much less control over users, returns are not predictable, ...

The part that bothers me is the psychological trickery that goes into this. Social games are really about manipulating the psychological triggers for addiction and I don't really see a distinction between this and, say, gambling addiction.

Calling the reward systems in games psychological trickery is a bit much. Gameplay have long been based on the psychologically rewarding system of 'do something good, get positive feedback; do something bad, get negative feedback.'

The first arcade games had theses reward systems - do well and put your initials on the leaderboard; do poorly, pay another quarter to keep playing. The fact that it's psychologically enjoyable to play these games isn't trickery - it's basic human-environment interaction. That some people have addictive responses to these mechanisms doesn't mean it's insidious trickery, it just means some people are more likely to become dependent on the rewards these games offer.

You misunderstand the experience.

Go to Vegas sometime. Watch the people who are playing the slots for hours at a time. They are not enjoying anything. What you're seeing is compulsion and addiction, not fun. That those people are there is not some wacky accident. It's the point.

I believe that Zynga is pursuing exactly that cycle of addiction. They're a metrics and viral marketing company, not a games company.

Many people actually really enjoy playing slots. It's fun to win money, and it's fun to enjoy the dramatic moment before you know if you've won money. Some people get addicted to it, just like some people have gotten addicted to immersive PC games or really anything enjoyable. The distinction you're trying to draw is basically non-existent, except perhaps that social games and slots are simpler and revolve entirely around the unknown-reward mechanic.

That you can't perceive a distinction does not mean that it doesn't exist. People don't get addicted to everything fun in equal measure; some things are more compelling than others.

And seriously, go to Vegas and spend a couple of hours watching people play slots. Craps players are visibly having fun. The people who spend hours at the slot machines visibly aren't.

Craps, and to a lesser extent Blackjack, have some shared experiences between the players. In craps, many of the players will be betting the same, or at least very similar, way. Since there is only one dice roll for the entire table, there is a lot of shared excitement. With Blackjack, say the dealer is showing a 6, it's most likely that nobody on the table will bust, so if the dealer busts, everyone is excited. A slot machine, on the other hand, is an entirely solo experience.

I rarely play any floor games, but one time I was waiting for some friends to wake up and I wandered down to the casino to play some video poker. I ended up winning $1500 on a royal flush at a nickel machine. What am I supposed to do, start running around the casino in excitement? It was around 8:30 in the morning and the places was pretty quite. Had my friends been there, I'm sure we would have had some hi-fives or something like that, but if I'm just sitting there playing by myself, I'm not going to have any sort of substantial showcase of emotion.

I think you're correct in that a lot of people sit at the slot machines for hours, losing their paychecks in the process, and it's destructive for them. They may be looking miserable at the machines. The people playing craps who are in the process of losing their paychecks are equally as miserable, they're just showing different outward emotions. The addiction isn't any healthier because the person appears to be having fun.

I agree with this, but I'm not sure what your point is relative to the rest of the discussion. I'm pointing out that "fun" and "compelling" are distinct. You can engineer for either, or both. If you watch people playing slots, it's pretty obvious that most people who play slots for a long time are not having fun.

I guess I don't understand the difference.

I didn't once either. You may just not have much of an addictive component to your personality. But if you'd like to try an experiment, go regularly to play casual games at a site like Kongregate and focus on your feelings.

I discovered that some were fun and some were compelling. The two traits are definitely correlated, but there were plenty of games that were only one or the other. There were a number of compelling games that I fucking hated by the time I was done; they had stopped being fun long before they had stopped being compelling.

Did you find any that you kept seeing after you stopped playing, as with Tetris hallucinations?

Yes. If I play something intensely enough, especially if it's visually novel, I'll see it when I close my eyes before sleeping.

As a professional game designer of 16 years, I disagree. The designers of these games are not following the traditional idea of game design wherein you are trying to make something fun or interesting. They are deliberately trying to engineer addictive cash syphons.

Its a bit of a dilemma. On the one hand, designing a great game play experience is the epitome of good game designers.

On the other hand, maximizing revenue means you get to feed feed your family, and ensure continued existance.

I m sure this goes down to "greed". But "greed" is the basic tenant of the corporation, of which most big budget games are made in. I m not sure there is an answer to this, other than gov't legislation, and I personally don't like gov't legislation.

The 5 minutes I tried Farmville was a non-stop rollercoaster of cute little boxes trying to guilt me into clicking buttons. More "come back and click the button in 30 minutes or we'll kill this bunny and tell your friends how neglectful you are" and less "finish Mute City in under 30 seconds and get a special trophy."

Social games are completely unlike the tacked-on rewards systems in an ordinary game.

He's referring specifically to social games which, as a category, are generally much less transparent about their addictive gameplay mechanisms and extrinsic reward.

I play games because they are enjoyable.

You know the awards/achievements that seem to be included in every single game these days? I completely ignore those.

"It takes nothing to produce a hot game. You merely need somebody with a computer, a good idea, and the ability to make a game. Making a game is not rocket science."

Actually. Making a game that makes money IS rocket science (or at least as close as it can get to it).

Making a game is sort of like making music. It's so much fun, people do it for free. It's not a big deal if you have a few dozen programmers making some roguelike. If you have 10k college sophomores making games, chances are pretty good one of them will be pretty fun, and take off. The key here is, they would do it anyway. there is not free carwashing service because someone likes washing cars. there are however tons of free games, because making games is fun.

That statement couldn't possibly be more wrong.

The majority of games are created by large teams of highly talented and well paid individuals. There are certain types of games that could be created by a single college sophomore or a teeny tiny team. Most games can not. A team size of 20 is considered quite small.

Both your statement and the link's author's is incredibly wrong and incredibly insulting.

You might be on crazy pills.

M2 research says it's $10m to do a AAA title on a single platform, whereas it's 5k-20k to do a mobile title[1].

TUAW's figures show that there are approximately 42,000 iOS titles produced, which dwarfs the 18,000 console titles that have been produced in all of history [2]. So as for backing up the claim "the majority of games are created by large teams of highly talented and well-paid individuals" it's simply wrong--very wrong.

Now if we're normalizing per dollar (that is, considering how much industry $ are going to triple-AAA vs appstore crap, instead of number of titles), the argument is overwhelmingly in favor of the AAA titles, even when considering only the latest generation of console titles--about $60b to $40m, by my back-of-the-napkin arbitrary-cutoff estimate.

But that's exactly what jbri said [3] and an argument you rejected [4].

In general, the etiquette here is that if you're having an argument about facts, you bring facts to the table, and you don't respond by calling the other person "insulting" or "incredibly wrong", especially when you quote no sources and the available evidence contradicts your position. These types of replies add nothing to the discussion.

[1] http://www.m2research.com/the-brief-2009-ups-and-downs.htm [2] http://www.tuaw.com/2010/11/17/the-staggering-size-of-ioss-g... [3] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3937135 [4] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3937200

I'd say M2 research is way off the mark for the estimate of cost for a mobile title.

Let's take the $5K cost and break it down.

A competent young programmer, making $80K/year, would be paid $5K in 3.3 weeks.

However, games don't just need programmers, they also require art, so let's take $1K to pay for the artist's time. That leaves us with only 2.6 weeks of the programmer's time. Let's also say that we have a game designer who we pay $1K. That leaves us with only 2 weeks of the programmer's time.

Having been a professional mobile game developer for 7 years, I've never seen a game take only 3 people and only 2 weeks. The minimum, in my experience, is about 2 months and around 5 people, or roughly $60K, for a very simplistic game. I'd even venture to say that it is impossible to create a quality finished product in 2 weeks.

Uh, some of the best games I've ever played (and I'm a long time gamer ex-Blizzard programmer) were on Kongregate, built by a single developer (or sometimes an artist and a programmer). Honestly, it's really really expensive and difficult to build a cutting-edge FPS or MMO, but "great games" don't always fit the FPS or MMO mold.

There's a difference between the triple-A mass-market games you see at Gamestop, and the social games you see on Facebook.

Pointing out that AAA-games are expensive to develop in a discussion about social games is missing the point a little, I think.

I think forrestthewoods is pointing out that making games, even social games, is hard.

Sure it's possible for one person to develop a successful social game. But how many of those people can develop two successful social games? 5? 10+? The only name that comes to my mind is Zynga.

It's only a problem if Zynga chooses to purchase other people's winning games at huge rates. You can't throw half a billion at every kid who writes a successful game and expect in-app cash upgrades to offset it. Making a successful game is hard, but at the scale of the market, there will always be another kid next month with an unexpected hit on his hands.

Zynga can make it work either by continuing to develop successful games on their own, or by backing down from Instagram silly money on their buyout offers. But they can't make it work by pretending to be the gateway middleman for a distribution network they simply don't own.

That's the issue though. Zynga's whole business model depends on this being false: "Sure it's possible for one person to develop a successful social game." One dedicated guy can soak up some ridiculously large fraction of their 2015 revenue if you believe your own statement is true. Because the popular fall 2015 game will be by That One Guy Studios and not Zynga.

If you think social games are easy or cheap to make then you don't know very much. That goes for both facebook and mobile.

My apologies. I didn't intend to be insulting.

In my defense, i'd like to point you here. http://www.inc.com/magazine/20101001/how-i-did-it-john-veche...

Also, i meant 2 dozen programmers each making their own roguelike, like Toady One. Not dozens working on a single game. you should get graphics for a 3 million/year burn rate.

I'd like to point you to Ludum Dare, where 1402 games were made in a weekend (just in the most recent LD), all by small teams or individuals (myself included).

These may (or may not) be the quality that you would expect, but to say that people don't like to build games for fun, and that some would be fun and possibly take off, couldn't be more wrong.

Do you work in games? (me too)

I think it doesn't matter how hard it is. The barrier to entry is very low, and the social game market is already crowded and extremely competitive. You're going to have a varied number of people releasing hits, so the point is that you can't possibly buy out every shop that gets lucky with a hit, nor should you.

I completely agree that it's a lot harder than the author makes it sound – but is the comparison apt in at least one way?

Namely – most rocket science out there requires the work of a reasonably large number of contributors to actually produce a working, reliable end-product... whereas a winning game really can be made by a small number of people (or even one person) who either have the right stroke of genius, luck or skill to pull it all together.

That, of course, doesn't mean it's easy, but instead it means that the law of large numbers comes into play and more winning games will be produced because it takes fewer people/resources to make a gaming company than a rocket company. Ergo, gaming is an industry that is inherently much more difficult in which to establish a defensible competitive advantage.

Or, maybe the author really is just minimizing it all to make their point...

I'd say Zynga's problem is that they are a big fish competing in an environment that is much better suited to lots of nimble little fish. With fickle customers and increasing offerings in their segment, its going to be increasingly difficult and expensive to produce sure fire hits. The alternative is to acquire the small fish when they have a hit but that can be an equally dangerous game as proven by the OMGPOP acquisition. I just don't think being in the app/casual game business is a great spot for large public companies - there is not a lot you can leverage or ability to lock down revenue streams in any long term manner by being big. I'd be much more positive on Zynga if they had a core product that the whole company was iterating on but from what I can see that is not their model.

I'd venture that Zynga's problems are more critical than that - and not unique to Zynga. IMO social gaming (in its current format and incarnation) is a space that exists only temporarily while consumers figure things out.

Notice the explosion of FarmVille when it first came out, how everyone was playing it, and its subsequent death. It exploded into the mainstream very suddenly, and faded into niche obscurity just as quickly.

The "glorified slot machine" format of social gaming (which IMO is a perversion of the word, there's nothing social about this sort of gaming) does not have a permanent, mass-market future. It will fade and become a niche (profitable, perhaps), but it will not justify the market cap that investors have saw fit to pour into Zynga et al.

If anything, the industry in which Zynga plays has more in common with the Tamagotchi than it does with WoW.

Farmville is the number 7 game on facebook in May with 5 million daily users.You can buy Farmville yhemed cups in 7/11. A level of obscurity to dream of.

The author gives the game away at the end of his post. That is he's been predicting the demise of Zynga for years. So really the fact that the stock price has dropped gives the author some belief that they were correct.

Id imagine the drop in price is linked to the FB IPO. Not sure if anyone remembered when FB announced their plans, anything in that space increased.

I actually do think it's a coincidence that the stock price is down 38% since purchasing OMGPOP. It had a nice run up based on positive news related to the Facebook IPO, so when the market began to contract in late March/April, people took their profits. There hasn't been much positive news since then, so it hasn't rebounded. In fact, the whole technology sector is down about 32% since late March (it was +20% on the year, now its only +13.9%)[1]. Basically, I don't think the OMGPOP acquisition has had much of an effect on the stock price.

[1] http://www.google.com/finance?catid=66529330

"I have been predicting Zynga’s descent for a couple of years"

Oh, I know this trick. I also can predict descent of any company, but just not the timeframe. Eventually I will be right.

How does that saying go? "Anyone can predict rain, but the real prophet builds an ark."

With these types of predictions, I think the reasoning must be included and evaluated. Timing is incredibly difficult to nail down even if your analysis is completely correct.

The story is too easy to write about and I'm going to have to disagree here. I think it was pretty obvious that Draw Something wasn't going to last forever. And Zynga, with extremely similar games like Words With Friends, Hanging With Friends, and Scramble, knew that Draw Something was going to have the same fate.

Yes, the purchase was a little steep, but it had to happen. It had to happen because the game was formatted and structured EXACTLY like Zynga's games. With its popularity, Zynga did not want Draw Something to threaten the Zynga brand of social mobile games.

So here we are and Draw Something lost 5M users. You think Zynga didn't see that coming? Is someone really surprised? It makes sense that the drop in stock reflects the loss. I wouldn't say it's fact but it's highly probable. But, they're not dumb. The way the company works, I expect another amusing addicting social mobile game to be released in the near future to silence these stories and like other stocks it'll go where it goes, but not rock bottom.

Surprised no one has figured out why they paid so much. 20m dau at the time of acquisition means they had 20m+ user accounts (likely 3x that). All of these people are "socially obligated" to stay connected for some amount of time. How much would your company pay to acquire ~60m customers? That's not including the revenue they were bringing in. I don't dispute they paid too much, but apparently it was worth it to them.

> And yes, it is completely ridiculous for a company that is losing close to a billion dollars a year to occupy a multimillion dollar office building that looks like a children’s museum.

Where does a billion dollars a year come from? They lost 86 million last quarter. Is he equating operating costs or reduced market capital with loses?

He gets it probably from extrapolating the average of this past quarter and and the quarter before. In the quarter before the last, net income was around -435 million although I doubt their annual net will be -1B

That makes sense. You can't extrapolate from two data points though. I could just as easily claim that their profit is gaining 350 million a quarter an they'll end up with half a billion in profit for the year.

I agree thats its not sound and their is unfortunately a tendency to cherry pick data to support one's story. I'm not bullish on Zynga but I'd agree that using 2 quarters of data (if thats what is being used by the author) is unfair especially for a relatively new company like Zynga.

When I think of Zynga, I think of two words: options clawback.

Gordon Pincus is obviously very smart or he wouldn't have taken Zynga as far as it has come, but I can't see myself ever working for a company willing to confiscate options from at-will employees.

As for Zynga going down: maybe, but not anytime soon. Their business model is easy to replicate on the surface, but underneath is an awful lot of solid engineering to keep it from collapsing in on itself.

Sometimes I suspect many hackers of being anarchists. It's not always that a big company is going down, or that a certain industry needs to be disrupted from behind. It's like some of you secretly want to see the world as we know it, burning down in flames around you!

Not to defend Zynga much but please take into account the broader market when doing any kind of stock analysis, all stocks have been shaky since late March/April. Also it is typical for stocks to lose value after large acquisitions. Zynga could have even timed this more or known that the market would be going on a typical late spring/summer correction (from lower volume) and bought during that (Facebook launching in a low volume window is strange but that is another story).

OMGPOP wasn't just Draw Something. They have actually been around for a while since 2008 at least. They have had decently successful web games before and probably have a fair amount of assets that Zynga could use with Draw Something being the big icing.

Take a gander at OMGPOP.com and see what they have. They used to be called 'iminlikewithyou' http://www.crunchbase.com/company/omgpop This wasn't really a one hit wonder, it was a one BIG hit wonder but a pretty solid gaming community before and the people and tech created Draw Something. So there was something there... It is hard enough finding good developers, then there harder to find good teams, then harder to find good teams that can make hits, when you find one or the systems used to build it then it is valuable.

Let's face it there were plenty of pictionary like games available before (isketch.net comes to mind, or Doodle or Flipbook at Benetton Play have been around for ages: http://www.benettonplay.com/toybox.php), but they got the right juice. That might be what they bought.

The NASDAQ is down 4%, the past month. Zynga is down 30%.

The social gaming space has plateaued. It got incredibly big incredibly fast, but those days of growth are over. Zynga has built a dominant position, but isn't making money yet. I'm not sure what that means, but it isn't good.

I reasoned that there is no greater strategy at play by the Zynga geniuses in the war room of their ridiculous company headquarters.

Whenever I find myself thinking this way, the klaxons start going off. I'm basically saying "My mental model of a clearly smart person, surrounded by clearly smart people, who has made more money than I have and raised money from other smart people who have also made more money than I have--is that he's an idiot."

And then we get to:

So here Zynga finds itself, sitting atop a group of popular games and bracing itself for the next Draw Something to come onto the market so it can swallow it up...So the matchup is Zynga against the field, the field being every person in the world who knows how to, and has the will to create a social game.

Another way of looking at this is that Zynga is building a competitive advantage in social game monetization: if you have a given audience, Zynga can do more with it than you can. Meanwhile, giant deals like OMGPOP create a tournament dynamic, where everyone wants to build the next Draw Something. If Zynga is making their raw material cheap while putting their competitive advantage at a relative premium, that's great for their future.

It's also a more solid theory than just assuming that Pincus doesn't know what he's doing.

Zynga's fine. They correctly figured out that once you're the biggest on Facebook, it's very easy to stay there. It'd take a competitor insane money to buy up the advertising necessary to introduce a game, whereas it takes Zynga an intro to their 'try these games' bar. When a smaller competitor happens to beat the odds and get to the top for one game, Zynga must make a copy-or-buy decision. Copy if you think the competitor can't leverage (or be used as leverage by a bigger competitor) the game's temporary eyeballs, or buy if you can make good use of those temporary eyeballs to cross-sell your other games.

Draw something is a fad on fire. So rather than build (and cross-sell existing Zynga users who you 'own' already), buy the fad, cross-sell hopefully new users, cut off anybody who could have done the same. Extra points if those new users are a different type of user who wouldn't normally be caught playing X-ville junk.

Now if in six months Zynga is raking in tens of millions of dollars a month on Draw Something I will eat crow. I have a feeling that isn’t going to happen.

Zynga don't have to. Zynga doesn't care which if their games you play once you're in the system. They care about the total customer lifetime value of each user, not the 1-game value.

Which companies will be the most spectacular flameouts of internet boom, 2.0? I don't think it's much of a stretch to predict Zynga has a good chance of making the list.


I view Zynga's economics like a tv network. Their primary asset is their audience, and acquisition is a way for them to increase that. There are two different kinds of acquisitions they can do: shows that already have a following (low risk, low payoff, high cost) and promising small shows, which have opposite characteristics. The stuff they produce in-house tends to be highly targeted, less innovative stuff.

Zynga's decline has nothing to do with purchases they made and everything with Facebook killing viral channels - a year and a half ago!

Find it priceless this guy talks about knowing that the company was going down in flames but didn't sell short at all on the stock.

Exactly. Put your money where you mouth is. Especially if you'd make a lot of profit out of it. But of course, he didn't.

It wouldn't surprise me if Facebook snaps up Zynga eventually. But Zynga is definately heading in the wrong direction.. But basing this off Draw Something is silly. It's one game, and people could of seen this coming a mile away. People get bored of games eventually.

Good indication that the social media bubble won't last forener. Maybe a .com bubble 2.0?

Don't want to get into Zynga's business model but it's one sided to reference this "failed" acquisition without referencing the "with friends" franchise which has been a pretty incredible acquisition for them.

Zynga is making a gaming platform. I'm pretty sure Pincus is aware simply churning out social games isn't a good long term vision.

Once they convert Zynga Poker into an actual online paid poker site they will make an absolutely phenomenal amount of money.

"Videogame development is not rocket science." These people obviously have no idea what it takes to make a game.

Let's be fair though, there are far more organizations capable of building games than can build rockets. Teenagers in basements can and do kick-start game companies but so far it seems as though rocket building is still in the domain of governments and dot-com millionaires. That is the difference that is relevant; barrier to entry.

Buying up games as they become hot is not a sustainable strategy. It takes nothing to produce a hot game.

I'm no fan of Zynga, maybe, but this statement is false. It's typical for large companies to begin doing corporate buyouts as a strategy as they transition out of the growth-company phase. (Think Oracle.)

If it took "nothing" to produce a hot game, then we'd be flooded with new gaming millionaires. Certainly there are a few, but how many social games that your aunt plays are coming from tiny shops? And, if they're actually making money, how many of those shops would turn down a big buy-out offer from Zynga?

It's hard to bet against Zynga with Marc Pincus still in charge. Pincus is a smart cookie. :)

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