Always A Gamble: Zynga’s Casual Peril

By Jim Rossignol on July 26th, 2012 at 3:00 pm.


Happenings are afoot in the realm of casual gaming. Zynga, the leading casual gaming company, has seen its share price dropping. Not only that, but it has announced its intention to enter the tricky world of real-world money gambling. Things are, quite clearly, not working out as intended. And yet free-to-play casual gaming was supposed to be the most important thing to have happened in gaming since home consoles.

So what’s going on?

It’s important to me to front load this story with a sort of disclaimer, which is to say that I have nothing against the “casual” gaming frontier in general. For the most part these companies don’t interest me, because they by and large produce boring games. Further, I have nothing against people making these games, although there are cases where their creativity seems in question. For the most part, though, I am of the opinion that people can make, and play, whatever they like. If you are someone unlucky enough to be hooked into an depth-free casual game, well, that’s your choice.

What has antagonised me, however, has been the wave of people who’ve argued that casual games are in some way the “future” of gaming in general. For a while there it was argued not simply that this was the next big thing, but that it was going to define the future direct of gaming as a whole. Of course it’s hasn’t. It’s as ridiculous as saying all gaming in the future will be mobile. Casual games are simply another aspect of a much large field. They are a diversification of the form. Evolution into another niche. People have a tendency to argue that a single trend is an overwhelming current, when it’s not. The reason for this not really being the future of gaming is obvious, and implicit in the name: Casual. This is gaming for people who aren’t obsessed, who don’t have time, and who perhaps don’t take it all that seriously. The reason why games have made so much money in the past is because people haven’t been “casual” about them. Quite the opposite. It should come as little surprise, then, that people are now talking about the casual games bubble having “burst”, in response to a plunge in the share price at Zynga.

What has happened is that Zynga have illustrated that boring, shallow games are not actually worth much. And it’s very difficult to make money from something that no one wants to pay for.

What’s happened recently is this: Zynga, who dominate casual or “social” gaming, largely via Facebook, was made public a year ago, and since then its shares have not done as some might have hoped. Yesterday their value dropped 40% in response to the news that the company had changed its outlook for financial performance in the coming year. Zynga made a $22.9 million loss in the last quarter, which, while by no means fatal, doesn’t look good for the star of this kind of gaming. Zynga have been quick to blame changes made by host Facebook for the downturn, with COO John Schappert said saying: “Facebook made a number of changes in the quarter. These changes favoured new games. Our users did not remain as engaged and did not come back as often.”


I suspect there are other reasons why they didn’t come back, too. Like exhaustion. Like being introduced to gaming for the first time, and discovering it to be shiny and comprehensible at first, and then later vacuous. Novelties taking little time to become contemptible via over-familiarity.

I just hope Farmville proved to be a gateway drug for a few new gamers to make it to Minecraft and Guild Wars.

For developers, though, it was a gold rush. It happens again and again. No one is, or should be, surprised. Once the gold rush is over, the flood of newcomers dies down, and a more steady colonisation begins. This sort of gaming is not going anywhere, because it attracts (even if it fails to sustain) large numbers of people. But nevertheless the people who bet the farm on its ongoing growth and success were always going to be disappointed. This NYT article cuts to the heart of the issue by quoting analyst Michael Gartenberg of market-explainers Gartner: “Zynga’s challenge has been to drive up efforts to keep their attention and broaden their user base — which they did — but now they need to get them to pay,” he said. “Increasing the number of players doesn’t mean you’re making money off them. At the end of the day, though, virtual goods might not be a viable business strategy. People eventually stop spending money in virtual goods and want to spend that money on real goods.”

Or, indeed, on real games.

The reason why Zynga’s model was never the future of gaming, and never a threat in any real sense to the hobbies we enjoy, was that we want to pay for depth. And not even, necessarily, gameplay depth, but depth of experience. We want to pay for games that do interesting things, and do them well, but we also want to pay for experiences we’ll remember fondly. The true, significant, long-term value in games is not in their being easy, or distracting, or accessible, or social, or anything else that the casual market identified as important. It has to do with them being interesting, memorable, and valuable experiences for individuals. I have vital memories of playing Half-Life. It defined my imagination, even my career-trajectory. And I’ll pay more than no dollars for more of that.

Sure, some big name developers rushed off to the frontier to pan for gold. Perhaps some of them found it. But – as Zynga’s share price and eye on gambling so brutally illustrates – the future of gaming is in something far more committed. Something far less “casual”.

Facebook could be an amazing platform for a game. There is nothing stopping that. There are even games worth playing, as we occasionally point out. But, ultimately, you’d think that a large, well-resourced company like Zynga might be able to create something essential. But they haven’t.

When they do, I’ll remember to log in.

, , .

63 Comments »

  1. CrookedLittleVein says:

    “Facebook could be an amazing platform for a game. There is nothing stopping that. ”

    I love your optimism Jim and, as ever, you’re quite right. It’s just depressing how many people seem to have brought it to the idea of casual games taking over. Fools and their money.

    • djbriandamage says:

      What a tricky platform it must be to build games for, though. People flit in and out of Facebook. They don’t spend extended periods staring at it. That means you need little gaming Mcnuggets.

      Zynga may not make good games but at least they design games that complement the platform.

      • millerm277 says:

        Do it in the style of the old Shockwave + Flash game model. You put your game with a bunch of levels up (now on Facebook) for people to play for free, and it’ll entertain for a decent amount of time.

        If you want the full features, or more levels/whatever, then you pay a couple bucks for the game.

        It’s what originally made companies like PopCap successful, and would easily make a successful model today, tomorrow, and forever.

        People are more than willing to spend time on Facebook if there’s something to do there.
        And speaking more broadly, it’s the same model that’s been used by games since their beginning. Put out a demo to draw people in, and then they’re more likely to go buy the rest of it.

      • Phantoon says:

        Actually, they do spend extended periods of time looking at it.

        A lot of people spend a sizable part of their day checking on meaningless drivel, like what their second cousin’s wife’s yoga instructor’s nephew is up to.

      • Malk_Content says:

        I don’t know. More and more people are constantly connected to Facebook all the time now. They might not be staring at it every minute of everyday, but you’ll be sure they’ll either have the tab open and notice when the little number (1) gets added to their notifications or they’ll get a message via their phone. The problem is we’ve seen this leveraged in entirely the wrong ways for the most part. The true beauty of this system that only a handful of games make use of, is asynchronous multiplayer. The problem with these games tend to be that they drag on and on, but with the ever connectedness of Facebook you could easily see people taking their turn rapidly when focused and at a steady pace when not.

      • Premium User Badge

        FriendlyFire says:

        Games like Kings of Chaos and OGame seemed to work just fine in bite-sized entertainment, and that was before social networks became “the thing”.

        It’s just that the vast majority of Facebook games are about milking consumers instead of providing an entertaining experience that can be furthered by paying.

      • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

        omgosh, someone needs to make Heroes of Might and Magic (three, maybe) for facebook. Log on, take a five minute turn, and then log off again. It solves the problem of HOMM multiplayer, which is that in a single sitting it would drag on for six hours to play a full game.

  2. Hoaxfish says:

    I wonder how this effects those devs that have moved to “casual/social gaming” from the more hardcore market (isn’t John Romero doing some “ye old farm ville” or something).

    On the one hand, I assume creativity sets them apart from Zynga, but on the other hand, this is a question about monetising anything “social”.

    I’ve stopped facebook gaming as apparently when you turn on https, you can no longer use the apps (well, at least the last time I tried it told me it had to revert to normal http).

    • acheron says:

      Don’t remember about Romero, but I think Brian Reynolds went to work for Zynga. Given what happened to Big Huge Games, maybe that was a good move at the time, but one can hope with Zynga’s declining fortunes, he’ll be able to leave and create Alpha Centauri 2 or something.

  3. scopie says:

    “So what’s going on?”

    People are realizing it sucks.

    • Shuck says:

      Unfortunately it’s not even that – people are getting tired of playing what amounts to the exact same couple of games over and over under different names. (And actually, it’s not even that – they’re making more money than ever, but are spending more money.)

  4. Premium User Badge

    AmateurScience says:

    You can say this about casual gaming: it’s been the crucible for some of the most deplorably exploitative game mechanics I’ve ever seen, and they’ve stretched the concept of ‘free’ to the point where the word may have lost all meaning, so I guess there’s that.

  5. johnnyan says:

    “Facebook could be an amazing platform for a game. There is nothing stopping that.”

    I sure hope not, I will never have a Facebook account.

    • Gonefornow says:

      Same here.

      Although, soon the only way to use the internet is through FB so…

    • jalf says:

      Er, so?

      Are you jealous? I’ll never own a ZX Spectrum or a SNES either, or a Vita, or a 360. but I have no problem with people calling them amazing platforms for games.

      My ego can take it. I don’t need to be personally invested in every single gaming platform out there.
      Does it really hurt you so badly if Facebook becomes an amazing platform for games?

      • Vorphalack says:

        I remember being a little pissed when Microsoft stole (or bought, whatever) Halo for the Xbox launch, depriving the PC of what looked like a promising shooter. If Facebook ever got to the stage of getting hold of a really good exclusive, it would lock out a lot of people who don’t want anything to do with social networking and all the associated baggage. Obviously this would only apply to exclusives, which are almost always bad for someone.

        • devlocke says:

          I’ve never been a “Mac gamer” or whatever so I didn’t follow the development of Marathon/Halo but I do kind of assume that since the series started on Macs, Halo never would have made it to PC (the IBM-compatible/x86-type, not the Mac type) if Microsoft hadn’t bought ‘em up.

          Either way, if MS hadn’t written the OS that sort of defines “PC gaming” you definitely wouldn’t have seen Halo as a PC game, cuz’ “PC gaming” wouldn’t exist as we know it, so you have to thank them for that, at least. I guess. If you’re into Halo, anyways. Right?

        • Premium User Badge

          Malibu Stacey says:

          Except Halo was released for PC. I have a copy of it at home & it’s the only way I’ve played it (still not played it’s sequel though as I like most other people was running XP when it was released but I guess there’s nothing stopping me now I’m running Windows 7).

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        Malibu Stacey says:

        You aren’t missing much with the ZX Spectrum to be fair. Commodore 64 was far better for games during the 8-bit era where PC’s are concerned.

  6. Duke of Chutney says:

    Znyga discovers that monies does not grow on trees. Industry discovers that new idea does not equal death to all previous ideas.

    I’ve heard people argue that all games in the future will be MMO or all micro transaction, or all always online DRM… etc

  7. Blackcompany says:

    Now, I’m not one to yell about the evils of profit making. Companies either profit or go under. That’s the free market. But a difference exists between creative endeavors that make money, and money driven “creative endeavors.”

    What we see in AAA games today, is the latter.

    When Magic: The Gathering first hit it was a profitable creative endeavor. Now, money has taken over the beast. Creative is susbsumed by the need for profit. The same us true of video gaming. Companies are waving money around, trying to “buy” creativity. Companies have ceased being creative in favor of doing the same thing over & over, because its easy & profitable.

    But it only works so long.

    RA threw millions at SWTOR but its not creative. Same for Trion & Rift. Sure these games bring in steady streams of new players. But they don’t captivate long term players. For that, you need genuine creativity. And player freedom. Neither of which mainstream publishers seem to understand.

    • Phantoon says:

      Errrrr.

      Magic is more popular than ever. In fact, it’s the thing keeping Wizards of the Coast afloat, not D&D.

    • Shuck says:

      Yeah, the lack of creativity with large projects is due to the huge amounts of money on the line – you can’t afford to take risks with untested gameplay for projects that cost tens/hundreds of millions of dollars. The problem with Zynga is that although these cheap little games could be wildly creative, the monetization mechanics of free-to-play games end up dictating all the game design. The end result is identical games (turn-based “Progress Quest”) with different graphics.

      • Dominic White says:

        Please tell me that’s sarcasm, because I’d like to meet someone who says that Tribes: Ascend is identical to Team Fortress 2, or D&D Online identical to Atlantica

        • Premium User Badge

          ffordesoon says:

          Er, pretty sure he was talking about Zynga’s games specifically, or at least casual free-to-play games of the kind peddled by Zynga. I don’t think anyone’s arguing the diversity of the hardcore free-to-play market.

  8. malphigian says:

    Zynga themselves would be in a pretty good position to make more substantial games on the platform. They’ve hired a lot of serious talent with a hardcore gaming pedigree (e.g. Brian Reynolds, Soren Johnson). Given them some free reign, and they could do a lot to add depth to the casual gaming model.

    I don’t think that will happen, though. Zynga has been a silicon valley vc-backed cash grab from the get go, more in the model of a web startup than a video game company, and I don’t think at this point they are nimble enough to change their formula.

  9. Novack says:

    Excellent Read.

  10. cyrenic says:

    Zynga has no idea how to successfully monetize their games. I was quite bemused when my wife explained the real money aspects of Draw Something.

    Also, the quote from the article was great: “At the end of the day, though, virtual goods might not be a viable business strategy. People eventually stop spending money in virtual goods and want to spend that money on real goods.”

    Try telling that to Riot Games.

  11. Yuri says:

    I want me some Airmech and/or Quake Live integration on Facebook.
    Heresy, but serves as a good example.

    With that being said, ALL of Zynga’s games only had short-term appeal.
    You want to design F2P games so they’re easy to dive in, offer a lot for no money, but still offer a lot more for at least a bit of money.

    Just look at League of Legends. They’re rolling around in dough and they’ve recently begun to release updates at an astounding rate. Previous patches usually saw the release of a new champ or a few balancing tweaks, but patches now come with new bi-weekly champs AND a bunch of bugfixes/balance changes and even complete reworks.

  12. Merus says:

    This was inevitable as the sun setting in the west to anyone with a memory of ten years or so.

    Remember the last big casual games boom? When PopCap first got big, with Zuma and Bookworm Adventures and Bejewelled 2, and Luxor first came out; back then casual games were the big untapped market and the next new wave and indie developers had to accept that this was the market they had to adapt to.

    What actually happened was that too many people made too similar games, and the production values went up but the games were basically identical, and eventually the audience got wise to this. The games either evolved (hidden object games are basically little adventure games these days) or stopped selling.

    And it is the same, really, with any new genre. People looked at DOTA and decided to make their own lords management game, but there’s a lot of very similarly-playing titles that do things in very specific ways for no adequately explained reason. As big as League of Legends is, few of those players are going to peel off to the currently existing lords management games once LoL stops being fun for them. The big difference is that there’s a lot more variables to mess with in lords management games, a lot of things that could be simplified or expanded or changed to make it more appealing and bring in a new audience. It’s hard to see how you could make social schedule-based games like FarmVille more compelling, as the base mechanic is inherently uninteresting from a game design standpoint.

    • Squirly says:

      Ok, I have to ask. Where the heck did the term “Lords Management” come from?

      • Zakski says:

        Yeah what is this?, we aren’t in olden times no more

        • Vorphalack says:

          Gotta admit it beats MOBA, it’s arguably more descriptive.

          • Vinraith says:

            Much better than MOBA, which is so general that it describes Quake deathmatches as well as it describes something like LOL.

          • Premium User Badge

            Malibu Stacey says:

            Riot Games coined the term “MOBA” just to differentiate League of Legends from DotA & other clones.

            Until someone comes up with something better I’m going to stick with DotA-likes or DotA clones (same way FPS games were known as Doom clones for years) because MOBA is just stupid.

      • kilanash says:

        I think the Idle Thumbs guys coined it during their Kickstarter Progress casts when Sean Vanaman discovered LoL and DotA 2. Now it’s a ‘thing’. http://steamcommunity.com/groups/idlelords

      • Raiyne says:

        “Lords Management” just reminds me of Evony. ._.

  13. KillahMate says:

    A wonderful article, Jim. You write what my heart feels.

    That’s what I want from games – not just easy diversion, but memorable experiences.

  14. caddyB says:

    So you can’t keep people engaged on raising livestock and paying for faster harvesting of your crops forever?

    Oh.

    There is hope for humanity after all.

    • Zakski says:

      not for the farm labourers, now no one pays them it is off to the poorhouse for them

  15. Khann says:

    Big fucking surprise there.

  16. Premium User Badge

    equatorian says:

    Dear Mr. Reynolds,

    Come back. Make a spiritual sequel to Alpha Centauri. All will be forgiven.

  17. Chris F says:

    I feel you’ve misrepresented the results by omitting a key point: revenues were up 19% YOY! So their problem is not getting people to part with their money, they did that to the tune of $332.5m in the quarter, but that they’re spending waaaaaay too much.

    • Shuck says:

      Yeah, the gold rush continues. Certainly everyone I know at a successful studio is producing something like the games Zynga makes.
      Traditional PC/console gamers are so eager to see Zynga go down that everything gets interpreted as a sign of weakness and impending collapse.

  18. CobraLad says:

    Russian game development is fine demonstration. Its 90% consist of snobs, which started from casual match 3 clones, after they heard that PopCap made millions. Then they gone into browser gaming. Now they are into mobile games. They basically running from one fad to another, thus only those who were not late make some money, others just flood market with their garbage and die next day.
    The sad thing is that they shun everyone, who wants to make different. No RPG, no shooters, you cant make it because its impossible. Because of that young developers instead of learning new skills stuck in casual limbo.

  19. trjp says:

    It would probably help if people understood what ‘casual’ gaming actually meant.

    It’s used as a slur by people who think they’re “proper” gamers against games they don’t think worthy but that’s not what it really means.

    Casual means casual – people will play it a bit for a while and then not – they’ll play it when they’re on Facebook or Twitter or when they’re waiting for a bus etc. etc.

    Thus it’s a market which will grow and shrink – it’s full of attention deficit types who’ll pick-up a game and play-the-hell out of it for a while and then just move on.

    They’re not people looking for games – they’re not seeing the fecal landslide of games aimed at them – they’ll play what their friends are playing, when they feel like it.

    Thus trying to build a business around it is silly – it’s like trying to herd cats or nail jelly to a wall. Zynga have their established franchises and they’ll continue to prosper on those but anything new is at the mercy of the market just like everyone else.

    Oh – except the people who still use ‘casual’ as a slur – but they’re all sad shut-in types so who cares…

  20. RogB says:

    Have a look at Irrationals ‘Outernauts’ for a facebook game that looks lovely, and has potential to be quite a jolly game. (its a sci-fi pokemon ripoff)

    Unfortunately for me, the game is so chock full of confusing wierd currencies, limitations and transactions. everything is monetised, and every 5 minutes its interrupting you to ‘share this!’ or ‘Invite freinds for more stuff’, I got turned off within 10 minutes…

    its like playing a game thats just a glorified store. I just want to pay a lump sum and get on with it.

  21. AndyBumpkin says:

    Wow, surprising comments about casual games.

    I guess I’m biased because I make casual games :)

    But! I think there is a definite distinction between casual games which as mentioned in other comments would be like Zuma, bookworm adventures, etc.. and *Social* games like farmville, castleville, and the likes.

    I would class Plants Vs Zombies as a casual game (eg. low barrier to entry) as well as a tower defence game and I’m guessing a lot of you enjoyed that?

    While I’m not a particular fan of Hidden-Object casual games, I do enjoy the odd time-management casual title (Eg. “My Kingdom for the Princess” series is surprisingly fun) as it’s basically critical-path-analysis at it’s core.

  22. SeeBeeW says:

    Have casual games been replacing traditional video games? All I know is that If you run into someone working at a new studio at any industry event, it seems almost a guarantee that they’re working on an energy-based, two currency, microtransaction-filled casual social game.

    Maybe if the perception becomes that the easy money is over, some studios will move away from that. It would certainly be nice to see more diversity.

  23. Toberoth says:

    “The reason why Zynga’s model was never the future of gaming, and never a threat in any real sense to the hobbies we enjoy, was that we want to pay for depth. And not even, necessarily, gameplay depth, but depth of experience. We want to pay for games that do interesting things, and do them well, but we also want to pay for experiences we’ll remember fondly. The true, significant, long-term value in games is not in their being easy, or distracting, or accessible, or social, or anything else that the casual market identified as important. It has to do with them being interesting, memorable, and valuable experiences for individuals.”

    That whole paragraph gave me shivers. Well said Jim, well said.

  24. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    “If you are someone unlucky enough to be hooked into an depth-free casual game, well, that’s your choice.”

    true, but why make this claim only about casual games? while that’s not necessarily your point, you make it sound bad games, dubious creativity and helplessly descending into an abyss of tedium is only a problem with casual games. is it really?

    it’s true that casual games were not, in fact, the future promissed but i don’t think your angle is entirely levelheaded. no, it did not define the future of gaming as a whole, just an aspect of it. but we’d be fully into lalalaland if we ignored, for instance, how indie games benefited from their push and pull. it’s not just the gameplay, it’s the entire distribution method as well. “paying for depth” is well and good but at the end of the day, publishers like Spil Games have released games played by well over 200 million players – not even Nintendo can claim to reach those numbers. it’s not a long stretch to assume most of their playerbase isn’t concerned with spending money on “real games” either, though to criticize that decision or mindset of theirs is just gaining dark side points towards pc master race territory.

    “casual” is such an abusive, insulting term either way. what is the “casual” player missing out on gaming today? from a pure engagement perspective, nothing. it’s the same kind of howls let out when someone says one of the main entry barriers to gaming is a controller’s complexity. true or not, that’s the point. there’s nothing superior to using a keyboard, playing a controller or doing just fine with a mouse. we’re fast to talk about the medium as a wonderful wellspring of artistic merit but at the end of the day, i’m still clicking – pointing and clicking, in fact – at the same things. i’d rather play angry birds than skyrim right now, and i don’t feel diminished by this. some people might not even know what skyrim is. are they worse for it? are they loosing out on “depth”? shouldn’t they be enlightened to the fact there are real games out there? someone should get on it, stat.

    other than the converted, you can’t possibly expect “being interesting, memorable, and valuable experiences for individuals” is what matters to players. skyrim was “epic”, “game of the year” and “memorable” before it was released. something to do with killing dragons at level 3, which is quite good at cutting out the middleman in power fantasies – in my days, it took around level 14+ to do that, at best. fandom far surpasses our ideas of what constitutes depth. every year, the weariness of production cycles and self-styled videogame critics are quick to bash call of duty’s increasingly off-the-rails stories and events. every year it keeps selling more than the previous year, or close enough. yet, i can’t remember – with the exception of the first modern warfare – many positive words from RPS regarding the series. many readers here have clearly said to find the series lacking in depth. fans of the series don’t seem to care.

    it’s also particularly disappointing to see how casual gaming is a “failure” of sorts, but there’s no mention of the failures on pc. again, that isn’t the point of the article but it sparks the question nonetheless. not just in terms of games, but technologies. windows has proved increasingly unstable for videogames, mainly in the shift between operating systems (which is why you get people manraging when they learn an upcoming game isn’t playable in XP, or that whatever OS has been silently cutting off support of older games) and online systems (GFWL). these brilliant videos of upcoming tech over the years, from Unreal Engine to middleware that speeds tree rendering (!) to Geo-Mod, this last one – like so many others – touted as a revolution. where is it now? how much did it cost? how much was it used? how many games using Unreal Tech have turned out something really beautiful and not the same manshooting drabness?

    we’re also forgetting other recent examples, such as the uDraw or the N-Gage. again, “forgetting” assumes that was the point of the article but no, this is a PC gaming site. but there are failures in PC gaming that seemed pushed aside because by the gods, these casual things are in my lawn.

    i wouldn’t spend time on bejeweled if i could play DayZ, but then, i wouldn’t play mass effect 3 if i had a copy of plants vs. zombies. yet, none of this has to do with the depth they can offer me. depth of what, though? i’ve been finding more depth in AI, patterns and gameplay in Blokus for my cellphone than some recent AAA games. either my standards are low or maybe i just don’t get “depth”. maybe if i played the PC version, with a mouse and keyboard perhaps? in glorious 3D.

    i’d like to think i’m not being cantankerous to the point of insulting, because that’s not what i want. i want depth, sure, and i know you want it, jim. question is, minecraft is an adorable game which deserves its success – but there is no depth to it, at all, unless we’re conflating depth with how low one can dig through its ground.

    dividing games into “casual”/social/real/whatever is just a tribe setting out a perimeter. playing games that fall into the “casual”/social/real/whatever without caring one lick about they ought to fall, though? that’s what a player should do.

    • Beelzebud says:

      Nice try, CEO of Zynga.

      • Diogo Ribeiro says:

        very nice, mr. fancy pants of originality plus one. i bet you had that scribbled on a notepad file, just waiting for the right time to copy and paste it. i’m touched, really.

  25. Deano2099 says:

    Having been very much anti-Facebook games, I’ve been won round by the launch of You Don’t Know Jack on that platform.

    Some very clever stuff with proper social asynchronous play: games are in 5-question episodes, if a friend has played that episode, you see his/her answers and score as you play it.

    Main monetisation is you can play 1 free game per day, and have to pay for extras. Though they only make 3 new ones a week (but there’s an archive of a good few hundred if you’re really into it).

    What’s really brilliant is the ‘performance enhancers’ which seem to be mocking the entire concept. It’s utterly and transparently pay to win. You buy one and they boost your score on one game by whatever % depending on how expensive a one you buy. But they appear right there in the game, for all to see. You can beat your mate, but he knows you ‘cheated’ and will probably mock you for it anyway.

  26. Brun says:

    The whole idea of “casual” and “social” gaming is based on a wider industry trend that started in the early 2000s – right around the time at which video games went from a niche hobby for nerds and basement virgins to more of a mainstream industry. It’s the same trend that led to widespread “streamlining” of games and the focus on “accessibility.” The rise of that trend wasn’t really surprising because of the explosive growth video games were experiencing – it became significantly more profitable to focus on attracting more people to your platform of choice than to continue to cater to the hardcore veterans – the Wii was probably the most striking example of this.

    Casual and Social games took this idea to the extreme and essentially built a business on continuously attracting new customers. As long as they were able rope in more and more new people, there was no reason to keep them around long-term. In other words, their assumption was that “there will always be an untapped market” from which they could draw infinitely. That probably didn’t seem very outlandish at the time – both Facebook and video games were growing very rapidly around the time companies like Zynga were getting off the ground.

    But unsurprisingly, those “untapped markets” have started to get saturated, and since none of these companies’ products are designed to hold on to long-term users (“hardcore social gamers” if you will), their worth is now in the toilet. Given how most social games are designed this is hardly a bad thing for the industry – it’s a spectacular failure that sends a very strong message about free-to-play and how not to do it.

  27. formivore says:

    This article contains a large number of typos, perhaps as a result of being rushed out in a state of ding-dong the witch is dead glee. You should check the third para in particular.

  28. Calabi says:

    I think Zynga and Facebook will end up like sharks fighting over a corpse, until there is nothing left.

  29. tciecka says:

    Dear Richard Garriot,
    Please let Zynga’s crashing share price be your indication that you should go back to making RPG’s that have nothing to do with Social Media.

  30. mcwill says:

    They’re failing because they introduced a whole bunch of people to the Skinner model of gaming, without providing any added value whatsoever.

    Most of mainstream gaming has been engaged in a constant battle to provide the most and best added value to the still-inherently-Skinner-boxlike core principles of gaming. Zynga discovered that if you make that box cute and put it on Facebook, middle-aged women would buy into it. That’s because those principles are universal, and it’s essentially only social issues that prevent everyone being a potential customer for them; but just as games companies have spent decades discovering that the rewards cycle isn’t enough, Zynga have discovered the same thing.

    The problem with creating millions of new gamers is that eventually, like all gamers, they become discerning. Now if we can just break down the still-extant social barriers to them becoming mainstream gamers, we’ll be on to a winner…