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Game Over: Zynga Shuts Down PetVille And 10 Other Titles (techcrunch.com)
178 points by chrisacky 1811 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 141 comments

As an operations guy I find this really interesting. What I find interesting is the cost vs revenue of these games.

Obviously to me there is a bunch of up front costs, art assets, game play design, etc. But once you've got the basic HTML5 code going, and the art assets in place, what are your on-going costs?

Clearly there is going to be bandwidth at scale its like $2 - $3 per megabit per month, you've got power/cooling in a colo, so that's going to cost you maybe $3K/month for a 42U rack's worth of servers. And presumably you've got a couple of opsen types tending and feeding that rack. But they are split across say 100 racks so 1/100th of their salary/benefits per month, lets call it $160/month [1]. So lets give the game 500Mbits of bandwidth a month (that is 4.3TB of data transfer per day) We can put 20 beefy servers in our 42U rack with 20TB of disk space and 1/2TB of flash in each (we do this at Blekko)So 400TB of disk space and 10TB of flash, and if you wanted 3.8TB of RAM (192GB/server) and 480 threads of execution.

Now I'm making a huge assumption here, and so I'm calling it out, but my assumption is that the "game" is essentially a front end on a database, where player actions become database transactions, and those transactions show up as changes in the game 'world', further those transactions are both shared (everyone in the game can see them) and private (only you see the changes). So a system that is slightly less beefy than our setup (the Sun setup) gets 10M transactions/minute in the TPC-C benchmark [2]. At that level it suggest our stack-o-servers might support 1 - 2M players.

So our monthly cost is on the order of $6,500 and we're hosting say 1.5M players. That means we need to extract something like a half cent per month out of those players in order to pay for running the hardware. For a gross margin of 50% that is about .86 cents.

I may be completely off here somewhere, please point out my math or configuration errors! It seems like one could essentially run a game 'forever' until that average number got too low and then you would have to wind it down, but one wonders about how hard it is get get someone to pay a penny a month.

I did leave out the maintenance (warranty) cost of the servers, a recent quote from a server vendor had 'everything covered, onsite tech' for $175/server/month. So if you wanted to add that in then there would be another $3,500/month to cover.

It looks like a license to print money but clearly there is something here that sucks all that money away. Curious what it is.

[1] That is two ops people with a combined salary/benefit package costing $200K/year or 16K/month which divided by 100 (1/100th of their work) is $160.

[2] http://www.tpc.org/tpcc/results/tpcc_perf_results.asp?result...

I've worked for one of Zynga's competitors, and you are omitting one significant cost. It is vital for these games to add content monthly if not weekly, and these games are released with a large number of known bugs that are slowly fixed through the games lifetime. I'd say that any of these games, once released has at least two programmers and three artists working almost exclusively on bug fixing and adding features. Last game I worked on we had three programmers working on the client full time on it, two programmers doing occasional work on the backend and three artists creating assets for at least five months after release. I quit about this time, but my guess is this expenses went on for at least a year.

Wouldn't cutting off support and updates for the game be a better alternative than shutting it down though? If someone is hooked on the game, they won't care much for new updates.

If they get bored, they find a new game to play. As long as the game is at least profitable, run it until it isn't.

The only other reason for closing a game prematurely like this would be to minimize people complaining about the lack of support for a game, which could translate to "Zynga sucks, they haven't added anything in months, clearly they've stopped caring about their customers!" by players who either forgot about or didn't get the memo.

> If someone is hooked on the game, they won't care much for new updates.

Eh, no. It's specifically the new updates that people get hooked on. The new updates are what drive people to do the microtransactions. Without such updates, I'd expect income to drop by a few orders of magnitude: well below profitability.

I think what is being said is that the lack of support may mean the game would die in 1 year due to becoming unprofitable but why lose 1 year of profits?

No, that's not what I'm saying at all. I haven't been able to come up with a good summary; I'd recommend playing any Zynga game for a bit (about 60 minutes of actual play time, I'd say; make sure you look at the "quests" or whatever they call them and the currencies involved) and figuring out their per-game business model. You won't have to pay anything; you'll risk cookies and stuff, but if you ask I'm sure someone can suggest ways to keep clean.

If you've done that and still don't understand, I can try to explain further. It's not about support. It's about regularly asking for money. The moment you stop asking is the moment you lose revenue. Think of it like church. Every Sunday, they pass the collection plate. If they don't pass the plate, they don't get paid.

You are dead on. Plus I love the church analogy.

These games have to have some type of limited-time element. You have 2 weeks to get the special "one-time only" pink zebra and if you don't earn it in two weeks you'll never be able to get the pink zebra again.

Or you can just buy some credits to buy the zebra for $20 in USD.

These games require limited-time only things to make money. Every holiday (valentines, easter, 4th of july) is a big event. The cost of the game is not servers, it's 5-10 full time staff to run it.

Many mmo's don't die, they just contract to a single server of active players that are profitable long after everyone else has forgotten about the game and development and bug fixes have stopped.

There seem to be a similar tiny minority of fans that could keep these Zynga games barely alive for much longer, so why isn't Zynga doing this? My guess is they view hardcore customers as suckers and would rather have them spending $20 a month on a new title with new content then $1 a month keeping a near dead title just over break even. Carrying the example math forward even if they lose 95% of these hardcores it's going to be worth it if they can move 5% of them to a new release.

MMOs are able to continue generating content without developer input via PvP, or by allowing players to create new characters and run the grind again, or by allowing players to talk to one another inside the game context.

That's not content that's activity and Zynga games have the same ability to run the grind ad nauseum, interact with other users, etc. If Joe Customer wants to log in and keep feeding 25 cent cookies to his Zynga dog every morning he could keep doing that forever.

> That's not content that's activity

It's a reason to continue paying money.

> Zynga games have the same ability to run the grind ad nauseum, interact with other users, etc.

No, they don't. In an MMO, if you get to level 80 as a cleric, you can go back and redo all the zones as a warrior. In a Zynga game, this isn't available: it's what MUD designers called single ladder advancement. You get to level 80 and that's it: you can only keep buying more stuff, or only maintain what you have. That's very different. There's no reason to make a new Facebook account and start over.

In an MMO, there are a plethora of interactions, mostly related to group activities. In a Zynga game, interactions are pushed into status updates. To bring in another analogy, an MMO is like a bar. You can go there, sit down, and chat with people. You can buy a beer if you want, but you don't have to. A Zynga game, however, is a beer. You can talk with people over said beer, but that talking isn't an intrinsic part of the experience of the beer. And at the bottom of the cup, it says, "Tell your friends how great this beer was to get more beer!"

> If Joe Customer wants to log in and keep feeding 25 cent cookies to his Zynga dog every morning he could keep doing that forever.

Yes. But are there enough of him to justify keeping the servers running?

In MMOs, the answers tends towards yes, because the interesting activities tend to be group-friendly, which naturally pushes up the number of people playing and paying. You can't say the same about Zynga games.

could hurt the brand if it becomes known for letting games wither on the vine just to milk a few dollars.

You are overlooking opportunity costs. All of your players could be playing a more profitable game instead.

Ok, so you're saying I need to measure this stack against another game that I could ship on this stack. So leaving it generating revenue $X is a loss of additional revenue $Y-$X if I deployed a game that had $Y revenue on the same hardware. Does that about cover it?

The assumption in that though is that game $Y cannibalizes $X. Which is to say if you also release a new game $Y your returns on $X go away.

And while I see that as true with similar/derivative games "CashVille 2" is just like "CashVille 1" but with unicorns or something, I am not sure I'm persuaded that we do accrue an opportunity cost against different game. This is the root of the reasoning in my print money comment.

The reasoning is that if this config pays for the development cost and then generates marginal $ over time, you just add another stack to increase the marginal dollars you get. A writer releasing a second book doesn't 'cut into' sales of the first book, if nothing else they can sometimes increase the revenue of the first book by getting wider visibility.

I'm interested though in how we might reason about the opportunity cost here.

One aspect you aren't twigging on is that the monetization strategy is tied to the game design. Even if every game, on average, took in the same amount of money once it hits critical mass, players aren't going to invest in games that their friends aren't playing, so splitting the audience up hurts Zynga. Their growth strategy was one of complete content saturation using fast-follow tactics. "If they aren't playing Zynga game X, then we want to make sure the other game they will be playing will be Zynga game Y instead." This worked during the explosive growth period, but it's very wasteful now growth is slowing or even shrinking (I'd need to look at the numbers more closely).

As was also mentioned elsewhere, players are always hungry for new items, and my guess is that Zynga has plenty of metrics to indicate that new items is where the money goes (a hefty dose of behavioral economics like scarcity is used on those ones). Simply leaving a game open, or closing it to new players, is probably leaving money on the table. That said, I think there's a big risk in teaching players that their virtual items really do just disappear into the ether.

My guess is it's the right move for Zynga to make, but Indiana Jones and Mafia Wars 2 is a huge blow to them. They were flagship products, and both of them are only a year or so old.

Unlike books, I think the market for these games is inelastic. A player is going to devote four hours per day to some game, chosen from the available games. You want that to be your most profitable game. Allowing them to play other less profitable games is not optimal.

If you somehow knew I was going to buy exactly one book, you'd do your best to make it a hardcover and pull the paperback off the shelf.

So far, for me, this is the most compelling reasoning. In theory to incur an opportunity cost you have to be constrained in some way, clearly Zynga isn't constrained in adding hardware or people (they are laying off in this case) but I can see how the customer's attention span is a constraint. If they have a fixed amount of game time then you're competing for your place in that time slot.

The problem with your explanation is that the player is going to devote AT MOST 4 hours to SOME game, yours or otherwise. There's a risk that those who are leaving the existing game may jump to another game from another company. Reevaluation moments are dangerous.

Actually I'm saying that even the most ardent player of these sorts of games only plays a few of them at any one time. If Farmville is capturing $n net per player, but a new game is capturing $n x 1.25 net per player, your better off killing Farmville, if you think enough Farmville players would then switch. I don't know if this is the case, but that is what I meant by "opportunity cost."

There are other factors to consider.

Zynga had copied ideas from competitors, wasn't Cityville a Sims rip-off? Not only that but competitors were ripping off Zynga ideas as well.

I understand the need to constantly change the game to attract new customers and sell new items to the existing customers. I had played Playdom's Marvel Avenger's Alliance, but recently quit because the bugs were very serious and each new thing they added created problems in the PvP mode as well as more bugs. In order to be competitive in that game you need to buy gold to buy rare items on sale for a limited time. My problem was that they have a "Maintenance"/Refresh bug and after I bought gold and paid $20 that I was not given the gold by the game. I filed a tech support ticket with Playdom over it and gave them my Facebook account name and Paypal address. They just ignored it for weeks. Eventually I had to file a complaint with Paypal for not receiving goods that I paid for and was awarded $20 in my dispute with Playdom. Then a few weeks later Playdom had my Facebook account banned claiming "unauthorized credit card use" but that was not the case, it was failure to deliver goods paid for. After trying to resolve the issue with Facebook and Playdom, I eventually quit and removed the game from my profile. I refuse to play any more Playdom or any of its competitors because of bugs so serious that you don't get what you paid for, and they refuse to give you what you paid for or refund your money. I heard from other players that Zynga does that as well. Basically it comes down to this, if they ignore the request for a refund for 30 or 60 days, Paypal or the credit card/debit card company cannot issue a refund after a certain amount of time after the transaction.

I have never in my life seen such buggy software as these so called online social network games. I have never seen such sh*tty tech support as these online social networking games. I'll bet that this is what affects their profit margin, once users get burned in buying premium content they will either play the game without buying anything else, or they will like me quit playing from that company or all companies.

what was it that had you pay $20 to purchase in the first case?

I havent paid to play a social game so I'm really curious as I havent played any Facebook games before.

Nope I spent hundreds before that, and was a customer for life. Playing for almost a year.

Any company with shtty tech support and pss poor customer service is going to lose customers by making them unhappy and then spiral their stock out of control into a bankruptcy. That includes Facebook themselves, who even after proof that I didn't get gold in the game for my $20, sided with Playdom in banning my account for a day for "unauthorized credit card use" of my own Paypal account.

Here is another thing, Paydom's TOS says I must file a support ticket with them, I did and nothing happened and they ignored the problem, Paypal's TOS says I have to resolve disputes with them which I did by creating a ticket, and then Facebook got upset because their TOS says I have to resolve disputes with them. Which one gets priority? Playdom and Facebook refused to do anything and then banned my account anyway even if I did nothing wrong and I was the one who was punished for a bug in the game that doesn't give me gold I legally paid for with my own account. That is all kind of messed up there and if this is what happens to a typical user who needs a refund due to a bug in the game not giving gold or whatever they paid for, then this whole industry is going bankrupt into another Dotcom bubble burst. You never do this to your customers, never!

I had to buy gold to buy things in the game I needed. Like ISO8 Goo to do special missions to win a special limited edition super hero, buy better weapons, or ISO8 gems to make my super heroes better.

It is hard to explain, but in order to play the game better you need to keep buying stuff. Zynga games are like that as well. If you don't buy stuff then you suffer in the game and other players can beat you up better.

thanks for your reply! Do you find that you get more enjoyment out of these types of games rather than on or offline games where you pay up front without "pay-2-play"?

Good point, these games are competing with each other. I think Starbucks ran into this problem in the late 90's.

It's quite an assumption to think that after playing petville for 2 years and seeing the plug pulled, these people will be flocking to other Zynga games.

Games have a maintenance burden which you haven't factored into the equation. This maintenance requires effort, time and money. Sounds like Zynga was stretched too thin, and had bought too many companies without really working out what the ongoing costs would be.

There is a fine line between maintaining the current player-base and attracting new players, and the money in both is fast and hard to come by (however the latter is more exciting).

It would be an unfortunate charity to give little to no attention to attracting new players but instead letting the current player-base stagnate, and it's troublesome to keep assigning hard-working developers and artists to maintain the slow and steady decline of a game.

Make no mistake; killing off the stagnating games is in the best interest of the artists and game developers in the same way that it is financially sane.

Sounds like you have some better first hand knowledge here, tell me is there no situation in which you just 'run' the game and artists and game developers are no longer involved?

This is a critical point for me. I was a huge World of Warcraft fan, played a lot, and would still play a lot if it wasn't a complete waste of time :-) I also play 'Settlers of Catan.' (SoC) I've played SoC since it came out, and while it has had a couple of expansions, I don't play them, I still play the original. Once I got the box and tiles and cards there was no additional participation of any game designers or artists. The game continues to grab followers, the marginal cost of shipping a new one is some injection molded plastic and printed cardboard.

Why aren't there computer games like SoC ?

Blizzard is an excellent example.

They are doing a great job at maintaining a balance between attracting new players and maintaining existing players, particularly in the recent Cataclysm expansion and Mists of Pandaria expansion.

The Cataclysm expansion was massive in that it revamped the existing world in addition to adding new content and I believe this is highly undervalued by existing players. Furthermore they have applied the same attention to detail to an entirely new expansion (MoP), and the gold-trim is really starting to shine through -- especially with regards to how well received the pet battles are (appealing to new and returning players) and how well received the challenge modes are (appealing to existing players).

Since Cataclysm was such a huge under-taking it took an astronomical amount of time and effort and they have adopted a policy of more regular intervals between expansions and patches, and in that regard Cataclysm was an opportunity to stream-line their entire workflow (from art design to player-facing content) -- an impressive feat in itself for which they are currently reaping the benefits.

The amount of over-head involved in making making new content and engaging consumers is expensive in all fields from offline single-player games to online multi-player games and from movies to music, and Zynga's shotgun approach to new games has been expensive and it's starting to hurt them.

> Blizzard is an excellent example.

Blizzard is a complete mystery. I paid for a copy of Starcraft: Brood War when it first came out (1998), and I've played on Battle.net using my original serial on and off ever since. Their servers are still up and running silky smooth, 15 years later.

What is even MORE amazing is that I was in Best Buy four days ago, and I saw not one, but TWO copies of the Starcraft Battle Chest (Starcraft, the expansion, and strategy guides for both) still selling at $30.

I first bought my battlechest in 2000 for $30.

So 14 years after the release of the original game, it still moves enough copies for Best Buy to have it on the shelves.

To keep adding things to the amazing-list. Blizzard is updating this game even 10+ years after it's release.

Last patch is from 2009 and the game was released 1998, http://forums.battle.net/thread.html?topicId=14498532341

Starcraft has player numbers that would make a two-year-old game envious. I have no doubt Blizzard will kill it off at roughly the same player count as other companies with similar games, but for now it's well worth them keeping it running.

I had bought the game years ago and installed and played it yesterday, 2 versus 2. It is really a great game.

Yes, that is a great counter point.

Zynga's taking advantage of human psychology to abuse their customers who have been playing their games for a long time. I didn't realize this until working this out while responding to your post:

By killing off the oldest games, Zynga causes a significant segment of its customer base to substitute newer games for the older ones. These customers are probably the most profitable (they likely buy stuff in game), and they will likely make purchases in the new games as well.

This has another benefit for Zynga in that it lets them play games with the user metrics for their newest titles (thus making the stock holders happy). Having a long-time customer start playing a new/trending game is just as good as (or better than, see above) a brand new customer.

Was that last question ironic? Aren't you describing a traditional 'boxed'/retail PC/console game? That's something that is well designed and self contained that you buy once and can enjoy forever (if you have some friends to play it with).

(IMO, in the context of Zynga and similar, the idea of pay-once-play-forever games is off topic in this discussion!)

> the marginal cost of shipping a new one is some injection molded plastic and printed cardboard

...times several thousand copies if it's going to be worth firing up the presses and machines.

I started playing farmville over a year ago to learn about what made Zynga so successful. Farmville is the lowest quality game I have ever seen. For a while, every time you loaded the game there was a php array of what looked like debug information echoed to the page just before the game loaded. There were numerous times where I would queue up a bunch of work in the game, only to get a message saying that "Farmville has been enhanced, please refresh to continue". Refreshing the page would mean I have to click on all those trees again. Every time you load the game you need to close about 5 promotional offers attempting to get you to buy farm cash, or invite your friends to play the game. The game employs emotionally manipulative tactics to get people to use farm cash (in game currency you pay for). Every once in a while you will get a pop up with a picture of a sad horse which needs shelter. It will run away if you don't feed him now! There are also a lot of annoying promotions that pop up and you are not given the option dismiss them. The only button provided is "Start now" or "Tell me more...". The game if full of bugs, and occasionally has pop up windows that have no text and empty buttons. I attempted to log in for the first time in 4 months today, and I could not play the game because it lags so bad despite my having a new computer. To be fair my map has all possible spaces filled with lime trees, so that is where the lag comes from.

I respect your efforts. It would be great to see a spectrum analysis of all their games in this way, if for nothing more than to show, holistically, how bad of a company Zynga is...

To be fair, I'd like to see the same for the KixEye games as well - as they are making money hand over fist (according to a good friend who works there).

See "What I Learned From FarmVille - So You Don’t Have To Play It" http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1940778

In my experience Zynga have amongst the most polished of the social games. I've encountered occasional bugs but nothing like you're describing here. If what you describe is typical how do you explain their huge audience?

With these kinds of games I really surprised Zynga didn't provide a more graceful wind down. As the article suggests, there must be HUGE numbers of people with real emotional attachment to their characters/pets, who almost by definition are Zynga's most loyal customers. SURELY a business decision which exclusively hurts those who are stakeholders in the games you produce is, from a long term perspective, just a horrible move for customer loyalty and reputation.

If I'd put 4 years into a pet on Petville, only to have the game basically deleted from under my nose, there is no way I'd ever become involved in anything Zynga does again.

[Disclaimer, I've never actually played any Zynga games, so this is based on second hand conversions/observations]

It's possible that some of these games had paying user retention numbers such that maintaining customer loyalty among the holdouts was not a hard requirement. I don't have a convenient way to look up MAUs at the moment, but many apps languish at say 10k. That would imply a few hundred paying customers. The majority of them would be worth whole tens of dollars in LTV.

One of my rare compliments to Zynga: they aren't stupid and it is highly, highly unlikely that the live teams' business analysts made a worse decision based on the data than an outsider would make based on a press release.

I think it would be a straight numbers decision as you guess. A lot of companies would worry about how this would impact those high value and long term customers and how it could effect retention in other games and future projects. I think Zynga is passed that point now though (if that ever was a concern for them, they have never really been a games company a rational person would have a strong connection to).

Pretty much all the big name MMOs released in the past 10 years have gracefully downsized and maintained maintenance for the player base.

Not only 4 years, probably plenty of money also.

Most of the comments are made up.

The article was amazingly sympathetic to Zynga's management. Almost as if... Hmmm... Almost as if... Someone sent them a press release and they reprinted it verbatim in exchange for an exclusive interview or an advertising buy.

Now now, are you saying coverage on Tech Crunch can be bought? I'm shocked I tell you, shocked!

"Your winnings, sir." (Transfers 1,000,000 Facebook credits to Tech Crunch's account.)

I thought it was pretty jarring. If there is anything the world should be able to agree on, it is that Pincus is an insufferable * and a terrible manager.

Well, it's been reported that he has tear ducts and occasionally uses them.

You're confused: those are shunts for refilling the venom sacs.

"Our early employees have stock amounts disproportionate to how I value them (T n T )"

>But Zynga’s share price got decimated over the past year.

Well no, not really. I mean, yes, I guess it technically did. Then it got decimated again. And then it got decimated 12 more times.

I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle with "decimate." Glad to see there's somebody else on HN still fighting the good fight though.

The battle was lost hundreds of years before you were born. The Oxford English Dictionary lists the first quotation for the loose "to destroy or remove a large proportion of" meaning of "decimate" in 1663.

Yeah, I know. It still strikes me as an odd usage though.


That's incorrect. You seem to have some misconceptions about how decimation was used by the Romans. They did not use it on their enemies. Rather, it was used on their own military units as a disciplinary measure (usually in response to mutiny).

And the way it was administered was not to pick the strongest men. Instead, they used a lottery system like drawing lots to choose which 10% would be killed.

Since it was a form of military punishment, it would not have made sense to kill the strongest men. That would have reduced the deterrent effect, and also would have unnecessarily crippled that unit. Since the whole point of the practice was as a replacement for executing the entire mutinous unit, it would have been absurd to do so by destroying the cream of the crop.

Pacificly, schedule a biannual renumeration review. Uttered near me. My happiness was decimated (modern usage).

Linguo... IS dead.

What's the battle? I'm seeing two definitions:

1. Kill, destroy, or remove a large percentage of. 2. Drastically reduce the strength or effectiveness of (something): "plant viruses that can decimate yields".

He's referring to the Roman martial practice of decimation, which I believe is source of the word. (As a Roman history lover, it is a word that bothers me as well)

The battle is that usage 2 is relatively young (being only a few hundred years old), and some people object to it.

Lots of words change meanings, and hundreds of years is usually enough time for a new meaning to become totally unobjectionable. But I think the main issue here is that the word so clearly derives from the Latin for "ten" that it just sticks out like a sore thumb.

English is not Latin. Please, just accept this.

The Spanish word diezmar, shockingly enough, also means to destroy (or cut by a tenth), even though it looks like it's got a ten in there, too.

And I bet that word sounds odd to some native Spanish speakers, and they object to it on etymological grounds. Just like decimate.

the italian word "decimare" also means both

I'm a 35 year old latin and I have never, ever heard anybody use that word, not on TV, not on books, not on nothing. I had to look it up too see if it was real. Is a weird word, please don't use.

Diesmo, on the other hand is quite common and I guess you can say that diesmar is the act of giving the tenth of your profits to the church. Still, diezmar is a dead word.

Instead we use decimo for tenth and decimar for destroy.

Cool, though I wonder what the origin of decimar is. :)

As others have pointed out, the "battle" is actually against both usage 1 and 2: the original meaning[1] is to kill only 10% of a legion (etc) as punishment for some misdeed. It's the large reduction implied in current usage of decimate that gets pedants all riled up.

[1]: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/decimate#Etymology

Oops, I misread the comment I was replying to.

What are you trying to say? The word was used quite correctly.

Decimate means to remove 1 out of 10, so a decimated share price would have fallen by only 10%, technically.


You are not even "technically" correct and I have to say it's really annoying seeing this come up again and again in every HN thread where someone uses the word. Even setting aside that, yes, usage dictates meaning in English, the OED has included the definition against which you rail for 350 years.

You're wrong. And you're the worst kind of wrong: pedantically wrong. Please stop.

It's basically a skunked term at this point. No matter which sense you use it in, some subset of your readers is going to take umbrage.

There are other, better, words available that can take its place.

There are better words, sure, but if you're going to be That Guy Who Literally-Literally Everyone Hates And Nobody Wants To Ever Talk To...be right.

Because, I mean, if you're going to be That Guy etc. etc., being right is close to the only thing you've got left.

I'm not saying I'd bring this up in casual conversation. Just that it's a word I personally choose not to use in my writing.

It used to mean that. A long, long time ago. Not for several centuries.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the etymology of words is intensely interesting. It always makes me happy to learn how words were originally used and how that meaning changed – but all that doesn’t help you decide what a word actually means right now.

The fact that people still argue argue about the only-several-centuries-old newfangled meaning of this word signifies to me that I probably shouldn't use it in my writing. If I use it to mean "reduce by one tenth" most of my readers will be confused; if I use it to mean "destroy," a vocal minority will be annoyed.

Uhm, no you do not get to move the goal posts.

Argue against using the word. Don’t dare argue that it has a different meaning than it actually has.

Also, I think I will increase my use of decimate. If it pisses off those annoying pedants (who are perfectly aware of what is being communicated and won’t be the slightest bit confused) I will be happy. I successfully communicated and pissed off people I don’t like. Yay!

> I successfully communicated and pissed off people I don’t like. Yay!

You'll make a lot of friends with that attitude.

Oh, I don’t want to be friends with people who are pedants about stuff like this.

> people I don’t like

But I like you...

Now that your position has been decimated by history, you could focus your efforts on one of my pet peeves that's been appearing a lot on HN: "binary blob"

Type either "blob" or "binary lob." PLEASE!

I don't think the "blob" in "binary blob" is the same as the database "BLOB" type. Rather, the word "blob" is chosen for its negative connotations and has the typical layman meaning.

Not at all, for example, search for "blob" here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4981376

There is one correct use, and three other uses talking about "binary blobs" without a negative connotation.

My opinion is that the layman term got mixed up with the database term and thus we got this mess (should I say blob?)

I don't think any of those are intended to imply "binary large object". They are just talking about non-human-readable data. They may not be implying any negative connotations anymore, but that's the origin of "binary blob".

Yes. http://www.openbsd.org/39.html Does that look like a "binary large object" to you?

If you actually go into the lyrics of the song: http://www.openbsd.org/lyrics.html#39 you'll see he's talking about blobs exactly as binary large objects. He never uses the phrase "binary blob".

He's just talking about of how are blobs in drivers evil for BSD, taking advantage of the evil amoeba concept.

I can assure you that nobody in the openbsd project is using blob as an acronym. To be clear, a binary blob is so named because it's an amorphous lump (as opposed to source code, which has structure).

[I agree, the word binary is redundant (nobody complains about source blobs), but not because it's an acronym. The phrase "unfree blob" would also be redundant, since blobs are unfree by definition.]

If you agree that binary is redundant, that's enough for me. Although I wonder how the word blob came to be used in BSD. You don't happen to have the first use in some mailing list archive?

Anyway, BSD's usage is not actually the general use of the word, as you can see in the link I've posted somewhere else in this nitpicking thread, people usually mean a bunch of bytes, without connotation.

But "blob" is a real word, isn't it? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blob

When people are using the phrase "binary blob" they are not actually picturing an amoeba-like evil alien, they are just talking about a big bunch of bytes. Many times without a negative connotation at all.

I understand better the origin of the confusion, though.

When people are using the phrase "binary blob" they are not actually picturing an amoeba-like evil alien

I am! I didn't even know blob was meant to be an acronym (or, in fact, anything other than what the word "blob" suggests) before this discussion, so, to me, binary blob always meant binary lump of goo-like stuff.

What? The b in blob does not stand for binary.

It does.

But I'm kinda curious what you thought it stood for?

It doesn't stand for anything in normal speech. http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/blob?q=blob

In the context of 'binary blob' I think it would be clear it just means an amorphous mass of bits and not some Jargon File definition (which in turn is clearly a play on the regular word in itself).

That's like asking, what does the c in curious stand for?

Binary Large OBject.

See also: CLOB: Character Large OBject.

Most (traditional) relational database servers do not support arbitrary sized (often >255 bytes) fields in a single row. The solution was to have a separate Large OBject heap, and store references to those LOBs in the actual rows.

Starkey claims that he invented the term, and that the acronym is actually a backronym. I've heard conflicting stories on that score.

He invented a word in use since the 15th century? Wowza.

Wait, what? What does "binary lob" mean?

A binary large object, of course.

I expected most people here to know this. I've been proven wrong.

I had no idea. I thought it was just a fun word in the tradition of bits and bytes. It had an internal logic - you'd have datatypes for things, and then you had this catch-all amorphous type called the blob. It's a great name.

I would say it's even better if you omit "binary" even in the case you are not using an acronym.

Binary Large OBject

Yes, and geeks are circus freaks, computers are people who make calculations, and manufacturing means "made by hand".

Language is constantly evolving, especially as it pertains to words taken from other languages.

You know what the right play on Zynga was? Cashing out and putting the money elsewhere. Instead, Zynga is the classic case of thinking that growth is basically infinite and there is unlimited demand. There are a limited number of gamers willing to buy virtual goods on Facebook games, and there is nothing special that Zynga does on mobile that other companies don't do as well or better.

Take the money and run. Now it might be too late.

Isn't that what upper management did? At least to the extent legally possible.

Well, can't really know for sure, though from the outside it didn't really look like there was much innovation outside the addictive game model they first implemented. And then they got into defensive mode buying up competitors / talent, however individual developers can always do things cheaper and create breakaway games that will slowly take from the pie.

Were they in any way connected with kingdom of loathing? If not, then their only innovation was integrating kingdom of loathing with nicer graphics and facebook (i.e. not the game mechanics or business model).

No; Kingdom of Loathing is run by Asymmetric Publications (http://asymmetric.net/), which is only a few people: http://asymmetric.net/people.html .

And if Zynga didn't steal game mechanics or the business model from KoL, what did they take? While KoL was an early browser-based game, it certainly wasn't the first (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_multiplayer_browser_ga...).

Browser is nothing to do with it. KoL's mechanics are exactly those of Mafia Wars and the like (including both the core concept of "energy" and the business model around it).

And those mechanics are exactly like dozens of BBS door games from the 80s and 90s, so...

Any thoughts as to why they didn't sell the titles rather than shuttering them? I'm thinking maybe they share code across games and don't want it in outside hands, or maybe they weren't revenue positive, or perhaps don't want to hand over any portion of their user database to a competitor. Any other ones I am missing?

Because it makes very little business sense to do so. The upside of selling is near zero because it would not make a dent in their bottom line or their future outlook, while there are many downsides to selling, some of which you have mentioned.

"Zynga’s share price is down 3.52% to $2.33 from its $10 IPO price a year ago"


slight oversight there. From the comments:

Should be 76.7%. 3.52% was the amount it was down on Friday, December 28th, 2012.


If we're being nitpicky, then 'hammered' would be more descriptive than 'decimated'. Decimated would imply only a -10% drop if we stick to it's figurative definition

If we're being nitpicky, "hammered" means to work something out laboriously. Nothing was worked out. A stock's value moved in a negative direction.

We're not.

I'm a big gaming fan, and it seems like they could have explored and expanded the world of casual gaming; but they instead focused on a cash grab.

yeah... good ol' times where I associated casual games with companies such as Playfish instead of Zynga... You know, Zuma, Diner Dash, Sally's Salon.. Where the companies doesn't actually try to get you addicted to their games..

So, these are virtual pets and what-not, that people have kept "alive" and happy for years, right?

So, is it really that hard to port the player's data in to a stand alone desk top application that at least the character can sort of be preserved in, or more? Perhaps let the open source minded folk perhaps keep "feeding" the application? Or something like that. I would imagine that players would be happy enough to pay a reasonable amount for that. Or perhaps do a data dump for players so that some representation of the character exists.

I kinda think developers should have something like this in mind before they start, especially where kids and money are concerned.

That's nice from the human interest angle, but when it comes down to it Zynga is a publicly traded company now. I don't recall if they're profitable or not at the moment, but they are hemorrhaging shareholder trust.

They could either spend more time (and money) on letting people port their virtual corn to a local machine.. or they could cut the product and immediately start moving toward profitability.

When your stock price is $2.33... it really isn't much of a choice.

This is really sketch, in my opinion; There are people with hundreds of dollars invested into their facebook game microtransactions. "Take the money and run" to a whole new level...

Of course what Zynga created cannot really be respected as or compared with proper games, but it's still sad that it's gone. How will the Moma put games like Farmville (which are an important piece of history of computers and FaceBook and stock markets) in an exhibition once the servers have been turned off?

Makes one really want to buy Sim City 5 (which will do calcuations in the cloud and not be playable without internet connection). Today EA shut down games like Fifa 2011!

They need to figure out a way to persist these games. Either sell them off, or open source them or something. It makes me rage when companies lock in users to a game and shutdown the servers.

Their games pretty much amount to marginally interactive spam. I don't think that too many people who are smart enough to code would be willing to put in the effort to continue developing them, because the games don't have enough depth to capture an intelligent person's attention.

Also, it's doubtful that the company would be interested in open sourcing them, because they don't really care about gaming or gamers, they just saw a quick way to make money.

There's nothing wrong with having money be your top priority (to each their own) but in Zynga's case it's obvious that it's their only priority.

Zynga has actually open sourced a bunch of stuff. Nothing earth shattering, but there's good stuff there. See https://github.com/zynga and their tech blog http://code.zynga.com/

Thanks. I guess I stand corrected on this count.

You really don't see anything wrong with making money a top priority? Forgoing all other responsibilities. Do you believe a company should be responsible for more than just profits?

I personally don't advocate it, but everyone has their own prerogative. I really like seeing such companies get crushed by the market, but many of them seem to be successful.

If you're a dev with Flash experience from the PetVille team looking for an opportunity with a much smaller (but profitable) company, please get in touch with me. Remote work ok.

They may be doing this to switch customers to their other titles before a new competitors game comes out


Time to issue stock buyback to return money to shareholders and shut the company down.

Yeah, predictable three ... now four years ago. Zynga and the rest. Can you say bubble burst when FB finally goes down?

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