NO IMAGE

原帖: http://gamerboom.com/archives/44239

作者:Dean Takahashi

在短短的5年時間裡,Zynga便在電子遊戲領域裡掀起了巨大的熱潮。即將迎來重要的IPO,這家公司已經成功敘寫了遊戲歷史上輝煌的一篇。

但是,Zynga的成功從來都不是預料之中的結果。事實上,早前大多數遊戲產業的資深人士甚至不把它當成一家真正的遊戲公司。Zynga創始人Mark Pincus曾經4次創業,但是對於遊戲產業他卻沒有任何經驗,並且他之前創辦的公司也都不算是大公司。所以,他看起來是最不像能夠創造出遊戲產業巨頭的企業家。

而現在,Pincus作為該公司最大的股東,已經是身價不可估量的億萬富翁了。Zynga的數十億美元IPO以及89億美元的估值都讓這次募股活動無可厚非地成為遊戲歷史上的一個大事紀,使Zynga步入EA、動視等遊戲巨頭的行列。

Pincus這位遊戲新手幻想著成為遊戲產業主導者的同時,他也在創造著可接近大眾的社交遊戲,正是這種遊戲為他創造了成功的可能性。度過重重困難,Zynga已經在社交遊戲淘金熱潮中打敗了許多遊戲巨頭。從2009年開始,Zynga的遊戲已經連續多年蟬聯Facebook遊戲榜首。截至今天,他在Facebook上仍有5款大受歡迎的遊戲。

而單憑Pincus自己的能力是不可能做到這些的。在這期間,他很幸運地遇到了遊戲元老Bing Gordon並接受了他的幫助。前Facebook營運長Owen Van Natta也在這期間給予了Pincus巨大的幫助。資深遊戲設計者,如Mark Skaggs和Brian Reynolds也不斷創造出有創意且吸引人的好遊戲,幫助該公司洗清其早期因為製作仿製遊戲和垃圾郵件遊戲落下的壞名聲。Zynga能有今天如此傑出的成績都離不開這些人的幫助,而如此雄雄氣勢導致其競爭對手,如Playfish和Playdom不得不另闢蹊徑,儘快尋找其它能夠賺錢的出口。

mark-pincus(from venturebeat)

mark-pincus(from venturebeat)

2007年建立以來,Zynga已經創造了超過15億美元的收益,這對一家新興公司來說確實是件了不起的成績。現在,該公司仍將爭取佔領虛擬商品市場收益的多數份額,該市場產值已達90億美元,Zynga預期這一資料今後五年還將翻三倍。

如今,Zynga的目標是成為能與搜尋界的谷歌,購物界的亞馬遜以及最大分享平臺Facebook平起平坐的遊戲界之最。Zynga很幸運,它在初始階段並未擁有多少遊戲經驗,但在整個發展生涯中,卻能不斷地向世人證實自己成為一家真正遊戲公司的潛質。

本文將從Zynga的早期發展階段開始說起。Zynga的故事並不只是關於該公司的創辦者,還應該包含他身邊的各種角色,甚至是激勵他爭取成功的對手,以及其所面臨的各種挑戰。我們將從三個方面去講述Zynga能夠獲得如此成就的原因以及其中所面臨的挫折。

平凡的出生

Pincus在2009年春天的Startup Berkeley上發表了關於創辦企業的演講時曾經說過:“在我成為一名企業家之前我嘗試過各種職業。其中更是屢受挫折。就像你想成為一名職業運動員之前,必須先參加少年聯盟。在你能夠真正應對失敗之前你可能會經歷無數次的失敗……在眾多工作中,我被解僱了多次,也有些是我主動向老闆提出請辭。”

Pincus開玩笑地說道,最後留給他的選擇就只剩下創業了。他曾經讀過George Gilder(遊戲邦注:當今美國著名未來學家、經濟學家,被稱為“數字時代的三大思想家之一”)的著作《微觀宇宙》,並因此對於這個受技術主導的經濟學世界充滿興趣。因此讓他萌生了接觸新媒體的想法。1995年,攜著25萬美元的貸款他來到了矽谷,創辦了FreeLoader這家網路推動公司。運營7個月後,他將FreeLoader賣給Individual賺得了3800萬美元,可以說這是一家見證了Web 1.0時代開端的網路公司。

那時候,其他以數千萬美元甚至是上億價格出售的科技公司並不鮮見,Pincus出售這家公司算不上是什麼重磅交易。但不管怎樣,這第一家初創企業的成功讓Pincus在矽谷的網路浪潮中獲得了立足點。隨後他便與Cadir Lee和Scott Dale共同創辦了Support.com(也就是後來的SupportSoft)這家以提供自動化軟體維護和服務的公司。該公司在2000年7月上市。

帶著充足的資金,Pincus於2000年1月創辦了Tank Hill。但是那時正好碰上了網際網路泡沫,所以他和合作者便不得不最終關掉這家公司,並且直到9個月後才彌補了其中的虧損。2003年,37歲的Pincus開辦了Tribe.net這家最早的社家網站之一。Pincus將其稱之為“Craigslist與Friendster的合體。”但是最終這個網站也未能為其帶來較大回報。2005年,在該公司的董事會拋棄了Pincus後,他最終離開了這家公司。但在2006年,他再次從投資者的手上奪回了Tribe.net,並將其資產出售給思科。那時候,Tribe.net只有8名員工,思科在2007年3月完成了這筆收購交易。

他與好友Reid Hoffman(付費平臺PayPal的核心成員以及Linkedin的創辦者)合作,以70萬美元從Sixdegrees手中購買了社交網路的專利權。隨後他們便投資於當時還沒什麼名氣的Facebook這家最終開啟了Web 2.0潮流,並最先利用動態網路而推動使用者在網上進行交流的公司。如此Pincus便與Facebook的創始人Mark Zuckerberg建立起了密切關係,而為他今後所掀起的“社交遊戲革命”創造了有利條件。

按照官方的說法,Pincus總共創辦了4家公司,但是根據他自己的描述,他已經遭遇過15至20個專案的失敗了。但是Pincus確實一個非常成功的天使投資者。他投資的公司包括Napster, eGroups, Technorati, Socialtext, Friendster, Ireit, Nanosolar, Merlin, Naseeb, EZboard, Advent Solar, Xoom以及Facebook。顯然,我們在這個列表中卻看不到任何遊戲公司的身影。

下對了賭注

在創辦Zynga之前,Pincus表示自己曾經遭遇了3次慘痛的失敗,其中便包括Tribe.net。還有一次失敗是來自於名為Tag Sense的廣告公司。隨後,他總結道:“不要因為有了使用者或者贊助者就想著創辦公司。如果這只是你的邊際想法,你便很難獲得好結果。”

Pincus表示,Tag Sense的迅速失敗使得他不得不尋找更好的機遇,而2007年5月份,當Facebook開啟了應用程式介面並邀請其他公司創造基於該社交網路的應用程式以打敗MySpace時,Pincus看到了希望。如此便為Facebook爭取到更多使用者和開發者,形成了一種良性迴圈。而Pincus也決定步入這股潮流中。

在Presidio Media(Pincus在2007年4月創辦的公司)推動之下,Pincus也趕上了Facebook發展大潮。

在2009年的一次訪問中Pincus說道:“在運營Tribe期間,我發現自己真正想做的是關於遊戲的事情。我總是說社交遊戲就像是一場很棒的雞尾酒會:一開始你會很開心能夠見到好朋友,但是對於雞尾酒會來說,最大的特色便

是沒有太大關聯度的交際圈。你也會見到一些從未見過的陌生人,或者好友的好友等等。而我所想的,也是你能夠做到的便是,一旦你帶來了自己的好友,並與其他人的好友聚在一起時,你們便可以一起玩遊戲了。我一直非常熱衷於玩遊戲,但是我卻很少有時間與好友們聚在一個地方玩遊戲。所以我認為先將好友聚在一起然後再引入遊戲是個不錯的主意。

2007年7月,Pincus將其新公司重新命名為Zynga(與其鬥牛犬同名)。Zynga的首個總部位於舊金山Potrero Hill附近的Chip Factory。

根據自己以往的經驗,Pincus認為:“命運是掌握在自己手中。我們總是在譜寫著自己的故事,即我們是如何獲得成功如何爭取到風險投資以及如何建立自己的公司等。以及後來這些成功是如何慢慢遠離我們並最終拋棄我們等。這也許是任何人都可能在矽谷所遭遇到的悲劇。而你之所以能夠建立一家公司是因為你懂得如何控制這些命運。”他說道,如果自己能夠控制公司及其命運,他便達到了一半的目標了。而帶著這種想法,他獨自創辦了Zynga。

Zynga早期的團隊成員包括Eric Schiermeyer, Michael Luxton, Justin Waldron, Kyle Stewart, Scott Dale, Steve Schoettler, Kevin Hagan, and Andrew Trader。Pincus對這些成員們的要求很高,但那是因為他真心希望能夠建立一家非常優秀的公司。

Zynga的首次成功來自於MySpace,這個平臺的社交遊戲公司主要通過廣告實現收益。雖然Zynga最初的收益來自MySpace,但是Pincus預見到Facebook能夠為他們未來的發展提供更廣闊的平臺。可以說這是一次很明智的賭注,讓Zynga能夠抓住Facebook這個滑板,朝著更加明亮的未來衝刺著。

當他有了這些想法後,他便時刻提醒自己應該盡所能且快速地驗證它們。

Zynga於2007年9月在Facebook發行了第一款遊戲。這是一款免費的撲克類社交遊戲,之所以選擇這型別遊戲是因為它不僅簡單,而且是一種非常普遍的遊戲,好友們無論相距多遠都能夠一起享受撲克遊戲的樂趣。這款遊戲的發行重新掀起了撲克遊戲的熱潮(從2003年以來)。第一款Facebook遊戲的成功為Zynga帶來了巨大的利潤。

Pincus在2009年接受美國知名科技部落格網站VentureBeat的訪問時說道:“我們是第一家看準了社交遊戲機遇的公司,並在2007年7月攜帶著我們的撲克遊戲去追逐這一機遇。當其他人關注於病毒式應用或者病毒式傳播內容時,我們只是單純地瞄準遊戲機遇。那時候的我們真心認為這是一種真正且持續的收入來源,所以我們便義無反顧地首先淌進這股潮流中。”

在Zynga的遊戲出現之前,免費遊戲一直被當成是一些低質量的共享軟體。但是現在,它們卻是深受眾人喜歡的遊戲。撲克遊戲只能暫時獲得一些使用者,但是在一開始它們只能夠從廣告中獲得收益。最後,在2008年3月,Zynga便決定通過“引導性銷售”販賣撲克籌碼,即讓玩家在參加相關廣告贊助活動中獲取這些籌碼。

Pincus在Berkeley發表的演講中說道“之前我們採取的是大家所熟知的立刻獲益的方法。”而在Zynga的第一款Facebook遊戲《Texas Hold ‘Em Poker》中他們通過使用撲克籌碼間接獲益,即讓玩家下載了維基工具便能夠獲得該籌碼。

在2008年中旬,Zynga發行了第二款Facebook遊戲《Mafia Wars》,以及隨後收購的《YoVille》。《Mafia Wars》同時出現在Facebook和MySpace上,因為那時候Zynga還不能判別哪個網站能夠最終脫穎而出。

mafia-wars(from venturebeat)

mafia-wars(from venturebeat)

在發行遊戲的過程中,Zynga慢慢摸索出了一些獨到的觀點,並最終成為他們開發遊戲的理念。他們認為不論在哪裡以及不論何時,遊戲都應該具有易用性,社交性和免費特點。遊戲必須以資料為設計指導,遊戲本身必須是優秀的。說起來這些都是遊戲必須獲得的崇高目標,但是在這個產業中卻甚少有人領悟並嘗試實現這一點。

Pincus希望自己能夠在尋求風險資本家幫助之前創造出一個真正出色的公司。那時候Zynga剛剛完成了首次融資,在2007年他們只獲得69.3萬美元的收益,但其使用者增長迅速,而且利潤已經很可觀。結果便是,Pincus因此而獲得一些特殊待遇,如掌握比普通股多10倍的投票權,並保持自己在董事會中的權力。

他已經和許多投資者交好,在2008年1月15日宣佈已經通過Union Square Ventures, Foundry Group, Avalon Ventures, Reid Hoffman, Peter Thiel等天使投資者融資5百萬美元的資金。

獲得了新的資金,Zynga便能夠更快速地在Facebook這塊“樂土”上進行開拓了。Facebook不斷調整平臺政策,而應用開發者便不得不針對性地更改自己的應用。Pincus稱其為“有機開發”,在這個過程中公司的內部開發者不得不時刻關注Facebook的動向,每隔90天左右就要修改自己的產品。

這是一個結合了設計師的直覺和反饋資料,深受引數影響的行業。這使遊戲專案能夠快速迭代,獲取使用者,實現留存率與盈利性。這也正是Zynga領先於其他公司的原因:他們瞭解自己的使用者想要什麼,並且能夠有針對性地快速修改遊戲,有時候只要一夜便能為使用者提供其所需的內容。Zynga開始驗證各種遊戲理念。對於Web 2.0公司來說這種做法很平常,但是其他眾多遊戲公司卻沒有做到這一點。

關於Zynga深受Facebook政策的影響,這種說法卻是個不爭的事實。

Pincus開玩笑地說道:“始終圍繞著Facebook轉悠是不是讓我們覺得很苦惱?”“2007年當我們作為一家專門製作Facebook應用的公司時,所有人都在嘲笑我們。那時候我們的生死全都取決於Facebook所作出的任何改變。”

資料也是遊戲設計者的天敵。如果一款遊戲不會成功,Pincus就會豪不猶豫地取消這個專案。他可以投入3百萬美元開發出一款不知名的角色扮演遊戲,但如果在遊戲發行時並不能獲得廣泛傳播,Pincus便會叫停這個專案。

Pincus總是能夠果斷乾脆地處決那些沒有市場的遊戲。

《Mafia Wars》和《Zynga Poker》取得的好成績推動了Zynga的快速發展,並幫助他賺得了一大筆利潤。而此時的Facebook也處於不斷進步狀態。

在那時候,發展速度非常關鍵。但是並非所有人都能夠意識到這一點,所以有較高覺悟性的Zynga便毫無懸念地奔走在競爭跑道的最前方,賺取大量的收益。當時只要你知道如何利用社交遊戲賺錢並快速執行這一理念,無論後來是否會有巨頭公司介入,都能夠率先在市場站穩腳跟。

所以在首次融資的幾個月後,Zynga便又迅速募集了更大的一筆資金。

在2008年7月,風險投資公司Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers向Zynga投入2900萬美元的訊息引起世界的關注。Bing Gordon,EA前創意總監及現在Kleiner合夥人加入了Zynga的董事會。Mark Pincus真心歡迎這位大牌顧問的加入。

那時候,對於遊戲初創公司來說越多資金越有利,但是卻很少有遊戲公司能夠募集到如此高的數額。而Zynga的如此機遇意味著他們可以投入更多的資本去開發下一款大遊戲。這是很多競爭者所望塵莫及的,也是為何他們遠遠落後於Zynga的重要原因。

後來,Pincus總結道,避免失敗的一大教訓便是待在那些讓你有所收穫的人群之中。Gordon便是這種良師益友。Pincus擁有Web 2.0的經驗,而Gordon比之更瞭解遊戲,他能夠讓Pincus接觸到遊戲產業中更多有潛質的人才,而吸引他們到Zynga創造出更多優秀的遊戲。如來自EA的資深遊戲設計師Mark Skaggs,他在2008年11月以遊戲主管的身份加入了Zynga,他將幫助該公司創造出更多更成功的遊戲。

Gordon在2010年秋天接受VentureBeat的採訪時以Robert Duvall在電影《教父》中的角色為例進行說明:“我只是一個參謀。比起Robert Duvall,我甚至更像是一名招聘人員。但是我非常重視Mark Pincus這個有眼力的合作者。他很巧妙地將網路,遊戲和社交結合在一起。這是前所未有的偉大創舉。”

Gordon頻繁現身於Zynga公司,不斷地給予其他員工各種建議,併為該公司帶來更多有幫助的人才。

招賢納士

隨著Zynga的擴張,該公司開始能夠廣泛吸收業內傑出英才,這部分是因為經濟蕭條令眾多掌機遊戲工作室走向消亡。Gordon加入Zynga董事會及時常現身公司有效提高其知名度。

Gordon清楚Zynga的聲譽狀況,他極力控制這所帶來的負面影響。據《SF Weekly》所獲檔案資料顯示,Gordon向其在克萊納·珀金斯的合夥人傳送祕密備忘錄。

內容是:“Pincus現在需要幾位得力助手使他擺脫事必躬親的狀態。”Gordon暗示自己和另一高管如今在公司扮演重要角色,能夠左右平卡斯的看法。“為緩解馬克的壓力,在公司估值1億美元的時候,Zynga聘請身價10億美元的COO。”備忘錄還警告說,Zynga過度依賴Facebook。

但Pincus維持的時間超乎大家的想象(遊戲邦注:指公司的運作)。他通過隨時留心傑出英才做到這點。他沒有乾坐著等待其他遊戲開發者投奔他。

有時,Pincus會遇到技術專家,這時他會說服他們轉投遊戲開發。25歲的卡內基梅隆大學畢業生Justin Cinicolo(他有幾年工作經驗)就決定投奔Zynga,因為他的室友也在那任職,每天回來都笑臉盈盈。Cinicolo很早就加入公司,非常著迷於公司的快節奏和文化氛圍,於是他又邀請若干他在卡內基梅隆的好友加入公司。

justin-cinicolo(from venturebeat.com)

justin-cinicolo(from venturebeat.com)

Cinicolo發現,Zynga極力踐行自己的核心價值觀。公司告訴員工“要製作自己和好友樂於體驗的作品”,“Zynga是精英管理的社會”,“努力變成CEO,掌握自己的成果”,“順應Zynga的節奏”,“將Zynga置於首位,決策要旨在獲得更突出的成就”以及“保持創造性”。有些人也許會覺得有些可笑,但Cinicolo卻從中看到真理。

據Pincus回憶,在自己的第二家公司裡,他將傳單放至牆上,將所有人的名字都寫在上面。Pincus表示,“每週末,所有人都需要寫說自己是XXX的CEO,所寫內容需要富有意義。大家這很喜歡這個提議,完全無法隱藏自己。”

《黑手黨戰爭》發行後,Cinicolo被任命為遊戲的製作人。他的職責是確保遊戲持續發展,超越所有競爭作品。

分析這款遊戲時,他需要依靠Cadir Lee(遊戲邦注:他同Pincus聯合建立兩家其他公司,於2008年11月加入Zynga,當時公司有職員100人)製作的工具。此時,Lee的職責就是建立整個遊戲行業的最大資料庫。

Lee的首份工作是建立分析儀表板,從系列資料切換至使用者介面,向Cinicolo之類的製作人呈現遊戲的所有相關資訊。他們能夠進行A/B測試,看看玩家更喜歡粉色資訊,還是藍色資訊。當結果出現時,玩家就能夠判斷哪個效果更好,各公司就能夠迅速從中吸收相關經驗教訓。

Lee曾在2010年秋的訪談中表示,“我們令公司從毫無分析法到享有如今的競爭性微分器。我們握有眾多基礎裝置、分析法及統計人員。這是Zynga的生命線。”

社交遊戲開發公司Cmune的執行長Benjamin Joffe表示,Zynga已將分析法變成一門科學,基於“運作更多可行內容”原則執行。

這是令傳統遊戲開發者心生厭惡的另一方面內容。他們希望通過直覺和技能,而非大眾投票設計自己的作品。但有些人確看到了其中的價值。通常,設計師會在某款掌機遊戲中投入2-5年時間,然後等到發行日才能知曉玩家是否喜歡這款遊戲。而在Zynga,設計師製作的程式碼,玩家隔天就能夠看到。使用者反饋非常即時。

通過分析工具,Cinicolo能夠更輕鬆地推廣《黑手黨戰爭》。遊戲發行4個月後就獲得10萬使用者。Cinicolo的目標是將此資料發展至100萬。當他實現此目標時,其上司Eric Shiermeyer要求他爭取200萬。第二年,《黑手黨戰爭》的發展非常驚人,2009年和2010年的營收分別達到3200萬和1.61億美元。目前《黑手黨戰爭》依然擁有600萬MAU。

Cinicolo在2010年秋的訪談中表示,“我憑藉混雜團隊遊走於眾多專案之間。我渾身充滿活力。若出現漏洞,我們會立即進行修復。”

根據專案的不同,Cinicolo會每月或每週同Pincus碰面,徵求老闆的意見,看看如何讓遊戲變得更好。團隊成員會在吃飯和小酌時談論下步進展。到2010年,他們開始涉足手機遊戲領域。

Cinicolo表示,“Pincus就像個合作伙伴,一點兒也不像老闆。他和我們共同工作。從某些方面看,他有所改變。他變得更冷靜,還是和以前一樣精力充沛,充滿激情。但他變得更願意涉獵手機平臺,我們知道要在此平臺取得類似於網路平臺的成就還要耗費很多時日。”

2010年秋,Cinicolo(遊戲邦注:此時他28歲)開始負責許多重要手機專案,擔任手機業務總經理。

2008年末,Maestri結束同SGN的官司,獲得《Mob Wars》的所有權。2009年9月,他同Zynga順利和解,Zynga同意賠償他700-900萬美元。此時,Zynga陷入同Playdom的糾紛,Zynga控訴Playdom聘請公司前僱員,意圖抄襲他們的作品,盜取他們的“祕訣”製作熱門遊戲。

《FarmVille》的誕生

2009年春,小型開發公司Slashkey推出遊戲《Farm Town》。這是款簡單的農場遊戲,和中國的傳統農場遊戲或掌機平臺的《牧場物語》遊戲大同小異。遊戲讓玩家能夠模擬農場生活和發展。僅憑病毒式口碑傳播,遊戲就得到迅速傳播,每天增加30萬使用者。在短短幾個月時間內,遊戲就在Facebook上獲得1400多萬註冊使用者。

《FarmVille》顯然是款仿製作品,但遊戲的起源已經無法考證。現於Zynga任職的前EA設計師Mark Skaggs稱這款新遊戲的構思來自Bing Gordon。有天他問道:“我們為什麼不製作農場遊戲?”這正與Pincus心中想法一拍即合。

Skaggs是Zynga早期非常重要的設計師。他曾負責監管EA的眾多PC遊戲,這些遊戲共售出1600萬份,從《命令與征服之將軍》到《魔戒:中土大戰》。他在EA任職7年,從EA收購Westwood Studios開始。2005年他離開EA同他人聯合建立Trilogy Studios,他們曾製作過一款大型多人線上遊戲,但最終未能成功。所以Bing Gordon建議他加入Zynga。他很早就進入Zynga,因此給公司的遊戲設計方式帶來很大影響。

遺憾的是,Zynga沒有完整的團隊。Skaggs只好將目光瞄準外面。Zynga於是商談收購MyMiniLife,此工作室有若干僱員及一個遊戲引擎,這能夠運用到農場遊戲。MyMiniLife團隊發展至9個人,他們花費5周時間完成任務。其中有些工作早在Zynga收購MyMiniLife(遊戲邦注:此工作室由Sizhao Yang運作)前就已完成。

MyMiniLife成立於2007年,是個擁有400萬使用者的社交網路。但MyMiniLife極力想要留住自己的使用者,Slide的Max Levchin首次提出收購請求,然後是Zynga、Hi5和Challenge Games。Zyng宴請團隊成員,不斷提高報價。Pincus在此交易中投入較多時間,最終於2009年6月5日達成協議,但收購價碼沒有向外公佈。當時Pincus表現得異常果斷。他憑藉自己的直覺,促使團隊找到正確方向,最終達成交易。

MyMiniLife建立能夠承載眾多使用者的穩定平臺。若沒有此平臺,公司的發展計劃就會成為問題。

其製作團隊發展很快,於是他們開始模擬Zynga《YoVille》中的虛擬角色。媽媽們通過Facebook監督孩子的活動或同老朋友聯絡,這是他們的主要目標。

2009年6月19日,Zynga推出自己的首款《Farm Town》克隆作品《FarmVille》。遊戲的製作週期只有5周,但其發展速度卻達到空前規模。與其競爭作品不同,Zynga在社交網路廣告中投入大筆資金。短短兩週內,Zynga《FarmVille》就獲得500萬使用者,平卡斯轉移其他專案的資源,用於支援《FarmVille》的發展。

此時《Farm Town》遇到發展瓶頸,而《FarmVille》卻在4-5天內就獲得100萬使用者。該遊戲當時已收穫眾多使用者,該公司開始使用亞馬遜的外部計算機服務(亞馬遜Web Services部門外租公司核心電子商務不需要的資料平臺)。

其運算容量令Zynga收穫很多。Zynga技術長Cadir Lee曾在2010年秋的訪談中表示,Zynga能夠挖掘自己的資料,因為它是家網路公司。

他表示,“我們在有內容進展的5分鐘內就能夠收穫資料。引數和資料觀察是文化的組成部分。網路公司進行很多分析工作。在此虛擬世界中,玩家追蹤所有進展情況,例如有多少塊優質草莓田地。”

相比Slashkey之類的小公司,Zynga在快速發展方面所做的準備要多得多。

Lee表示,“我們替《FarmVille》解決眾多技術問題。有段時間,我們的伺服器幾乎瀕臨爆炸邊緣,於是我們推出新技術,這給予我們更多發展空間。我們掌握能夠擴充的內容,後來我們就真正轉變建立遊戲的方式。我們發現真正的關鍵不在於硬體,而是應用架構。我們需要充分利用亞馬遜的優勢。”

傳統遊戲設計師鄙視Zynga“遊戲”

cow clicker(from bogost.com)

cow clicker(from bogost.com)

喬治亞理工學院教授Ian Bogost非常反感《FarmVille》,覺得遊戲缺乏玩法,於是推出效仿作品《Cow Clicker》(遊戲邦注:在此玩家的所有操作就是點選乳牛)。

到2009年7月,全世界都開始明白Zynga為何能夠快速發展。2009年7月31日,據comScore報道,Zynga成為全美排名第一的線上遊戲運營商,超越Yahoo Games,MAU達4400萬。Pincus稱關於Zynga在2009年營收將突破1億美元的預測實際上還非常“保守”。

免費商業模式開始出現。短短幾個月內,《FarmVille》就變成全球最大的線上遊戲,其中少量的付費使用者足以讓遊戲獲得豐厚營收。

Zynga的農場遊戲融入的一個重要功能是“枯萎”機制,這會讓玩家的莊稼逐步枯萎,這樣若你沒有快速收割,它們就會失去價值。這促使使用者經常回訪遊戲;Zynga出售“復興”道具幫助玩家挽回枯萎莊稼。這也是遊戲能夠獲得如此豐厚收益的原因所在。

Pincus曾在2009年的訪談中表示:

看看《Farm Town》,這款遊戲獲得約300萬DAU,然後就此打住。你得確保自己是家能夠向使用者提供支援的公司,能夠處理欺騙和付費問題,所有這些元素都會迫使你做出決定,是否要雙倍下注,投資長期專案。其管理難度會提高,你需要應對眾多員工。從一開始,我們就知道自己希望變成一家長久的公司。我們無疑能夠變成長久的公司。

2009年9月,Zynga釋出《咖啡世界》,這是款餐館建設遊戲。這顯然是是《Restaurant City》(遊戲邦注:發行於2009年4月的Facebook遊戲)的複製品。這款遊戲由總經理Roy Sehgal負責,成為Zynga迄今發展最快的作品。Seghal曾在訪談中表示,Clubhouse Studio團隊由25位製作人、產品經理、遊戲設計師、美工和程式設計師組成。他們來自不同背景,不僅僅包括遊戲領域,他們在這款遊戲中投入5個月時間。並非所有人之前都有接觸過遊戲領域。

很快,Zynga的《咖啡世界》就獲得2800萬DAU,而《Restaurant City 》則只有1600萬。這彷彿就是《FarmVille》vs《Farm Town》的翻版。

Zynga獲得的收入比對手多,因此它能夠進行大肆廣告宣傳。當然風險會越來越大。遊戲每安裝一次,RockYou之類的廣告網路運營商就從中分成1美元。這意味著,只要RockYou說服使用者試驗遊戲,開發商就要支付1美元。隨著時間的推移,Facebook的廣告成本開始提高,很多初創公司都無法繼續維持。這令他們變得舉步維艱,最後只有將公司出售給Zynga之類的競爭對手。

截至2009年秋,Pincus彷彿就是個預言者。在Web 2.0峰會上,他預測行業未來將基於“應用經濟”。此時,Zynga擁有5000多萬使用者,其中包括2000萬的《FarmVille》玩家,每天售出80萬臺虛擬拖拉機。這一切都發生在經濟危機時期。而此金融危機卻弱化了Zynga的所有競爭者。

三大巨頭

Zynga逐漸贏得更多尊重。但在Zynga,真正的關鍵是員工能否勝任工作,快速前進。這也是為什麼當遊戲《FarmVille》問世時,Zynga能夠緊握住機會。

在Zynga,Pincus總是試圖保持態度謙虛和反應靈敏。他曾在訪談中稱自己不喜歡關於公司的正面新聞報道,因為這會讓他想起自己的“失敗經歷”。

隨著《FarmVille》的急劇發展,很多投資者發現2009年是社交遊戲的蓬勃發展階段。掌機遊戲和廣告休閒網路遊戲都在經濟蕭條期間慢慢冷卻。進一步令世人意識到此發展趨勢的是,2009年6月,EA第二重要角色John Pleasants辭去現有職位加入Playdom,擔任公司CEO。當時EA有員工9000人,而Zynga只有65人。這令大家覺得如今社交遊戲處於淘金熱階段。

Pleasant的離開逐漸變成某種趨勢。大型公司的高管們想要抓住熱門社交遊戲公司的賺錢機會,趁機謀取利益。在Pleasants離開EA前後,Simon Jeffery也辭去世嘉美國總裁的職位,加盟iPhone遊戲初創公司Ngmoco(遊戲邦注:這家公司由前EA高管Neil Young建立),擔任執行主管。競賽正拉開序幕,誰都不想落後。

其中模式非常清晰,沒有高層管理者願意提及這點。但這些高管不是試著解決大型公司在過渡至數字階段所遭遇的問題,而是直接加入數字市場,選擇建立或加入iPhone或社交遊戲公司。而此時,EA宣佈Pleasants的COO職位已由重新歸來的John Schappert取代。

Zynga促使免費模式和非同步玩法(或是回合遊戲,其中玩家輪流操作)的組合內容在社交網路上得以順利運作,此平臺的玩家通常每天只有幾分鐘的體驗時間。回合遊戲令玩家能夠在自己方便的時候進行離線操作,同遠方的好友進行社互動動。這是適合眾多使用者的模式,他們很多都未將自己當作玩家,因為他們沒有時間進行遊戲體驗。

Inside Network當時曾預測,美國虛擬商品市場有望創收10億美元。這些收入主要集中在3大社交遊戲巨頭:Zynga、Playdom和Playfish。Zynga憑藉《FarmVille》遙遙領先,但若有公司推出一款轟動鉅作,此排名將隨時發生改變。

人人都能夠製作Facebook遊戲。但困難的是如何讓作品在應用遍佈的社交網路中脫穎而出。Facebook的主流遊戲公司能夠輕鬆向既有使用者交叉推廣自己的新作。掌機遊戲發行商開始對此投以關注。但若未能以某款熱門作品做鋪墊,他們將舉步維艱。EA於2009年秋推出《Spore Islands》(遊戲邦注:基於PC熱作的社交遊戲),但遊戲最終不盡人意。

迫於渴望加入新市場,大型遊戲公司開始紛紛周旋於此市場。Schappert試圖澆滅初創公司的激情。2009年,Schappert曾在某談話中表示,社交遊戲泡沫將越變越大,就好比幾年前用於包裝手機遊戲和虛擬市場的大肆宣傳。

他表示,2005年12月,EA同意以6.8億美元收購Jamdat Mobile,此時正是手機遊戲泡沫的巔峰時刻。風投資本家投資眾多手機遊戲初創公司,旨在期望能夠獲得同等收益,結果此高峰卻逐步轉移至虛擬世界,例如Second Life。

Schappert表示,“社交遊戲吸引眾多眼球。風投資本開始不斷湧入。這能夠持續下去,還是隻是泡沫現象?社交遊戲和手機遊戲存在眾多共同之處。那些稱盒裝遊戲即將消失的人士,他們有些高估自己。”

Schappert並不否認社交和手機市場的存在。但他表示,2年內社交遊戲將步入成熟階段,淡出市場。Schappert表示,到那時,社交網路的熱門作品將會變成那些熟悉的品牌,而非“我們聞所未聞的作品”。

從某種程度看,Schappert似乎在向Pincus傳遞某種資訊。這樣EA開始向Zyngaw伸出收購橄欖枝。Zynga要價10億美元。就Zynga當時的營收來看(根據Zynga內部記錄,公司2009年的收入是1.215億美元,但還要扣除5280萬美元的虧損),這是相當驚人的數字。Pincus一直都願意將公司售出,只是價位非常驚人。此價格是否合理?Pincus的看法是,虛擬商品5年內將發展成巨大的市場,Zynga有望佔據30%的市場份額。從這個角度來看,Zynga的價值高很多。與此同時,若有人願意支付更高的價碼,Pincus非常願意出售公司。

mark-zuckerberg-mark-pincus(from businessinsider.com)

mark-zuckerberg-mark-pincus(from businessinsider.com)

這種態度說明Pincus並不是只著眼於當前,而是放眼未來的更大可能性。他的情況和馬克·扎克伯格很像,扎克伯格原本也有機會以10億美元售出Facebook。據戴維·柯克帕特里克的著作《The Facebook Effect》所述,前Facebook執行總裁Owen Van Natta曾向扎克伯格提出收購要求。雅虎也伸出橄欖枝,想以10億美元收購Facebook。扎克伯格回絕他的要求。據柯克帕特里克稱,事實上,後來微軟曾試圖以150億美元收購Facebook,扎克伯格也一口回絕。Pincus的情況和扎克伯格很相似,都是社交網路的天使投資人,他們的思維方式也很相近。

隨後2009年11月9日,EA發生兩件驚天動地的事情。據悉該公司將裁掉1500位員工,關閉眾多工作室。裁員讓遊戲開發商有所感悟。M2 Research分析師Wanda Meloni發現,有60家遊戲工作室在2009年7月-11月期間共裁員8450人。

該公司以3億-4億美元左右收購Playfish。Playfish被認為是頗具價值的公司,其始終推出原生作品,例如《誰最聰明》,擁有6000萬MAU,但公司並沒有進行大量廣告宣傳。Zynga如今的價值遠勝過大家的預期,因為其規模超越Playfish。

EA也開始加入社交遊戲領域。這發生在Schappert講話後不久,其早前的講話似乎旨在降低收購價碼。在達成交易前,動視暴雪是EA的主要競爭對手。現在EA的頭號競爭者是Zynga。EA執行長約翰·裡奇蒂耶洛似乎打算在此最熱門的遊戲領域同自己的老同事Bing Gordon一較高下。

與Playdom對簿公堂

由於風險很大,Zynga不僅在市場上積極抗爭,還在法庭上據理力爭。2009年9月,就在公司結束同Maestri的《暴民戰爭》訴訟前,Zynga起訴Playdom盜竊商業祕密。很多業內人士都覺得此訴訟非常諷刺(遊戲邦注:鑑於Zynga的抄襲傳統)。但從Zynga的角度來看,抄襲無傷大雅。但偷竊檔案、程式碼和遊戲構思就有違常規。

此法律訴訟表明,業內競爭已變成一場白刃戰。Zynga宣稱公司前僱員(Raymond Holmes、David Rohrl、Martha Sapeta和Scott Siegel)離開公司時帶走很多檔案,其中包括“The Zynga Playbook”,這是涉及Zynga競爭武器的“祕笈”。若只是一個員工離開,那還影響不大。但現在是多個員工,其影響就不容小視。

據2010年5月歸檔的修正起訴書記載,調查過程中,Zynga公開同Playdom高管的郵件,內容展現後者對Pincus的厭惡。Playdom聯合創始人Daniel Yue表示,“我的天啊,我非常討厭Pincus。”Zynga律師認為這些言論造就合理的盜竊立場。

法院3月發出一道禁令,贊同Zynga所述,然後8月又發出一道禁令,禁止Playdom使用所提到的盜竊商業祕密。

Zynga宣稱公司前設計總監Rohrl盜竊整個遊戲構思及相關創意機制,以Playdom的名義製作內容(遊戲邦注:基於不同遊戲名稱)。Rohrl通過私人Gmail向Yue傳送祕密郵件,Yue同意保密內容。他們2009年1月溝通時,Rohrl還在Zynga任職,Rohrl直到2009年3月才得到工作邀請。Zynga宣稱Rohrl憑此行為從Playdom那得到額外利益。3月,法院釋出禁令,禁止Playdom發行遊戲。

Playdom隨後承認Zynga檔案被前Zynga僱員Chris Hinton轉移到Playdom電腦,這些檔案被用於同Zynga競爭。但Zynga Playbook彷彿就是所謂“複製內容”,而Playdom的行為似乎只是如法炮製。

Zynga還宣稱Playdom入侵Zynga的電腦網路,獲取Zynga的使用者名稱單和資料,包括後來名聲大噪的《德克薩斯撲克》資料。Zynga宣稱Playdom通過自動化指令碼盜取公司160萬使用者的資料,其中包括每位使用者所擁有的虛擬貨幣。第二天,2009年1月28日,Playdom據說向Zynga使用者傳送教唆資訊,說服他們體驗Playdom遊戲《Poker Palace》。訴訟於2010年11月結束,這發生在Playdom被收購後。

ScamVille醜聞

2009年秋之所以對社交遊戲來說意義重大,還有其他原因。Offerpal是一家主要建立Facebook廣告的公司,也就是提供眾所周知的“offers”服務,若玩家訂閱Netflix資訊或之類的內容,就會得到虛擬商品。

Offerpal執行長Anu Shukla在迴應媒體質疑其Offers服務帶有欺騙玩家的性質(例如,玩家完全不知自己註冊包月訂閱或其他“虛假”offers,使用者不知道自己是否點選offer頁面,附屬細則非常不顯眼,致使他們落入圈套,購買1年或更久的昂貴服務。只有等到每月賬單寄到手中,他們才會發現。)時表示,他們處理的交易數量很多,有時會遇到糟糕的offers,此時他們就會將其剔除。Shukla同時還替那些採用其服務的遊戲和應用辯護,聲稱此項服務支援玩家想要在遊戲中購買物品(例如,Zynga《FarmVille》中更優質的耕作工具)時,還可以選擇接受Offerpal的offer,完成填寫調查問卷或送花給喜歡的人之類的任務,從而在無需付費的情況下獲得虛擬貨幣等內容。

科技部落格Techcrunch曾撰文稱Zynga 1/3收益都來自導引性銷售和其他offers。Zynga內部人員稱這不是實況。在眾多爭議中,Zynga開始採取措施移除欺騙性offers。但Pincus堅持提供CPA offers。

然後TechCrunch又向Zynga發出另外的攻擊,上傳某視訊:視訊中平卡斯在某次同伯克利觀眾進行的交談中承認自己“曾經為獲得營收採取糟糕舉措”。在此浪潮中,Facebook決定推遲Zynga《FishVille》的所有運作,因為他們在遊戲中發現類似詐騙的offers。6天后,Facebook才再次允許Zynga運作《FishVille》。這次調查迫使Facebook重新制定自己有關offers的規則,縮減具有許可權的供應商名單。Offerpal被排除在外,Zynga短暫刪除自己的所有offers,直到確定再也沒有詐騙內容。

這個事件導致Offerpal、Facebook和Zynga出現信任危機。Shukla被革職,該公司最後不得不朝其他業務發展。ScamVille事件進一步傷害Zynga在業內的聲譽,留下出賣使用者以獲得收益的汙名。由於刪除offers,Zynga只好重新設定自己的收入和利潤目標。這意味著2010年的收入將低於2009。

獲得Yuri Milner的支援

據事後報道,Zynga在2009年的收益依然超過1.21億美元。其淨利潤是5300萬美元(遊戲邦注:當時沒有外人知道)。但這並沒有影響其使用者數量——2.07億MAU,比前一年的9900萬翻一番。Zynga隨後宣佈,其前三款熱門作品囊括公司2009年收入的83%。公司當時的僱員是576人。

儘管出現ScamVille危機,Zynga依然是最搶手的新品牌之一,克萊納·珀金斯在公司的第二輪擴充融資中投入1510萬美元。2009年12月15日,由Yuri Milner管理的俄羅斯投資公司DST同意向Zynga投資1.8億美元。

Milner在訪談中表示,“我們給某些無形資產貼上價格標籤,如團隊質量、部門領導位置及企業的驚人發展。從開始交談到協議達成,該公司全面發展幾十個百分點。這是非常驚人的發展。所有內容都納入評估範圍中。”

協議允許某些僱員出售自己的股票,但要確保Zynga依舊保持私有狀態。這使Zynga面臨嚴峻資本競爭,需要擊退EA之類的挑戰。

當問及資本是否會暫緩Zynga公開發售股票時,Pincus避而談到,“我們建立公司及參與社交遊戲領域的方式就是專注於產品、基礎裝置及發展。我們不想讓媒體和輿論有違實況。我們不想讓公司在融資上言過其實。

他補充表示;

我們所採取的措施是逐步聯手高水準的聰明投資者(他們能夠帶來新鮮看法,支撐我們的長遠目標,且進行分享)。所有投資者之前都曾以自己的方式這麼做過。領導者無需證明什麼。無論是克萊納·珀金斯,Marc Andreessen,還是DST。有些集團已在此做好準備,他們希望看到我們進行嘗試。資金基礎非常重要。關於IPO,這似乎不會加速我們下一年的產品和人員發展。關於上市,若團隊尚未準備待續,就會影響執行力。此線路絕非輕而易舉。

為什麼Milner這位新Web 2.0時代最精明的投資者,會給Pincus這樣一筆巨資?Pincus的觀點是,5年內虛擬商品市場會逐步變大。若Zynga依然是Facebook最熱門的遊戲公司,便有望搶佔其中30%或更多的市場份額。

Zynga能夠向自己的既有使用者交叉推廣新作品。其他公司在此望塵莫及。Zynga已積累眾多資料和經驗,知道什麼適合使用者。其他公司能夠複製Zynga遊戲的功能,但沒有Zynga資料,他們就無法獲悉什麼功能帶來最多營收。雖然Zynga的損失依然很大,但其前景似乎非常光明。(本文為遊戲邦/gamerboom.com編譯,拒絕任何不保留版權的轉載,如需轉載請聯絡:遊戲邦)

轉折點:真正的遊戲設計師

Norwest Venture Partners的風險資本家Tim Chang在2009年秋說道:“現在還很難分析出未來的使用者流失率是多少。社交遊戲存在一定的使用者流失率,就像船底有個洞。但是船隻移動速度相當快,以至於你未曾發現有水滲入。”

Zynga發現儘管《FarmVille》轟動了市場,但是其面臨的挑戰是如何繼續前行,如何用新遊戲吸引那些因厭倦老遊戲而流失的使用者。公司明白,儘管可以實現在1周內增加上百萬玩家,但是這種情況並不能長久維持。

公司在印度設立工作室,部分原因在於公司想要讓自己的僱員能夠每天都回家,在大型遊戲釋出期間可以暫時將他們手上的跟蹤責任遞交給其他同事完成。

這種措施對不斷成長的大型遊戲公司來說非常重要,看看EA早期的境況便可知曉。EA經常讓員工加班,導致員工對公司的厭惡,甚至有個女員工將自己稱為“EA Spouse”。Erin Hoffman隨後透露,EA Spouse代表所有工作時間過長的EA僱員發表抗議。隨後整個行業進行了充分的調查和自省,EA不得不面對由此產生的諸多法律問題並被迫減輕員工壓力。

Zynga也有可能面臨同樣的問題,因為公司在遊戲中新增了新程式碼,用於分析玩家每日的行為資料。設立印度工作室正屬於預防措施。

隨著Zynga的成長,公司也意識到需要招募更多的人才來製作遊戲。隨著越來越多的視訊遊戲行業資深人士走向公司,Zynga也獲得業界越來越多的尊重。有趣的是,甚至連Hoffman都最終走向了Zynga。

brian-reynolds(from venturebeat.com)

brian-reynolds(from venturebeat.com)

Brian Reynolds是Zynga聲譽成長的原因之一。Reynolds是傳統遊戲開發者,受過遊戲行業泰斗Sid Meier的指導,與後者配合製作過《文明》、《文明2》、《蓋茨堡戰役》和《半人馬座阿爾法星》等遊戲。2000年,他離開Meier的公司,成為Big Huge Games的執行長,隨後製作了即時戰略遊戲《國家的崛起》。2008年,該公司被THQ收購。

Bing Gordon將Reynolds引薦給Mark Pincus,Pincus認識Reynolds,因為他在年輕的時候很喜歡同自己的侄子玩即時戰略遊戲。

Gordon在2010年秋的採訪中說道:“Mark是個《國家的崛起》粉絲,就這樣Brian Reynolds來到了Zynga。”

Reynolds於2009年6月30日加入Zynga,在馬里蘭州巴爾的摩市成立新遊戲工作室Zynga East。他成了Zynga的首席遊戲設計師,招募了許多之前的同事建立起成熟的遊戲開發工作室。

Reynolds說道:“我的工作是尋找可以運用到社交遊戲中的優秀遊戲設計技術,做些新穎的產品。”

Reynolds幫助Zynga挽回公司在遊戲設計師心中的形象。2010年2月,Reynolds在拉斯維加斯一年一度的遊戲開發者集會Dice Summit上發表了有關Zynga的演講。當時,Zynga的產品佔據Facebook前10名產品中的6位,月活躍使用者超過2.39億。僅《FarmVille》就是逾7900萬使用者。Reynolds在遊戲開發者群體中有一定聲望,他的演講展現出Zynga友好的一面。正是在此次盛會上,Zynga的Mark Skaggs被評為最佳社交遊戲設計師。

Reynolds向與會者講述了遊戲玩法和玩家動機以及與這兩者相關的話題。他描述了社交遊戲的運作原理。他表示,羞恥感成了驅動人們不斷回到《FarmVille》等遊戲中的原因,因為沒有人希望讓好友看到自己的農場破敗不堪。

Reynolds表示,將主機系列遊戲移植到新社交平臺上卻沒有設計某些適合Facebook使用者的內容,這完全是毫無意義的舉動。這種演講對那些想要趁著社交遊戲的盛行而淘金的開發商極有幫助。Reynolds在大會上表達了自己的看法,但是許久之後才揭示自己正在進行的工作。他說道,自己相信主機遊戲和社交遊戲能夠並存,社交遊戲不會成為硬核遊戲的威脅。

他認為,自己從傳奇遊戲設計師Sid Meier處學到的想法仍然適用於Zynga的專案。Meier喜歡儘可能快地構建原型,然後根據使用者的行為來改善遊戲,Zynga的做法也是如此。同時,在傳統遊戲設計和社交遊戲設計兩個領域中,不可對使用者提出的意見過於重視,這也是很重要的。以《文明》系列遊戲為例,如果設計師滿足每個玩家提出的要求,遊戲就會擁有累贅的功能,使玩家對遊戲的微管理方法變得單調乏味。

在Reynolds加入Zynga之後,許多著名遊戲製作者也紛紛進入公司。2010年春,Steve Chiang成為公司遊戲工作室領導人。其他加入公司的明星開發者包括前EA和Westwood Studios資深人士Louis Castle(遊戲邦注:此人剛剛於近期離開Zynga),在微軟關閉製作《帝國時代》的Ensemble Studios後擔任Zynga顧問的Bruce Shelley。

與Facebook之間的“古巴導彈危機”

《FarmVille》展現出了病毒式營銷的強大力量,Zynga可以通過遊戲網路來進行交叉推廣,在短時間內將新遊戲轉變為市場鉅作。但是Facebook使用者開始抱怨稱,他們從玩遊戲的其他Facebook使用者處收到的推廣資訊數量過多。於是Facebook對此採取了嚴厲措施,關閉了將遊戲通知發到Facebook使用者主更新頁面的功能。Facebook也對平臺上的其他病毒性交流形式進行限制。

上述做法的結果是,Facebook從使用者處收到的有關遊戲推廣的抱怨減少,但是遊戲應用的使用者量急劇下滑。2010年春,Zynga在短時間內損失了千萬使用者。於是,之前不需要做廣告的應用開發商現在需要通過廣告來營銷,而這份廣告盈利直接落入了Facebook的口袋。事實上,Zynga不得不開始給Facebook支付更多的金錢。在這個Facebook“後病毒時代”,Facebook遊戲公司的運營模式效力已經減弱,風險資本家開始轉投更多的手機遊戲公司。

隨即,新的變故發生。Facebook要求Zynga使用新的Facebook Credits虛擬貨幣作為Facebook遊戲中唯一的虛擬交易貨幣。Facebook從虛擬商品交易中收取30%的回扣。有些人認為,平臺擁有者肯定會設定稅費,這種情況是無法避免的。30%的比例與蘋果對App Store中應用銷售的資費比例相同,也是微軟從Xbox Live線上遊戲銷售中的抽成比例。

Facebook的Deborah Liu辯解稱,引進通用貨幣的作用類似於歐洲發行歐元。這使得不同國家的使用者可以在該社交網路上使用相同的貨幣,而且可以通用於所有的應用中。Facebook聲稱,這會讓玩家更有動力在應用中付費。而且,還能夠使國際化交易更加簡單。

但是30%的費用比例並不受開發商歡迎,因為Zynga已經習慣於僅向Facebook上的其他虛擬貨幣供應商支付10%的費用。5月7日,有訊息稱Zynga準備釋出名為“Zynga Live”的網站,作為公司旗下社交遊戲的入口網站。Mark Pincus召開全體員工會議公佈了這個計劃,公司同Facebook間的緊張關係在會議上表露無遺。

前Zynga內部員工說道:“當你在其他人的平臺上運營時,危機就會時刻存在。我們是兩家共同成長的公司。Facebook對自己的實力不瞭解,我們也不知道要怎麼做。Facebook擔心會過於依賴我們,這是就會產生爭端。”

Zynga已經建立了FarmVille.com,並計劃釋出Zynga Live這個承載公司遊戲的自有網路。對於行業中的某些人來說,如果Facebook想要以廣告和Facebook Credits為中心建立切實可行的業務模型,那麼Facebook的這項措施是必要的。Zynga的措施也是有意義的。如果想要讓產品面向全體使用者,就必須脫離Facebook。

但是,雙方的紛爭對兩家公司都不利。對於Facebook來說,Zynga是隻能下金蛋的鵝,他們的遊戲能夠留住使用者。對Zynga來說,Facebook是個必不可少的市場,使公司可以接觸到數百萬的潛在玩家。

在此期間,Pincus發表言論,提醒Facebook要將注意力放在最擅長的事情上,也就是構建社交網路。

Pincus說道:“Facebook正處在十字路口。他們必須決定成為網路上的社交平臺是否是件更為重要的事情,也就是讓他們的社交管道遍佈全球,比如通過Facebook Connect等更為開放的技術和通訊基礎結構進行擴張。這就好比成為線上世界的水管工。如果我正處在他們的位置上,我的目標就是成為社交平臺。他們必須決定是要成為社交管道還是成為入口網站。我希望他們能夠找到圍繞社交管道構建起的業務模型。”

他補充道:“社交遊戲目前的發展方向應當是成為網路上的開放Xbox Live。如果我們能夠獲得成就,有始終如一的使用者體驗,網路出版商和站點能夠參與其中,開發商能夠以簡單的方式創造出令人驚異的遊戲體驗,使用者間的關係通過遊戲得到加強,那麼我相信社交遊戲最終將成為網路上少數能夠讓使用者獲得真實體驗的產品之一,成為一項龐大的業務。”

達成Facebook Credits交易

Owen Van Natta當時正在Zynga就職。他之前擔任過MySpace執行長和Facebook營運長,在後者的工作時間為2005年9月到2008年2月。Van Natta很瞭解Zuckerberg和Facebook其他僱員。他正是Mark Pincus需要的那種顧問,能夠幫他處理Facebook Credits談判問題。

2010年2月,Zynga聲稱公司已正式將Van Natta聘用為高管,雙方之前已有過多次接觸。

在與Zynga的對話中,Facebook表示半數API呼叫來自Zynga遊戲。這意味著,Facebook上的半數遊戲活動來源於此合作伙伴。同時,Zynga宣告稱,公司正花費大量廣告資金來吸引Facebook使用者體驗公司的遊戲。Facebook難道真得想要排擠自己的首要合作伙伴嗎?為何Facebook不將Facebook Credits的抽成比例定為3%-4%,向其他虛擬商品交易供應商看齊呢?

Facebook正在進行自我反思。但是Mark Zuckerberg曾提及一點。Facebook不會像中國大型社交網路和遊戲公司騰訊那樣發展,隨著時間推移擁有越來越多自身的遊戲。騰訊的生態系統中內容不斷增加,但是,Facebook始終只是個社交網路。Zuckerberg表示,Facebook不打算自行製作遊戲,公司沒有足夠的資金來這樣做。這便是Zynga的核心競爭力。網站必須依靠Zynga來提供最為流行的應用,所以不會將Zynga排擠出去。

5月18日,Facebook和Zynga暫時化解了Facebook Credits問題談判陷入的僵局。雙方聲稱已經達成了5年戰略合作協定,期間內將在社交網路上互相支援。在此協定下,Zynga同意擴充套件Facebook Credits的使用範圍,最終公司旗下游戲在Facebook上只使用這種貨幣來進行虛擬商品交易。Zynga同意在每次虛擬商品交易中向Facebook支付30%的全額交易費用。

Facebook和Zynga表示,此次協議對雙方都有好處,而Zynga似乎已經撤銷了讓遊戲脫離社交網路和加大對其他遊戲網路投資的威脅。雙方表示,協議主要解決的是Facebook Credits的問題,結果是Facebook不會削減Zynga的交易費用比例。事實情況的確如此。

但是,還有個協議未被兩家公司提及。在這份協議中,Facebook承諾將營銷平臺並讓使用者數量成長,這樣Zynga旗下游戲才能不斷獲得新的使用者。Zynga的義務是,只要Facebook向Zynga提供足夠的使用者數量,Zynga同意自己的遊戲只在Facebook上運營。其他遊戲公司根本無法與Facebook達成類似的協議。

2011年7月,幾乎所有的Facebook應用開發商都被要求轉向使用Facebook Credits。Zynga、CrowdStar和其他開發商很早就為使用Facebook Credits鋪平了道路,因而他們願意在被強制要求之前就向Facebook支付30%的交易盈利。合約可以解決由此帶來的部分問題。Zynga還成功地讓Facebook與之談判,因為公司探索到了其他運營選擇,可以減少其對Facebook的依賴性。但是不久之後,雙方找到了雙贏的方法。

在這場風波結束後,科技部落格TechCrunch曾撰文指出,Facebook Credits爭端就像技術領域的古巴導彈危機。Gordon對這種說法表示同意。在2010年秋接受VentureBeat的採訪中,Gordon說道:“在電子遊戲業務出現之日起,內容發行商和平臺公司之間摩擦不斷。我們在電子遊戲領域看到的情況是,隨著時間推移,這種摩擦逐漸緩和。構建穩定關係的最簡單方法是,讓雙方都能夠在市場中堅持住。發行商和平臺公司的首選做法就是相互幫助共同生存發展。”

Zynga和Facebook之間關於Facebook Credits的協議細節公開一年多後,其他遊戲開發商開始覺察到問題。他們得知任何公司都無法在Facebook Credits問題上獲得特殊關照,甚至是Zynga也不例外。但是Zynga成功地讓Facebook做出妥協,以換取公司接受Facebook Credits,30%的費用對Zynga來說顯得更加合意。Zynga仍舊顯得不慌不忙,該公司在2011年4月前完成向Facebook Credits的過渡即可。而且,Zynga仍然向Facebook獨家提供遊戲。

《FrontierVille》改變Zynga

儘管Brian Reynolds是Zynga的首席遊戲設計師,但是其有些想法似乎並不出眾。他在巴爾的摩的團隊開發過各種各樣的想法。《Fashion Wars》沒有取得成功,《Civ Wars》也沒有。即便他是遊戲行業的資深人士,也需要花些時間來探索正確的社交遊戲之路。

在他進入公司大約1年之後,Zynga於2010年6月9日釋出了Reynolds的首款成功遊戲《FrontierVille》。他負責的Zynga East團隊有16名僱員,所以相比Zynga之前的遊戲來說,這款遊戲花費了更多的時間和金錢。即便如此,這樣的團隊比起其他公司的主機遊戲團隊來說仍然較小,後者通常需要上百名開發者參與。

從某個方面來說,這款遊戲極為關鍵。Facebook當年早期限制了病毒性渠道,使Zynga失去了數千萬玩家。2010年4月20日,當時Zynga的月活躍使用者為2.52億。但是在《FrontierVille》釋出之時,公司月活躍使用者數量已下滑至2.16億。公司必須採取措施來挽救這種局面。

Zynga在《FrontierVille》中呈現出的內容幾乎無懈可擊。這是款原創遊戲,與Zynga之前製作的其他遊戲截然不同。遊戲的主題是開荒,玩家在荒野中建立家園,努力將其發展成熙熙攘攘的邊境小鎮。這是款家庭遊戲,不只有照顧作物和培育家畜的內容,還要用槍支打敗鄰居守衛家園。

FrontierVille(from hkactivity.hubpages.com)

FrontierVille(from hkactivity.hubpages.com)

Reynolds曾經是個偏向硬核內容的設計師。在他為設計師Sid Meier工作時,總是很樂意在遊戲中新增原子彈等內容。但是現在他已經變成了休閒遊戲行家,對Zynga提升實力和吸引新使用者來說至關重要。

《FrontierVille》的深度位於其社交遊戲玩法中。在《FarmVille》中,好友可以幫助你照顧農作物,而你或許對此從不在乎。但是幫助他人是《FrontierVille》遊戲玩法中的關鍵內容。你可以幫助好友照顧作物、餵養動物、砍伐樹木和復活枯萎的作物。你可以撫養自己的家庭、照顧作物、將惡棍趕出領地、新增鄰居並通過幫助他人來提升聲望。

Reynolds在VentureBeat的採訪中說道:“在這款遊戲中,你可以更為簡單地檢視幫助你的人。這個行業教我學會尋找些簡單的內容並讓玩家以深層次的方法進行互動。目標在於提升社交體驗的質量。”原創是Reynolds堅守的原則。

當《FrontierVille》釋出時,馬上就吸引了大量的使用者,但是隨後增長又趨於平緩。問題在於,團隊中沒有專注於使用者資料的分析師,所以從根本上來說,只是一些設計師在閉門造車。隨後,當Zynga最終為《FrontierVille》配備全職分析師時,使用者量又開始上升。遊戲使用者量隨後攀升至3000萬,使之成為公司最大的遊戲之一。

創造Zynga新企業文化

《FrontierVille》的成功和Reynolds的遊戲開發者團隊幫助Zynga弄清楚了自己的身份。隨著公司的盈利不斷增加,可以僱傭更多新的開發者。Playdom等競爭對手也已經籌集資金,他們可以以相對便宜的價格收購那些受經濟危機影響的遊戲工作室。所以Zynga認為自己也需要做同樣的事情。

受經濟危機影響的遊戲工作室很多。Zynga最早會檢視數百家之後才決定收購。最後,其收購遊戲工作室的速度達到每月1家。Zynga的僱員速度也在快速增加。2010年7月,迪士尼決定以7.632億美元買下Playdom。現在,Zynga不僅需要同EA競爭,還要同迪士尼戰鬥。

Zynga沒有能夠與其競爭對手相抗衡的品牌,公司擁有的資源就是人力。2009年3月,Colleen McCreary成為Zynga的首席人力官。這位EA前人力資源主管表示,當公司成長如此迅速且收購如此多新遊戲工作室時,構建企業文化並非易事。但是她感覺公司的團隊間存在共同點。

McCreary說道:“我們有大量充滿激情的員工,他們都很願意在這個新興領域中努力。他們在其他地方選擇了這份職業,並將社交遊戲視為下個流行之物。”

McCreary的團隊用核心原則來創造更優秀的公司文化。讓人們盡其所能快速工作的唯一方法是激勵他們實現公司的核心理想。

McCreary自己是在聽取了Bing Gordon的意見後加入公司。她此前同Mark Pincus有過3個小時的談話,但她拒絕了Pincus轉投EA。但是Pincus仍然與她保持聯絡,在4個月後再次嘗試,後來她終於接受了邀請。

她在2010年秋天的採訪中說道:“他保持與我的聯絡表明了他渴望我能加入Zynga。他希望我能夠為公司找到最棒的人來構建產品。他希望我們能創造出任何矽谷CEO都想要的東西。對於初創公司來說,你僱傭的前20個員工是好友。接下來僱傭的80個人就是你需要用來完成工作的成員。我們的公司已經發展到如此之大,所以我們必須弄清楚要如何擴張和管理。”

隨著Zynga不斷成長,公司會接受那些被EA等公司裁員的員工。傳統遊戲開發者喜歡到Zynga工作,因為他們認為這樣就有機會接觸到新的使用者群體。這些開發者在大型團隊中只扮演著很小的角色。但是在Zynga,10到25人的團隊在3到6個月內就能夠製作出遊戲。就Reynolds的情況而言,McCreary表示Zynga在他身上冒了很大的風險,在長期的實驗和失敗後依然相信他能夠製作出很棒的產品。

但是Zynga屬下的僱員都壓力重重,其工作節奏可以說是懲罰性的。未能達標的員工會感受到很大的壓力,對他們來說,要麼作出成績,要麼就只能離開公司。

Zynga需要對自己的僱員負責。Kleiner Perkins的合作伙伴John Doerr說服了Pincus採用“目標和關鍵結果”,Google和英特爾使用的就是這種管理方式。Pincus讓他的員工寫下每週的三個目標,然後在週五審查他們的完成情況。Pincus表示,這讓員工專注於工作。這個系統幫助公司淘汰了表現較差的員工,同時也使他們脫離無關緊要的事情。

有些人將Zynga視為“草根Google”。意思是,公司確實向僱員提供了免費食物之類的福利,但是其福利並不像搜尋巨頭那樣好。

一段時間後,僱員們開始產生疑問,在Zynga究竟要如何發展下去。如果軟體工程師想要繼續發展的話,他的下個目標是什麼?在數個月的時間內,Zynga就解決了這個問題,包括讓員工將20%的工作時間花在未來的目標和替代者的培訓上。直到2010年秋,Mark Pincus還在花時間同McCreary探討Zynga每個僱員的發展目標。雖然Pincus很忙,但是他在工作時間總是待在公司,這樣員工隨時都可以與他交流。McCreary表示,當Zynga出現不高興的員工時,Pincus也會變得憂心忡忡。

對於那些感覺工作時間過長的員工,尤其是在遊戲釋出之時,Zynga總是努力讓他們得到放鬆。公司會將工作暫時遞交給在印度的工作室,讓員工休息片刻。隨後,Zynga透露在公司工作不足1年的員工比例為64%,不足兩年的比例為92%。儘管如此,許多員工都願意繼續待在公司,即便在Zynga的工作很艱難,但是員工可以獲得大量的升遷機會和季度獎金。他們還看到Zynga未來的發展前景,看到自己將來的高薪之日。

更加成熟的Pincus?

當Zynga文化變得越加成熟之時,Pincus亦然。他並不像是《FarmVillains》(遊戲邦注:佐治亞州技術教授Ian Bogost在SF Weekly發表的一篇文章)描寫的那般“邪惡”,我們可以發現Zynga的很多員工都是來自於其早前初創公司Support.com。如果他並不是一位好老闆,怎麼還會有如此多的人願意追隨他?

而對於Bing Gordon來說,Zynga興起於動盪且多變的遊戲產業時代。他在2010年秋天說道,除了Pincus,沒有人能夠更加巧妙地度過這個特別的時期。

Gordon表示:“Mark是個具有先見之明的人,而正是這一優點深深吸引了我。在拓展使用者群時他具有深刻的洞察力,明確了遊戲的易用性和好友間的交流等重要性。”

Gordon堅信Pincus所做的這些都不是為了凸顯自己。他說Pincus總是很樂意待在幕後,並且從不會嫉妒任何員工的成功。想起早前一份關於Pincus領導風格的負面備註,Gordon解釋到:“Mark與之前相比發生了很大的變化。之前的Mark並未接觸過任何大事業。2008年,人們都還不相信Mark有能力經營一家大公司。因為他早前曾被董事會趕出公司。而這也是大多數投資者所關注的焦點。我在公司的角色便是確保這種情況不會再次發生。”

早前,Pincus非常不善於表達,他總是因為講話不像一名CEO而遭到議論。當2009年春天,Colleen McCreary出任Zynga人力資源主管時,她便幫助Pincus解僱了30名未能達標的員工。後來,Pincus便更加專注於一些更重要的領域,如商業模式,招聘,企業間的合作關係,未來投資以及遊戲本身。在Web2.0峰會等多種演講場合,Pincus總是不斷地強調未來將是社交遊戲的天下,並且他們會將將廣大社交遊戲玩家當成永久使用者。這與亞馬遜或者谷歌等大型網站的做法一樣。Pincus希望引導Zynga走向一個真正的目標,而不只是曇花一現。

Gordon補充道:“我曾經對Mark說過,我認為你能夠成為一名世界級的CEO。對於我來說,目前在Zynga的工作就像是我80年代在EA的經歷,但是Zynga現在的發展遠比那時候的EA快了3倍,並且我所接觸的也是一些更加聰明的人。”

“能夠建立4家公司便說明他是個聰明人。所以你就必須僱傭一些有才能的新秀,並在他們身上下賭注,給予他們足夠的權利,冒險一搏。”

有時候,投資者會不滿Pincus的做法而欲將其擠出公司,而Pincus也會收到一些來自於員工的負面反饋。但是風險投資家們和董事會成員並未擁有Zynga的主要控制權。Pincus仍然擁有該公司的最大股份,並且主導著董事會和表決權。這與Facebook執行長Mark Zuckerberg在爭取投資時佔據著有利的協商地位是一樣道理。如此Pincus便擁有更多時間能夠針對性地改變做法,讓自己成為更受歡迎的領導者。他一直在努力學習成為一名大公司的CEO,而這也是他之前從未嘗試過的。

但是並非所有人都認可Pincus的做法。風險投資公司Elevation Partners聯合創始人Roger McNamee在《紐約時報》中說道:“Zynga本應成為最佳創業典例。但是他最終卻成為了哈佛商學院關於創始人過激行為的案例——對於我們來說這絕對是個警示。”

但McNamee曾經與Zynga的最大對手EA執行長John Riccitiello合作過,所以他發表如此言論也是情有可原。然而還有一些問題存在。Andrew Trader這名Zynga早期員工在2010年3月離開了公司,後來Pincus卻著要求其返還之前公司授予的股票。據報道,Trader不得不針對此事與Zynga做個了結。根據《華爾街日報》報道,這種“追回利益”的行為不只出現在Trader身上,而且這種做法之後給Pincus帶來了負面影響。

建立zCloud

Zynga之所以能夠創造出完整的遊戲網路主要歸因於快速發展的“基礎設施建設”和新的“雲端計算”服務,如亞馬遜的網路服務,後者將自己資料中心部分出租給其它小公司。Zynga技術長Cadir Lee在2010年秋天採訪中表示,這種做法能夠幫助Zynga更好地創造一個靈活的雲端基礎設施服務。

Zynga最初基於託管式基礎設施。當《FarmVille》發行時,他們便轉向於公共雲服務,即接受亞馬遜的網路服務。這意味著他們必須完全依賴於亞馬遜的資料中心,不論他們的要求是否合理。但是從2010年開始,Zynga便打算建立屬於自己的資料中心,即zCloud,發展到現在已經越來越龐大了。這是Zynga採用的一種混合方法,即他們既能夠使用自己資料中心的資料,也能夠根據不同需求而利用亞馬遜的公共雲服務。

但是這麼做的代價卻很大。Zynga在2011年將投入超過1億9900萬美元於基礎設施中,比起之前的6千200萬美元明顯增加了許多。但是這種公-私混合雲服務能夠讓Zynga以較低的成本提供與亞馬遜同等的服務。如今Zynga旗下有許多正處於不同發展階段的遊戲,而Zynga可以根據不同需要為它們選擇不同的伺服器。投資於自己的資料中心也能夠幫助Zynga省錢。例如,它能夠計算出如何減少功率的使用,如何幫助Zynga節省成本等,而這是利用亞馬遜資料中心所不能做到的。

Lee表示,《FrontierVille》便受益於Zynga從《FarmVille》中獲得的經驗。Zynga認為《FarmVille》中的分析,儲存,雲端計算以及遊戲應用架構都是該公司寶貴的競爭優勢。其後來的很多遊戲都借鑑了這些程式碼和功能。Zynga通過收集和分析資料,以幫助設計師創造出迎合玩家需求的優秀遊戲。他們同樣也在保護虛擬商品免受黑客侵襲方面下了巨大投資。

Zynga現在可以帶著其數千萬的使用者繼續發展,也有可能在短短几周時間內便失去無數使用者。他們可以根據需求將遊戲轉移到專屬雲服務zCloud上,或者從中移開。在1天時間內,Zynga可以在自動化形式下新增或者排除1000個伺服器。每天能夠傳輸超過1TB的內容,而其現在的儲存能力已經達到10TB了。(後來Zynga表示其每天能夠加工15TB的遊戲資料。)但是,現在的Zynga還會不時出現執行中斷現象,其主要原因還是歸咎於對亞馬遜的依賴。

然而Zynga自身的資料中心也具有風險性。如果對於Zynga遊戲的需求突然下降,Zynga本身的基礎設施將會受到牽連而造成巨大損失。這也是為何Zynga選擇既擁有自身資料中心又依賴於外部資源的原因。

作為Zynga基礎設施工程的技術長,Allan Leinwand表示Zynga更傾向於靈活性。他們既享受著亞馬遜提供的“四輪轎車式”服務,同時也在努力創造著不一樣的Zynga應用。

Leinwand說道:“也許有一天我們想要的是一輛轎車,或者Winnebago房車。亞馬遜的四輪轎車只能幫你觸及公共雲服務。而一旦我們更加了解自己的應用,我們便需要變得更有靈活性。於是我們創造了zCloud。亞馬遜雖然是一個很不錯的平臺,但是我們的某些應用其實更需要的是跑車或者是18輪的特定汽車。我們必須為滿足不同玩家的需求而定製不同的雲服務。”

不論如何,Zynga正在嘗試著這樣的選擇,即躋身少數公司的行列創造屬於自己的資料中心。只有一些大型公司,如Facebook,谷歌和蘋果建立了屬於自己的資料中心,而這也是他們在獲得了上百萬使用者基礎後做出的決定。多虧了如此操作,這些公司能夠進一步拉近與使用者之間的關係,也因此堅定了他們統治世界的決心。

走向國際市場

2010年春天,Zynga便開始思考如何恢復發展。除了擁有大量Facebook使用者基礎和自身的資料中心基礎設施,它還迫切需要更多全球使用者。美國社交遊戲市場的發展在後病毒式傳播時代中開始慢慢減速。而且Facebook也並未主導著每一個海外市場。例如在日本,Zynga便需要尋找新的出路。

所以Zynga便在2010年6月與日本軟銀(擁有日本手機領域絕對的控制權)簽訂了協議。軟銀同意投資1億5千萬美元於Zynga在日本的經營活動。那時候,Zynga總共募集了超過5億2千萬美元的投資於社交遊戲中,其中更是包括來自於谷歌(他們正規化著建立屬於自己的社交網路億挑戰Facebook)悄然投資的1億美元。

2010年4月,每個月共有2億5200萬玩家在玩Zynga遊戲。但是當看到許多遊戲的玩家慢慢流失後,Zynga認為是時候開闢新的市場了。在日本,Zynga力圖拓展手機遊戲,並製造出符合日本使用者需求的內容。軟銀執行長Masayoshi Son稱,他非常期待能夠與Zynga合作創造出強大的社交遊戲。Zynga同樣也堅信日本擁有與美國一樣廣大的手機市場和發展前景。

Zynga同樣也希望開拓亞洲市場,在這裡免費線上遊戲剛剛興起,並且廣大玩家都極力擁護虛擬商品。該公司開始積極尋找海外優秀的收購目標,並且為一款遊戲同時發行了不同語言的版本。

不斷地實踐著推廣努力,Zynga於2010年8月發行了第一款國際版本的《Zynga Poker》,並針對於Facebook中的香港和臺灣玩家發行了中文版本。這款遊戲本身就擁有高達2千8百萬月活躍使用者,但是該公司希望通過這些本土化策略幫助它獲得更多使用者。Zynga總是無止盡地追求著更多使用者,而現在他們更是竭盡全力地去實現這一目標。

很快,Zynga發行的每一款遊戲便同時都帶有不同語言。但是在日本,事情的進展卻不是很順利。Zynga計劃同時在網路和手機兩大平臺發行遊戲。但是在日本,由DeNA,Gree和Mix控制的遊戲網路發展得非常迅速。所以那些初創企業團隊們很難在此獲得較好的成績,要不就是創造的遊戲早已過時,要不就是難以創造出大受歡迎的遊戲。如果Zynga未做好萬全的準備便強行擠進日本市場,他們可能便需要花費比預期更長的時間才能做出成績。

走向手機領域

Zynga所採取的最佳行動便是在初嘗iPhone遊戲市場後便迅速離開了。而其對手SGN則在2009年中旬一頭扎進了iPhone市場。

Mark Pincus發現蘋果平臺仍然很貧瘠。他希望蘋果能夠將iPhone轉變成一個“具有社交性”的裝置,就像是Facebook對於社交遊戲的做法那樣。蘋果並不具備在好友圈中迅速推廣遊戲或者讓使用者更快發現遊戲的功能。所以Pincus希望蘋果能夠推出應用內建付費功能,讓玩家也能夠在iPhone上購買免費遊戲。

Zynga的競爭者如EA,SGN以及Gameloft深信不疑地堅守於手機市場中。他們砸下重金以學習如何從新的智慧手機平臺上賺錢。與此同時,Zynga將更多的錢投入在Facebook平臺上,從而獲得了更多使用者並賺得比手機遊戲更多的利益。但是Zynga也並未完全離開手機領域,而且當手機市場的前景越來越明朗之時,Zynga也覺得是時候轉向這裡了。

隨後,Zynga便開始追趕其他對手了。它曾試圖收購Ngmoco,這是前EA高管Neil Young創辦的iPhone遊戲開發公司。Bing Gordon非常贊同這一決定,因為他同時是Zynga和Ngmoco的董事,而Kleiner Perkins也同時投資於這兩家公司。

但是最終,日本的DeNA於2010年10月以4億3百萬美元的高價收購了Ngmoco。DeNA在日本的手機領域已經收穫了上億美元的收益,他們希望藉此收購而拓展西方社交手機遊戲市場。

如此收購創造了一種有趣的競爭模式。當Zynga正在與Playfish和Playdom相抗衡時(以及後來的EA和迪士尼),他們也意識到DeNA和日本手機遊戲社交網路公司Gree也對世界手機社交遊戲的最高統治地位虎視眈眈。而他們也積極地展開與Zynga的競爭行動。

2010年10月,Zynga任命雅虎前高管David Ko為該公司移動部門的高階副總裁。2010年12月,Zynga收購了美國手機遊戲開發商Newtoy,該公司開發了《Words With Friends》這款iPhone拼字遊戲,在短短時間內便創造了1千2百萬的下載量。這是Zynga在7個月以來進行的第七筆收購交易,但這次明顯更加針對於手機領域。

Words-With-Friends(from insidesocialgames.com)

Words-With-Friends(from insidesocialgames.com)

Zynga為筆收購支付了5千330萬美元,這是Zynga收購其他任何一家公司的最高數額。那時候,Newtoy僅有23名員工,而Zynga本身已有1千3百名員工。如此看來,移動領域是Zynga在除Facebook外趨向多元化的另外一種方式。

《黑幫戰爭》的製作人Justin Cinicolo在幫助Zynga躋身手機領域中扮演著領導角色。在2010年秋的一次採訪中,他表示“Pincus現在更想要涉及手機領域,而我們知道,在這裡要想獲得如網頁遊戲的那般成績必須投入更多的時間。我們已經對社交網路瞭解透徹了,所以有必要開始拓展其它領域的遊戲市場。”

但是與此同時,Zynga也必須面臨一些大問題。因為即使是在Facebook遊戲領域擁有主導地位,也不能幫助它在手機遊戲領域中獲得更好的發展。

《CityVille》引起轟動

Zynga曾經有段時間一直在尋找能夠延續《FarmVille》熱潮的後續遊戲。《FrontierVille》雖然擁有所有優秀的遊戲元素,但是卻未獲得如《FarmVille》般的廣泛關注度。所以該公司將更多的精力投入於下一款遊戲中,即由經驗豐富的遊戲設計師Mark Skaggs領導創造的遊戲。Skaggs先創造出一款大型遊戲模式,然後交給其他人完成剩下的工作,而他自己則立刻轉向新遊戲開發。

Zynga於2010年創造了《CityVille》。曾經致力於《FarmVille》並且是前EA設計師的Skaggs表示,《CityVille》的開發團隊中有95%的人從未參與遊戲開發工作。這個團隊在開發遊戲中借鑑了Zynga其它遊戲中一些成功的機制,如收集獎勵,搶奪戰利品等。隨後他們便開始關注如何才能讓一款城市類遊戲更有趣。結果他們創造了一款簡單的城市模擬遊戲,雖然一次遊戲只需要幾分鐘時間,但是卻能讓眾多玩家一天內反覆回到遊戲中進行體驗。

他們創造的這款城市模擬遊戲便是《CityVille》,其中包含了一些新的Zynga遊戲元素。遊戲中,在城市地圖上有一些移動的好友動畫和圖示,如此設定會讓玩家感覺這好像是一種即時遊戲,同時遊戲還渲染了3D多邊形表達方式,即允許城市轉動,並讓玩家從不同視角觀看遊戲畫面。同時遊戲中還有新手教程,幫助新手玩家更方便地進行遊戲,它既包含了《FrontierVille》的社交功能,即允許玩家在好友的幫助下前進,同時也允許玩家購買Facebook Credits而更快地前進。從外表來看,這更像是《模擬城市》或者Playdom的《Social
City》。但是Zynga的遊戲更簡單且更適合Facebook平臺,即並未涵括太多互動性內容。

Zynga在2010年11月17日宣稱將發行《CityVille》,該遊戲還同時具備四種語言的版本,並且這是Zynga首次定位不同區域而發行的遊戲。但是在公告發布後的數週,Zynga還一直在調整遊戲。直到12月2日的1點22分,Zynga最終發行了這款遊戲。發行後的24小時內,共有超過29萬名玩家體驗了遊戲。這是Zynga有史以來最好的釋出成績,甚至高於《FrontierVille》的11萬6千名玩家。

更多玩家繼續湧向遊戲。在發行5天后,《CityVille》便吸引了650萬名玩家。他們在遊戲中建立了超過270萬個家和50萬間麵包房。這款遊戲的時機把握得非常好,因為這時候《FarmVille》已經慢慢衰退了,而這也促使Zynga的月活躍使用者從2010年春天的2億6千萬下滑至1億9380萬。但是隨著《CityVille》的發行,這個數值將慢慢回升,在發行的第12天,已經有2千6百萬玩家體驗過這款遊戲了。

在接受採訪時,Zynga副總裁,也是領導《CityVille》創作的Mark Skaggs說道:“這種感覺很有趣,我們好似再次體驗了《FarmVille》發行時的那種樂趣與興奮。我們瞬間充滿了幹勁並希望將其做得更好。”

《CityVille》的發行明確體現出Zynga在社交遊戲領域不可阻擋的實力。在二手股市中,Zynga現在的估值已經達到了50億美元,遠遠高於競爭對手EA,後者收益為40億美元。《CityVille》在2010年12月24日使用者數首次趕上《FarmVille》,儘管這時候後者還擁有5千8百萬名使用者。1月3日,《CityVille》超越了《FarmVille》的最高紀錄8千376萬使用者,這是在2010年3月獲得的記錄。2011年1月14日,《CityVille》的使用者數突破了1億,這僅僅是該遊戲發行的第43天。在電子遊戲的50年發展史中,《CityVille》是使用者數量增長最快的一款遊戲。如此也將Zynga的月活躍使用者數帶至2億9660萬。在Facebook中,《CityVille》的使用者數甚至是排名第二的應用的5倍之多。

作為Zynga董事會成員,Bing Gordon表示《CityVille》是合理安排遊戲內部獎勵的產物。他認為該款遊戲的成功證明了遊戲是網路中一種“社交通用語”,在這裡我們會遇到不同人並且通過與他們玩社交遊戲人加深彼此之間的關係。《CityVille》的成功推動了Zynga在2010年第一季度的利潤增長,使用者購買遊戲內部虛擬商品的次數變得更加頻繁了。

《CityVille》的成功吸引了更多贊助商的關注。在2011年5月,Zynga與夢工廠簽訂了協議,將在遊戲中推廣他們的電影《功夫熊貓2》。而使用者可以在他們的城市裡建造《功夫熊貓2》主題的免下車電影院。Zynga並未擁有較有名的遊戲專營權,但他們知道如何通過虛擬商品植入品牌內容,從而為遊戲創造更多價值。

《CityVille》的成功讓Zynga希望能夠獲取更大的成功。其隨後便發行了《CityVille Hometown》,即該遊戲的手機版本,並且他們還宣稱將在騰訊平臺發行中國版的《CityVille》(即《星佳城市》)。後一行動能夠幫助Zynga更好地走進騰訊這一擁有超過6億7400萬中國使用者的平臺。

《星佳城市》由Zynga位於北京的工作室開發(其前身是Zynga在2010年5月收購的XPD Media)。該工作室的開發團隊成員都是來自於中國的設計師,美術人員以及開發者。《CityVille》可以說是迄今為止Zynga旗下最全球化的遊戲。

淘金熱或泡沫?

2011年1月,Zynga祕密獲悉公司估值。據第三方評估公司表示,Zynga當前的估值是49.8億美元。隨著公司的發展及Facebook和Groupon價值的提高,Zynga也從此泡沫階段中受益,因為投資者紛紛尋找方式想從此Facebook現象中大撈一筆。只有少數投資者能夠真正在Facebook投資,但其股份的需求日益攀升。

2011年2月13日,據《華爾街日報》報道,Zynga在首輪融資中籌得2.5億美元,投資者認為Zynga估值約在70-90億美元。這極大超越二級市場的50億美元估值,這說明投資者非常熱衷於投資社交遊戲及Facebook相關專案。而此時,Zynga依然憑藉《CityVille》處於優勢地位,遊戲MAU達2.758億。

EA估值約為60億美元。基於估值的比較非常瘋狂。EA截至2011年3月的財政年度營收有望高達37億美元(非GAAP演算法)。動視暴雪2010年的營收為48億美元。EA和動視都有7000多名員工。二者從非GAAP角度來看都獲利豐厚。

大家關於Zynga的估值都有些誇大。據《華爾街日報》內部訊息透露,Zynga 2010年的營收有望達到8.5億美元,淨賺4億美元(遊戲邦注:據Zynga後來的IPO檔案資料顯示,公司實際創收5.97億美元,淨賺9000萬美元)。Zynga有1500多名員工,平均每月購買一家遊戲工作室。相比之下,EA稱,截至3月31日公司的財政年度營收有望達到7.5美元。

回到去年10月份,據二級市場(其中公司員工和股東能夠向資金雄厚的投資者出售自己的股票)的有限交易量顯示,Zynga估值只有52.7億美元。當時,Zynga估值超過EA。深知泡沫現象的觀察者問道:Zynga如何在3個多月裡將自己的市場價值翻一番?

Zynga如今的營收是2010年的11倍多。而動視暴雪則是去年的2.7倍,EA約是1.7倍。大家大多會基於Zynga的潛在營收和收益估算公司價值;由於公司發展迅速,投資者自然會給出更高估值。Zynga顯然是純社交媒介技術中的一員,Facebook也在其中之列,其估值在最近融資中上升至500億美元;Groupon估值超過60億美元;LinkedIn正在籌備上市;Twitter估值介於80-100億美元。

Zynga因採用免費遊戲模式(其中玩家能夠免費體驗遊戲,但需要付費購買虛擬商品)吸引眾多投資者的關注。亞洲遊戲公司也採用此模式,值得注意的是騰訊在中國股票市場的價值約460億美元。但很多中國線上公司的估值都在40億美元以下。

有人覺得Zynga估值並不真實,因為它處在投資泡沫中,此數值最終定會縮水。但傳統遊戲公司明白,Zynga可以通過自己的估值購買具有實際價值的資產。Zynga每月都會購買小型遊戲工作室,但它已積累足夠資金,能夠買下傳統遊戲開發公司。它能夠在新作品中投入充足資金,而此作品則有可能威脅其他公司的地位。這就是泡沫價值轉變成實際價值的方式。

很多大型遊戲品牌意圖在2011年進攻Zynga核心市場——Facebook遊戲領域。但要擠掉Zynga非常困難,Zynga已進入某種自我延續的狀態。Zynga需要在營銷中投入大筆資金,以保持自己的地位,但只要它依然擁有資金,它就能夠從中賺取更多,Zynga是Facebook平臺的“猛虎”。公司同時還轉投手機領域,將其視作下步擴張的目標市場。

當時,沒有人知曉Zynga下輪投資的具體內容。但Zynga隨後表示,公司在2月份融資4.9億美元。這筆鉅額資金令Zynga得以推遲公司IPO,直到順利達成某些目標(遊戲邦注:例如收益水平、Facebook之外的多元發展、手機領域擴張和國際市場擴張)。所有這些目標令Zynga得以收穫讓投資者放心的收益。之前,Zynga已融資3.6億美元,所以新回合的融資超越先前所有數額之和。

到3月份,Zynga估值是100億美元。到5月底,估值變成139.8億美元。當時關於Zynga意圖上市的謠言遍佈各處。反對派則表示,沒有公司能夠以如此快的速度增值,這不過是另一個矽谷泡沫。

最終獲得認可

在2011年的Dice Summit上,700位遊戲設計師及其他業內傑出人士聽到的是關於《FarmVille》和《憤怒的小鳥》之類的作品如何瓦解傳統遊戲領域的公開談論。Zynga派出的代表是Bruce Shelley,他是曾製作出《Age of Empires》等作品的著名設計師,現在是Zynga的諮詢顧問。

Blizzard Entertainment主管Mike Morhaime表示,他會玩《Words With Friends》(這是款類似Scrabble的iPhone文字遊戲),這樣他就能夠同老朋友保持聯絡。

EA BioWare部門的聯合創始人Greg Zeschuk表示,他會把其他人拉到自己辦公室,向他們展示Facebook遊戲《CityVille》,然後說,“過來,來看看未來遊戲的樣子”。他表示,遊戲設計師如今能夠憑藉這些通俗易懂、便於操作的遊戲快速覆蓋眾多使用者。

Zeschuk表示,“我們第一次能夠憑藉如此簡單的內容囊括這麼多使用者。”

現已倒閉的Ensemble Studios的聯合創始人及《Age of Empires》設計師Bruce Shelley非常著迷於Zynga的《FrontierVille》(由其好友Brian Reynolds製作,他是遊戲領域的元老),決定也涉足Facebook遊戲開發。

Shelley表示,“這款遊戲富有粘性,是款真正的遊戲。這說明遊戲設計已步入前所未有的新領域。”

峰會上,Bing Gordon獲得電子遊戲領域的最高榮譽。他憑藉自己在遊戲領域的25年投入獲得Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences頒發的“終身成就獎”。Gordon是EA的早期員工,擔任公司首席創意總監。他本可以在於EA任職25年後退休,但作為Kleiner Perkins合夥人,他雄心勃勃。他投資Ngmoco(後來以4.03億美元售出的手機遊戲公司)和Zynga。Gordon的獎項不僅是對他過去的認可,也是對他當前成就的肯定。這意味著Zynga、Mark Pincus和社交遊戲如今都在遊戲領域佔有一席之地。

Gordon曾表示,“25年後,我們都能夠一炮打響;但記住這點:我們都處在遊戲的黃金時代。”

這無疑是Bing和Zynga的黃金時代。

但其中依然夾雜些許緊張和懷疑元素。育碧著名遊戲設計師Jade Raymond表示,看到使用者在公司製作的硬核掌機遊戲中投入的時間越來越少,他們感到很沮喪。但多數遊戲公司都積極在社交和手機領域製作數字遊戲。Zynga改變整個遊戲行業。

在隔天的演講中,Gordon告訴Dice觀眾,Zynga著眼於更廣泛的體驗含義。早在2004年,EA就發現公司遊戲所獲得的體驗時間超過電影。EA《Club Pogo》2004年的體驗時間多達2.25億小時,而《Madden NFL》只有1.8億小時,《光暈 2》只有1.5億小時,就連當時最熱門的電影《怪物史萊克 2》也只有1.26億小時。在Gordon看來,遊戲設計非常強大,將超越遊戲領域的界限。他將此稱作“一切事物的電子遊戲化”。遊戲設計師的想法是深入非遊戲網站,獲取更多使用者。社交軟體重新改造所有內容,從企業學習到教育。儘管他推崇Zynga遊戲,但他還是認為“《魔獸世界》是新托爾斯泰”,以此表示對硬核遊戲的尊重。

觀眾傾聽Gordon間或的閒聊,這彙集掌機和社交領域的經驗積累。他是行業的橋樑。他讓Zynga脫離被嘲笑的境地。UBM Techweb Game Group執行副總裁Simon Carless表示,“現在的情況要比過去緩和很多。社交開發商運用更多遊戲設計理念,他們的遊戲比以往更富趣味。硬核遊戲開發商如今正在學習如何創造更具社交性的體驗。”

谷歌通過Google+拉攏Zynga

谷歌祕密向Zynga投資1億多美元,此訊息從未向外透露。一個原因是Zynga不想破壞自己同Facebook的關係。但谷歌顯然想要製造二者的隔閡,因為它計劃推出自己的社交網路。在經過眾多準備和媒體猜測後,谷歌最終於2011年1月28日公佈Google+。2周後,此服務平臺就獲得1000萬使用者;4周後,使用者就增至4000萬。

公司緩慢發出邀約,這樣它就能夠逐步新增功能,維持良好服務。2011年8月,此服務向遊戲開放。其工程高階副總裁Vic Gundotra表示,使用者共同分享的體驗和人際關係一樣重要,所以Google+遊戲的目標是將線上遊戲體驗變得同現實生活娛樂一樣有趣和有意義。這意味著谷歌將著眼於遊戲中的社交分享,遊戲內容將由第三方提供。

在談到Facebook垃圾型遊戲訊息通知時,Gundotra表示,“Google+的遊戲會在使用者想要體驗時出現,在他們不想體驗時消失。”換而言之,谷歌不會讓垃圾資訊包圍非常遊戲玩家。

平臺已發行16款遊戲,其中包含《Zynga Poker》。同樣,Zynga嘗試跳脫Facebook,進行多元化發展。谷歌似乎有望發展成同Facebook一般規模的主流平臺,甚至還會從中分走部分使用者。

谷歌之所以如此急於將遊戲投放至Google+社交網路的一個原因是,這是他們向Facebook施加資金壓力的方式。

PrivCo(遊戲邦注:這是評估私營公司財政資料的一家紐約公司)運營副總裁Joseph Ranzenbach發表某些關於Facebook-Google競爭的有趣分析。他表示,Google+遊戲會嚴重損害Facebook的主要收入來源。

這就是因為谷歌初期只在第三方虛擬商品中分成5%,而Facebook分成30%。若開發商在Facebook上出售遊戲虛擬商品,他們就得使用Facebook Credits,Facebook就會從每筆交易中分成30%。這令很多開發商心存不滿。

據PrivCo估算,Facebook收入約有2/3來自廣告,而另外1/3則來自Facebook Credits。所以Google+正在威脅Facebook的1/3收入。當然很多Facebook廣告都置於使用者遊戲頁面,這樣就有很多廣告收入同遊戲密切相關。

谷歌找到攻擊Facebook的方式,而Zynga是此迷局中的重要棋子。未來Zynga也許就無需煩惱自己過於依賴Facebook。隨著Google+的誕生,Zynga有望變成社交平臺中的王者。

尋找接班人

Zynga已變成快速升職的地方,員工有望以驚人速度獲得提拔。Mark Pincus堅持的一個原則是員工要試著找到自己的接班人。此原則也適用於他自己。

多年來,Zynga出現眾多Pincus的接班人。Bing Gordon給他提供建議,但公司還有Vishal Makhijani之類的運營總監。前MySpace CEO Owen Van Natta,同時是Zynga天使投資人,於2010年初加入公司。他是公司執行副總裁,主要負責營收策略、公司發展、國際擴張和品牌方面。

但2011年6月3日,Zynga聘請前EA第二大決策者John Schappert,擔任公司營運長。Schappert此舉清楚說明(同其前輩John Pleasants 2009年轉投Playdom一樣),社交和休閒遊戲是電子遊戲領域的一股巨浪。行業元老如今更願意遊走在此浪潮的前沿。

schappert(from venturebeat)

schappert(from venturebeat)

Schappert在EA任職很久,起初只是遊戲程式設計師,1994年他建立自己的遊戲工作室Tiburon,其團隊替EA製作《Madden NFL》,後來EA於1994年收購Tiburon。Schappert從毫不起眼的角色慢慢變成公司第二主要決策人,但他2007年跳槽加入微軟,擔任Xbox Live線上遊戲業務的主管。他在Pleasants離開EA轉投Playdom後,重返公司。在EA,Schappert促使公司將擴張方向轉至數字遊戲領域,同Zynga進行競爭。到2012年3月,公司的數字遊戲收入有望增至8.33億美元。

Pincus終於找到自己在Zynga的接班人,此管理人員也是投資者非常信任的電子遊戲領域專家。Van Natta成為公司商務總監,但他最終辭去自己在Zynga的職務。他依然是公司董事會成員,但Schappert的加入令Van Natta顯得有些多餘。

顯然,Zynga“參謀”Bing Gordon主要負責招賢納士。而Schappert的職責則是維持整個公司的秩序,公司持續以每月收購一家公司的速度擴張。他還負責快速擴充已發行作品的內容(遊戲邦注:就是當團隊成員即將完成手頭專案時)。Schappert給Zynga帶來更多遊戲信譽,這意味著他對公司未來IPO所起的作用很大。不滿Pincus的投資者將非常放心Schappert。雖然從宣佈Schappert離開到他後來轉投Zynga有長間隔,但EA並沒有因Zynga聘請Schappert而將其告上法庭。

Schappert的加入伴隨若干重要事件,這些意味著Zynga的成熟。Zynga起訴巴西重要社交遊戲公司Vostu抄襲公司作品。Zynga還推出《Empires & Allies》,這是公司的首款戰鬥社交遊戲,由製作《Command & Conquer》系列的EA元老完成。《Empires & Allies》發展很快,給以卡通為主的社交遊戲市場新增新型別,Zynga意圖覆蓋各種題材。很快,類似於《Pioneer Trail》、《Adventure World》的其他遊戲都將誕生。似乎確保公司能夠順利進行首次公開募股的所有必要工作都已準備就緒。

EA的反擊

今年夏天,Zynga設法獲得業內“重要獵物”。《寶石迷陣》和《植物大戰殭屍》之類熱門休閒遊戲開發商PopCap Games公開探測自己的IPO形勢。PopCap員工期盼已久,希望能夠獲得某種形式的回饋,終於這一切即將到來。Zynga想要收購PopCap,願意傾注自己的大半資金換得這筆交易。

被問及如何看待有關Zynga估值時,PopCap CEO Dave Roberts表示,“大家要謹慎看待基於二級市場的估值。我並不是說Zynga不是頗具價值的公司,事實上我覺得公司價值很高。但沒有人會相信這是合理市場估值。同樣當少量普通股由其他公司掌握時,你也要非常小心。假如若微軟在某專案中投資5000萬美元,他們絲毫都不會在意,因為這對他們來說只是小數目。但這並不意味著公司其餘資產就價值很高。我覺得只有等Zynga真正上市,我們才能知曉其真實價值。”

後來,7月12日EA贏得PopCap。EA同意支付7.5億美元的現金和股票,此外,若順利實現目標,將額外追加5.5億美元。

據《紐約時報》報道,Pincus據傳曾試圖以9.5億美元現金收購PopCap Games。但後來PopCa聽說Zynga有增稅回收記錄,還取消股票回饋獎勵,且公司內部存在激烈鬥爭,於是決定回絕Zynga的要約。相反,PopCa接受EA 7.5億美元現金和股票(以及5.5億美元的追加款項)的要約。

關於此交易的解釋非常奇怪,PopCap交易達成幾個月後,才有訊息稱是由於Zynga取消股票獎勵,PopCap才選擇EA。從表明來看,EA的要約要比Zynga有吸引力很多。EA得到PopCap,而Zynga沒有,這令人心存疑慮。為什麼PopCap會不想同Zynga共事呢?Zynga內部是不是存在什麼問題?Pincus的確收回某些早期員工的股票期權。

據報道,有三個匿名訊息源稱,《憤怒的小鳥》開發商Rovio曾放棄Zynga提出的22.5億美元現金和股票收購要約。Rovio清楚表示公司打算上市。

PopCap聯合創始人John Vechey曾在訪談中表示,EA就像場精彩的比賽,因為公司CEO John Riccitiello在遊戲領域知識淵博,清楚PopCap擅長什麼。EAi(遊戲邦注:EA的手機和休閒遊戲工作室)主管Barry Cottle表示,PopCap是在Facebook和手機領域發展較快的休閒遊戲公司之一。公司每年創收1億多美元,且以30%的速度發展。PopCap執行長Dave Roberts表示,《寶石迷陣》的銷售額佔公司總營收的40%,另外有20%的收入來自《植物大戰殭屍》。但公司誕生於2000年,早於社交遊戲時代,按資歷來算,應該是PopCap收購Zynga才對。

此時,EA有款鉅作《模擬人生》(這款遊戲在PC和掌機平臺售出1.4億份)推出Facebook版本《The Sims Social》。這款熱門遊戲由Playfish製作,此社交遊戲公司2009年被EA以至少3億美元的價格收購。就Zynga在此社交平臺的主導地位來看,這是非常驚人的反擊。

據社交遊戲網路Raptr基於平臺1000萬使用者所做調查顯示,很多《The Sims Social》使用者都來自Zynga遊戲。EA自己的社交遊戲及《模擬人生 3》使用者只佔《The Sims Social》總玩家的15%。而Zynga玩家則佔這款遊戲玩家總量的50%。

the-sims-social(from thezombiechimp.com)

the-sims-social(from thezombiechimp.com)

9月12日,《The Sims Social》的使用者數量超過《FarmVille》。到10月12日,《The Sims Social》成為Facebook排名第二的遊戲,MAU達6600萬(遊戲邦注:而《CityVille》有7600萬)。若這款遊戲有近一半玩家來自Zynga,那麼就有3300萬Zynga使用者發生“叛變”。當然不是所有Zynga玩家都是在放棄Zynga遊戲的前提下選擇《The Sims Social》。但《CityVille》玩家確實已由原本的1億人跌至當前水平。

EA高管Jeff Brown笑稱,“《The Sims Social》證明這些玩家是能夠通過爭取獲得的,若他們會發生轉移,我們就有辦法獲得他們。”

就目前運作情況來看,《The Sims Social》顯然無法追上《CityVille》。由於《The Sims Social》發展速度的下滑,及Zynga投入額外營銷資本,《CityVille》又再次呈現發展勢頭。

姍姍來遲的IPO檔案

5月末,有訊息透露Zynga已經決定申請首次公開募股(遊戲邦注:下文簡稱IPO)。LinkedIn的IPO效果很不錯,因而行業普遍認可Zynga走這條路線。

6月末,有傳言稱該公司將募得20億美元,Zynga的市值將從150億美元提升至200億美元。這樣看來,Zynga的市值將是EA的3倍。最後,Zynga於7月1日在證券交易委員會簽署了登錄檔格,所募資金逾10億美元。隨著IPO的大門逐漸開啟,當時籌備申請上市的科技公司已超過80家。

對於遊戲行業的人來說,看待此事的想法各不相同。那些討厭Zynga的人提出眾多理由,表示這個只會複製原創作品的公司根本沒有如此大的升值潛力。但是,Zynga的S1檔案公佈了此前從未對外公開的財務資訊。

Zynga的S1檔案中談到,在4年的時間裡,公司營收逾15億美元,現已累計現金達9.956億美元。公司旗下玩家每天使用公司服務的累積時間達到20億分鐘。公司有2268名僱員,月獨立使用者數有1.48億,分佈在166個國家,月活躍使用者數量逾2.32億(遊戲邦注:某些使用者玩多款遊戲)。以每天為單位來計算,Zynga的日活躍使用者數從2009年9月的2400萬提升到現在的6200萬。這個數值比Facebook上其他社交遊戲公司都要高得多,這也是為何Zynga如此受期待的原因之一。所有使用者每天的互動次數為4.16億。Zynga每天處理的遊戲資料達到15TB。

Zynga在這份檔案中透露了其他有趣的指標。根據檔案所述,有2.5%的使用者在遊戲中付費購買虛擬商品,也就是說付費使用者數量僅為770萬。從某種程度上來說,這意味著Zynga是十分脆弱的。如果有其他公司搶走這770萬使用者,那麼Zynga的盈利就會迅速下降。但是從另一個方面來說,這也是個巨大的機遇。Zynga只需要將付費使用者比例提升到5%,就能夠讓公司的盈利翻倍。這便是Zynga不斷尋找多種盈利途徑的原因。此類資料對行業來說是極有價值,Zynga上市似乎讓行業開始認清哪些是對其自身至關重要的東西。

Zynga在檔案中公佈的另一個有趣內容是,公司聲稱其從《FarmVille》中賺得的錢比以往更多,即便這款遊戲的釋出時間可以追溯到2009年。《FarmVille English Countryside》之類的擴充套件內容促進了盈利的提升,儘管遊戲已經發布兩年之久,《FarmVille》目前仍然擁有巔峰時期的半數使用者。相比之下,多數主機視訊遊戲在出售僅數週後,玩家便開始轉向其他的新遊戲。因而,就使用者積累和留存情況而言,Zynga做得很不錯。

廣告盈利只佔總盈利的5%左右。Zynga也有機會在這方面獲得提升,但是自從“ScamVille”事件之後,公司在這方面變得小心翼翼,因為上述事件危害到Zynga與使用者間的良好關係。

但是Zynga並沒有在公佈檔案後直接上市。證券交易委員會還有些疑問,Zynga必須修改其檔案,讓監管者滿意。隨後,股票市場逐漸開始波動。2011年8月5日,隨著歐洲經濟危機逐步擴散,股票市場再次呈現下滑態勢,情勢不容樂觀。

修改檔案中的某些內容給公司帶來更大的困難。當Facebook遊戲開發商發現Facebook和Zynga之間的緊密關係後,他們感到極為憤怒,原因是Zynga透露和監管者簽署的新內容顯示,Zynga從平臺處獲得了其他遊戲公司顯然無法得到的實惠。在檔案中,Zynga闡述在1年前同意讓遊戲採用Facebook虛擬貨幣Facebook Credits時,與Facebook達成1項特別交易。在這項交易中,Zynga同意按照Facebook Credits的標準費用比率,將遊戲中虛擬商品盈利的30%支付給Facebook。

同時,Facebook必須同意幫助Zynga實現遊戲的成長目標。正如最初所報道的那樣,就Facebook上放置於Zynga遊戲頁面的廣告而言,Facebook並不同意向Zynga支付廣告收入回扣。根據Facebook發表的宣告,Facebook表示雙方曾經的確商討過廣告盈利分享交易,前提是Zynga選擇將自己的Facebook遊戲移出平臺,但是這項交易最終並未達成。每個開發商支付的費用比例都是30%,Facebook表示平臺平等對待所有的開發商。

但是令其他開發商感到不快的是Facebook對Zynga發展目標的支援。據報道,Facebook承諾在5年的協議期內保持Zynga遊戲的發展。

Digital Chocolate執行長Trip Hawkins曾對此表示:“我們都知道Zynga存在合同上的優勢,但是居然達到讓其他開發商難以在Facebook立足的程度。今年的政策改變已經影響到了盈利和市場佔有,現在發現這個市場還缺乏公平競爭,這著實令我們感到心寒。他們之間的關係極為複雜,就像是場夫妻雙方僅為金錢而組建起的婚姻。你絲毫感覺不到雙方真正從這場婚姻中享受快樂或自由。諷刺的是,他們居然還能夠利用更多的好友。”

在與遊戲開發商的交談中,Facebook努力讓開發商冷靜下來,解釋稱平臺並非以某種損害其他開發商的方式偏袒Zynga。事實上,Zynga此前已數次表現出對這種關係的厭惡。

同時,Zynga時斷時續的IPO漸漸變成一場笑話。自8月份起,大量IPO最終都沒有實現。最後,有傳言稱Zynga將在11月上市。接下來,時間又推遲到了感恩節之後。但是,Zynga最後決定將自己的首次記者招待會延遲到新總部建成之後,這棟被稱為“狗屋”的高樓可以容納1700名員工。

大爆發

Zynga在短期內擁有了2700名僱員,需要大量的工作場所,許多人移到舊金山市場南附近的前世嘉美國總部大樓中。但是隨即便有問題浮現出來:Zynga在2011年只發布了數款遊戲。那麼,這些遊戲開發者都在幹什麼呢?如果10人左右的小團隊花費6周的時間就能製作出《FarmVille》,那麼從理論上來說,Zynga現在擁有的僱員數每年足夠製作出1600款左右的《FarmVille》。

當然,遊戲開發的成本逐漸提升。遊戲製作需要耗費更長的時間(遊戲邦注:《FrontierVille》耗費1年左右時間才製作完成),所需團隊也變得更大。Zynga從未對外公開每個團隊的成員數量,這個資訊算是商業祕密。但是許多觀察者認為,Zynga公司存在嚴重的冗員現象。

據VentureBeat報道,《Mafia Wars 2》這款Zynga最成功的遊戲之一的續作,由80人耗時18個月完成。Zynga於9月20日對外公佈這款遊戲,10月10日正式釋出。遊戲以3D Flash動畫為特色,但是總體來說仍為二維遊戲。遊戲的使用者量增長到1700萬以上,但是隨後開始下滑。

但10月11日的Zynga盛會表明,這些僱員顯然都很忙。這次盛會就像是Zynga的小型E3遊戲展覽。在餐廳舉辦的記者招待會中,Pincus透露了10款手機和社交遊戲原創作品。這些作品並非都處在準備釋出的階段,但是可以想象到,未來將會出現產品大爆發的情形。

這次盛會是精心為媒體、分析者和投資者準備的,公示了即將出現的諸多正面訊息。每個新作品都顯示,Zynga正打消投資者懷疑公司是否還有能力穩居榜首的疑慮。數個月以來,Mark Pincus這位身價即將達到數十億美元的人首次出現在舞臺上。

首先,他講述了Zynga在2007年的輝煌歲月,那時公司剛開始針對Facebook製作遊戲。他說道,那時團隊從街對面的Culinary Academy中僱傭了某些學生,在公司的小總部內烹製食物。Amelia屬於這批學生之一,她隨後成了Zynga遊戲《Cafe World》中的虛擬主廚,現在她成為了真正的主廚。他讓記者們轉向上方看,成排的僱員站在建築物上層的開放走道上。Pincus為當天佔用餐廳向他們道歉。

zynga-employees(from venturebeat)

zynga-employees(from venturebeat)

Pincus並沒有主持完整場盛會。Pincus只是為其他Zynga高管的陳述做個鋪墊。他讓各個領域的專家上臺描述他們自己的遊戲。當他介紹到公司的營運長John Schappert(遊戲邦注:他此前在EA工作)時,他表示Schappert實現了自己的目標,成了他的接班人。

Pincus說道:“我們每天都在挑戰自己,說服你們玩遊戲。你們很忙,沒有時間做下來玩遊戲。但是,我們確實認為玩樂是生活中必不可少的主題和行為。我們正在構建的所有產品背後都潛藏著一個任務,那就是構建玩樂的平臺。”

Pincus表示,Zynga的基本設計原則是初次使用者體驗(遊戲邦注:可簡稱為“FTUE”)。讓玩家對Zynga產生印象的最佳機遇是遊戲中的前3次點選。他表示,對休閒遊戲而言,你需要在前3次點選時吸引到玩家,前5到15分鐘的遊戲體驗應當像是“享用豐盛晚餐”。

Zynga Direct和Project Z

在記者招待會上,Pincus提到公司的創新專案Zynga Direct,公司在這個專案上已經投入了兩年時間。這是個圍繞Zynga遊戲創造更多社互動動的平臺,無論使用者使用的是電腦網路還是移動裝置。Schappert隨後描述了Zynga Direct的部分內容,可稱為Project Z,這是個Zynga玩家可以用來玩Zynga遊戲的線上站點。Schappert表示,Project Z是個“社交遊戲遊樂場”,玩家可以在享受自己選擇的遊戲。但是,他對該專案的描述也僅僅止步於此。

Project Z將是個獨立的網站,只含有Zynga的遊戲。網站將使用Facebook Connect功能來構建玩家好友社交圖譜。隨後,你可以直接訪問Project Z玩Zynga的遊戲,而不用登入Facebook。這是Zynga的自有平臺,類似微軟的Xbox Live線上遊戲服務。在這個平臺上,Zynga無需支付30%的盈利費用。

Schappert說道:“Project Z是個Facebook Connect平臺,讓Facebook好友在自己獨立的環境中玩遊戲。我們通過資料和交談掌握了大量的玩家相關資訊,這就是玩家們想要的產品。”

1年多之前,整個世界都未曾聽說過這些脫離Facebook的專案,當時Zynga正因Facebook Credits的問題威脅要離開Facebook。Zynga從未停下開發這些專案的步伐,儘管公司與Facebook的關係有所緩和。但是,這些專案經歷了數次暫停和重啟。問題在於,致力於此就意味著Zynga要建立自己的社交網路。而這種做法面臨的難題就是,Facebook已經成功建立起了大型社交網路,使用者數量正在向8億邁進。Zynga需要弄清楚,如何能夠讓自己的社交網路有足夠的差異化,將Zynga粉絲吸引到這個獨立的網站平臺上。

現在看來,Zynga當初聲稱想要脫離Facebook,與玩家建立起沒有中間人的直接關係,這並非是公司威脅Facebook的說辭。

手機部負責人David Ko描述了5款新的手機遊戲。手機遊戲市場比Facebook遊戲市場更大,所以Zynga必須努力提升公司在該市場中的份額,才能保持快速成長、脫離Facebook並在上市前持續良好的表現。Ko已經在這個新部門中投入了5300萬美元,正在不斷收購更多的手機遊戲開發商。

Zynga還展示了其他新的Facebook遊戲,比如《Zynga Bingo》、《Hidden Chronicles》和《CastleVille》。該公司聲稱,《Mafia Wars 2》將登陸Google+平臺。這場新聞釋出會都旨在向外界表明,Zynga的僱員此前都很繁忙,公司現在正向各個領域擴張。

Pincus最後為大會做了總結,稱Zynga始終堅持自公司成立以來從未改變的目標,那就是成為社交遊戲領域最大的公司。

他表示,未來幾年內社交遊戲將更為生活化和移動化,這樣你就可以在5到15分鐘的時間內獲得如《魔獸世界》般的體驗。

釋出《CastleVille》

10月和11月末,股票市場依然波動劇烈。11月末,新的IPO機會顯現,Yelp等公司申請IPO,Angie’s List成功上市。但是Zynga利用《CastleVille》打出漂亮的一拳,這款遊戲的目標是將大型多人線上角色扮演遊戲帶到大眾市場中。

2010年10月,Zynga購買了Bonfire Studios公司。這個公司中有大量曾經在微軟Ensemble Studios(遊戲邦注:《帝國時代》的開發商)中工作的經驗豐富的開發者。在微軟關閉Ensemble後,Bonfire誕生了。Zynga收購了這家公司,將其命名為Zynga Dallas。

Zynga Dallas創意總監Bill Jackson是前Ensemble僱員,他帶領工作室開發這款遊戲已1年有餘。現在,Zynga Dallas釋出的Ville系列遊戲最新產品《CastleVille》已經成為Zynga旗下模擬遊戲的骨幹。這款遊戲摒棄了Zynga常用的卡通風格,有著比以往更為有趣的遊戲玩法。

Jackson說道:“《CastleVille》將Zynga的Ville系列產品提升到新層次。”

遊戲的靈感來源於《怪物史萊克》之類的電影,但是其玩法風格卻不同於市場上的任何其他產品。Zynga於11月14日釋出這款遊戲,當天便消除了《The Sims Social》對公司構成的巨大威脅。Zynga在Facebook的社交遊戲市場份額約為40%,日活躍使用者逾4500萬,而EA只有1250萬日活躍使用者。

6天之後,《CastleVille》的使用者量達到500萬,將近68%的玩家每天玩兩次遊戲。《CastleVille》釋出17天后,月活躍使用者數量達到2080萬。在《CityVille》釋出整整1年後,《CastleVille》取代前者成為歷史上成長速度最快的遊戲。根據AppData統計資料顯示,截止2011年12月12日,《CastleVille》擁有的月活躍使用者數為3160萬。這又是款轟動市場的遊戲,足以讓投資者感到高興。而且,這只是公司旗下2號人物John Schappert所稱的“公司歷史上最活躍的釋出時期”的首款遊戲而已。

上市

Zynga IPO(from shacknews.com)

Zynga IPO(from shacknews.com)

回望2009,曾經有段時間Zynga除了良好的媒體形象外毫無收穫。當時,Mark Pincus表示他本應該為《財富》、《福布斯》和《商業週刊》都報道公司正面形象而感到高興,但是他卻做不到。

他說道:“我本應該感到高興,但是我卻做不到。我覺得自己就像那個沒穿衣服的皇帝。”

他認為,社交遊戲和Zynga都有著巨大的潛力,但是離真正的成功還有很長一段路。

Pincus說道,當你面對即將到來的失敗時,能做的最好的事情是在理智和情感上先接受失敗。他說道:“這樣,你知道自己可以控制自己的命運。”

但是到2011年,這種失敗的威脅不再那麼明顯。

在今年IPO季度臨近尾聲之際,Zynga完成了細節的修改工作。Zynga表示截止9月30日,公司第3季度淨收入為1250萬美元,比去年同期下滑54%。盈利為3.07億美元,與去年相比提升80%。彭博社報道稱,Zynga將在感恩節後上市。此後,Zynga的命運將掌握在投資者手中。

競爭者對外公佈Zynga對待僱員的負面做法。幾乎在一瞬間,Mark Pincus又成了那個沒穿衣服的皇帝。《華爾街日報》報道稱,Zynga的Pincus逼迫表現不佳者退回他們的股票。11月17日,首席商務官Owen Van Natta辭職。《紐約時報》報道稱,Zynga僱員對公司很不滿,PopCap Games因擔心Zynga的文化而拒絕了其9.5億美元的收購出價,轉而支援EA的7.5億美元及5.5億美元追加款項。據報道,Rovio也拒絕了Zynga伸出的24億美元收購公司的橄欖枝。

但是,Zynga似乎並不擔心這些負面的媒體報道。12月2日,公司提交募資多達10億美元的計劃,市值為89億美元,每股價格從8.5美元增加至10美元。公司計劃開展9天的路演來吸引投資者。股票在12月15日定價,12月16日開始交易。這是今年最後1次上市的機會,公司覺得要把握這次機會。

募集的資金數和市值比外界150億到200億美元的估計要低得多。更為糟糕的情況是,在公司的首輪資金募集中,市值比預定的更低,這意味著多數近期投資者要眼睜睜地看著他們在Zynga中投入的資金逐漸縮水。如果股價上漲到14美元每股,這些投資者興許才會感到滿意。

但是即便市值下滑,Zynga的市值依然比EA要高,儘管後者的盈利是前者的4倍,但是市值卻只有70億美元。Comcast Ventures合夥人Andrew Cleland回憶稱,Pincus曾經告訴他Zynga的市值將在5年內超過EA。事實上,Pincus只花了幾年時間就實現了這個目標。

Cleland估計,2012年Zynga將花5億多美元來進行調研和開發,Pincus明年可能不會將公司主要目標定在盈利上。要實現公司的長期願景,就必須要加大投入資金,而不是急於取得盈利。

Cleland寫道:“該公司即將到來的IPO也是遊戲行業的重要時刻,這意味著休閒和免費遊戲引領西方遊戲市場的時代已經來臨。該公司路演的時間現在似乎已經確定了,對於Zynga的上市我們應當抱何期望呢?這個問題的答案可以反映出Pincus卓越的抱負,同時也暗示著投資者應當對公司抱何想法以及其他開發商應當如何統籌他們的上市戰略。”

但是Cleland的看法似乎並不被投資者認同,歐洲經濟危機和Zynga自身放緩的成長速度似乎嚇住了投資者。Zynga要從哪裡獲取新使用者,才能夠使公司重新恢復競爭力?從7月到12月,公司市值從200億下滑到100億,其速度堪比Zynga當初的成長速度。現在,公司必須盡其所贏得投資者的尊重和信任。僱員之所以會產生不滿的反應,部分原因就在於他們發現自己持有股份的價值已減半。

只要該公司開始為其投資者路演,Pincus就有機會向業界闡述Zynga有著光明未來的緣由。他表示,自己預期遊戲領域的玩家數量能夠在接下來的5年內從2011年的10億增加到20億。2011年應用下載量約為180億次,5年內這個數量可能會增加4倍。2011年使用者花費在虛擬商品上的金額數為90億美元,5年內會增加2倍。

在手機市場方面,10月份Zynga擁有的日活躍使用者數量為1110萬,與1年前的99.1萬相比大幅增加。公司目前在整體手機遊戲市場中所佔份額還很小,但是成長率是很可觀的。Zynga在該領域的使用者大部分來自於收購Newtoy,但是仍然存在發展的空間。

Zynga的廣告盈利為5500萬美元,與去年相比增加了162%。百思買之類的廣告商都曾與公司合作,他們在《CityVille》中開展的活動使玩家在遊戲中建造了800萬個百思買商店。現在,廣告盈利只佔公司總盈利的5%,但是還在不斷增加。這表明,公司還有著很大的盈利機遇。如果Zynga的2億使用者每人每月能夠為公司帶來1美元的廣告盈利,那麼年盈利就將達到24億美元。

Wehner表示,廣告盈利的優點在於,遊戲釋出很長時間後依然可以插入廣告。《FarmVille》釋出於2009年6月,但是Lady Gaga的贊助起始時間為2011年5月。因而,Zynga有大量通過廣告來提升盈利的機遇。

在路演期間,Pincus表示Zynga或許也可以讓公司旗下付費使用者數量翻倍。現在,付費使用者比例為2.5%,數量約為770萬。讓付費使用者數量翻倍不是件簡單的事情,但是如果Zynga可以實現的話,或許公司的盈利也有可能翻倍。

Michael Pachter(遊戲邦注:他是專注於遊戲和數字化媒體的Wedbush Securities調查分析師),他表示1到2年內有多種情況可能導致Zynga的付費使用者數量翻倍。其中,兩個關鍵的驅動因素便是Facebook和移動裝置的發展。

Pachter說道,如果Facebook使用者的數量增長到10億,那麼玩Zynga遊戲的玩家數量自然也會隨之增加。如果發生這種情況的話,即便Facebook中玩公司遊戲的使用者總比例保持不變,Zynga依然可以大致實現付費使用者數翻倍的目標。

Zynga的John Schappert表示,公司會發布新遊戲,進軍新的國際市場,擴張到Google+、騰訊和Zynga.com等新平臺上,同時增加公司在手機市場上的份額。

Schappert說道:“我們正在進入公司歷史上最活躍的釋出時期……我們相信,公司所選擇的道路將成為娛樂行業中最強大的業務模型。”換句話說,如果你將Zynga視為投資產品,那麼100億美元的市值是其打折時期的價格,還有很大的增長空間。(本文為遊戲邦/gamerboom.com編譯,拒絕任何不保留版權的轉載,如需轉載請聯絡:遊戲邦)

How Zynga grew from gaming outcast to $9 billion social game powerhouse

Dean Takahashi

Zynga has turned the video game world upside down in its short five-year history. As it’s poised on the verge of a massive initial public offering, the social game startup is now one of gaming’s great success stories.

But its success was never a foregone conclusion. In fact, most game industry veterans didn’t view it as a real game company. Mark Pincus was a four-time entrepreneur, but had no experience in the game industry and had never managed a big company. He was
the most unlikely entrepreneur to create a game industry giant.

Now Pincus is poised to become a multibillionaire as the largest shareholder in a company that is about to hold on Thursday one of the biggest initial public offerings of the year. Zynga’s

billion-dollar IPO, at an $8.9 billion valuation, will be one of the biggest events in gaming history and will make it a financial peer to established rivals like Electronic Arts and Activision Blizzard. Through the IPO, Zynga hopes to meet the ambitious
goal of investing more “in play than any company in history.”

And it is possible in no small part because Pincus, the gaming novice, dreamed bigger than the game industry when it came to giving users accessible and social games, anytime, anywhere. Against all odds, Zynga has out-competed big gaming brands in the great
social game Gold Rush. Zynga games have continuously held the No. 1 ranked spot on Facebook since the beginning of 2009. As of today, it has five of the top five games on Facebook.

Pincus couldn’t have done it on his own. Along the way, he has been helped by the fortuitous friendship of gaming veteran Bing Gordon. Facebook insider Owen Van Natta played a key role at a critical time. And experienced game designers like Mark Skaggs and
Brian Reynolds have led the creation of innovative, addictive games, helping the company rise above its early reputation as a creator of cheap knockoffs and a persistent spammer of Facebook news feeds. Together, these people helped Zynga get where it is today,
while rivals like Playfish and Playdom decided to take earlier, less lucrative exits.

Since its inception in 2007, Zynga has generated more than $1.5 billion in revenues — a remarkable sum for such a young company. It is now trying to seize the leading share of a $9 billion virtual goods market that it believes could triple in the next five
years.

Now the company’s ambition is to become as synonymous with play on the internet as Google is with search, Amazon is with shopping, and Facebook is with sharing. It was lucky that Zynga started out with so little game experience in the beginning. But throughout
its life, it would have to prove over and over again that it was a real game company that mattered.

In the following pages, I’ll tell the tale of Zynga from its earliest days. This story is based on extensive interviews and research since 2008. We’ve had limited access to Mark Pincus. In recent months, he hasn’t been giving interviews, due to a quiet period
mandated by regulators. But the story of Zynga isn’t just about the founder of the company. It’s also about the whole cast of characters who surrounded him, the rivals who drove him to succeed, and the industry that challenged Zynga to prove itself over and
over. We’ve done our best to triangulate on how Zynga became what it is today — and how it almost didn’t happen.

Humble beginnings

“I had a lot of careers before I became an entrepreneur,” Pincus said in a speech about starting companies at Startup Berkeley in the spring of 2009. “And I failed on other people’s money. If you were trying to become a professional athlete, you would want
to go through junior leagues first before you started a pro circuit. Fail a lot before you are paying for the failure….I got fired or asked to leave from all my jobs.”

The option that was left for him, Pincus joked, was to become an entrepreneur. He had read George Gilder’s book, Microcosm, and was excited about the economics of the world enabled by technology.

That drove him into new media. He eventually made his way to Silicon Valley, starting FreeLoader, a web-based push company, in 1995 with a $250,000 loan. That company was acquired after seven months for $38 million by Individual. It was the start of Web
1.0, or the first giant wave of the first real internet companies.

At the time, other tech companies were selling out for hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, making Pincus’ exit look almost paltry. Still, his first startup success gave Pincus a full membership in Silicon Valley’s dot-com era. He then founded
Support.com (later SupportSoft), a provider of service and support automation software, along with Cadir Lee and Scott Dale. The company went public in July 2000.

Flush with cash, Pincus co-founded his own incubator, Tank Hill in January, 2000. It was just in time for the dot-com crash, and he and his partner shut it down and returned the funds nine months later. In 2003, at the age of 37, he started Tribe.net, one
of the first social networks. Pincus thought of it as a “Craigslist meets Friendster.” That didn’t work out so well. Pincus left in 2005, after the board threw him out. In 2006, he took it back over from the investors and sold its assets to Cisco. At the time,
Tribe.net had just eight employees, and Cisco completed its purchase by March 2007.

He teamed up with his friend Reid Hoffman, a PayPal veteran and now founder of LinkedIn, to buy a patent on social networking from the defunct Sixdegrees for $700,000. Then they invested in a little company called Facebook, which turned out to be at the
beginning of the Web 2.0 wave of companies, or those that were built to take advantage of a newly dynamic web and its growing network of interconnected users. That put Pincus in close touch with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and gave him the inside track
to the social media revolution.

Pincus is on record as starting four companies, but he said there were 15 or 20 projects that failed. But Pincus did have a nice touch as an angel investor. His investments included Napster, eGroups, Technorati, Socialtext, Friendster, Ireit, Nanosolar,
Merlin, Naseeb, EZboard, Advent Solar, Xoom — and Facebook. Noticeably absent from that list were any game companies.

Making the right bet

To get to Zynga, Pincus said he had three formal failures, including Tribe.net. Another failure was an ad company called Tag Sense. From that, he concluded, “Don’t go start a company just because you have a customer and someone will fund you. If it is a
marginal idea, that’s bad.”

Because Tag Sense failed quickly, Pincus said, he was ready when, in the May 2007, Facebook opened up its applications programming interface, inviting other companies to make applications on top of its social network in hopes of beating MySpace. That move
helped Facebook gain users as well as developers, creating a virtuous circle. Pincus decided to go along for the ride.

Previously, Pincus had been operating under the name Presidio Media, a company which he formed in April, 2007, as part of an effort to jump on the Facebook bandwagon.

“The whole time I was doing Tribe, I thought the thing I would have loved to do is games,” Pincus said in a 2009 interview:

I’ve always said that social games are like a great cocktail party: You’re happy at first to see your good friends, but the value of the cocktail party is in the weak ties. It’s the people you wouldn’t have thought of meeting; it’s the friends of the friends….What
I thought was the ultimate thing you can do — once you bring all of your friends and their friends together — is play games. I’ve always been a closet gamer, but I never have the time and can never get all of my friends together in one place. So the power
of my friends already being there and connected, and then adding games, seemed like a big idea.

In July 2007, Pincus changed the name of his new company to Zynga, named after his late bulldog, Zinga. Zynga’s first headquarters were in the Chip Factory in the Potrero Hill neighborhood in San Francisco.

From his previous experiences, Pincus learned, “Control your destiny. We all write this story for ourselves that we were really successful and the evil VC came in and f***** up our company. They backed us and got rid of us and if they had just left us alone.
That’s everybody’s sob story in Silicon Valley. You f****** it up because you gave them control of it.” He said he would settle for half the valuation if he could control his company and destiny. As a result of that desire, he funded Zynga himself.

The early team included Eric Schiermeyer, Michael Luxton, Justin Waldron, Kyle Stewart, Scott Dale, Steve Schoettler, Kevin Hagan, and Andrew Trader. Pincus was intense and drove them hard, but he wanted to build a great company.

Its first successes were on MySpace, where other social game companies were making money from ad-based games. Zynga’s early revenue came from MySpace, but Pincus had the smarts to realize that Facebook would win in the future. It was a smart bet that helped
Zynga to catch Facebook’s coattails as it went through an unprecedented wave of growth.

As he tried out ideas, he kept in mind that he should test them as cheaply and as quickly as he could.

The company released its first game for Facebook in September 2007. It created a free social poker game on Facebook, chosen because it was simple and it was a universal game that enabled friends to plan a “poker night” with each other no matter if they were
far apart or not. Zynga was riding a wave of resurgence that poker had seen since 2003. Zynga’s first game was successful enough to make the company profitable.

“We were the first company to believe in the social gaming opportunity and go after it with our poker game in July, 2007,” Pincus said in an interview with VentureBeat in 2009. “Everybody else was focused on viral apps like pokes and other things that spread
more virally. We were always interested in just the gaming opportunity. By the time we saw it was real and had a sustainable revenue stream, we were the first to start investing deeply in it.”

Before Zynga, free games were often viewed as low-quality shareware. But now they were something that millions of people could enjoy. The poker game gained users for a while, but it had no real monetization beyond ads at first. Eventually, in March 2008,
Zynga added a way to sell poker chips via “lead generation,” where a user could get chips if they participated in a revenue-generating activity for Zynga, such as accepting an offer to sign up for something.

In a poor choice of words that would eventually come back to haunt him, Pincus later said in his Berkeley speech that “I did every horrible thing in the book to just get revenues right away.” He said that Zynga gave users poker chips in its first game, Texas
Hold ‘Em Poker, if they would download a Wiki tool that was difficult or impossible to remove.

In mid-2008, Zynga launched Mafia Wars, its second game, and it acquired another game called YoVille. The Mafia Wars game was available on both Facebook and MySpace, because it wasn’t clear which social network was going to be the winner yet.

In the process of launching its games, Zynga would hit upon some unique ideas that it would later describe as its philosophy. It believed games should be accessible to everyone, anywhere, any time.

Games should be social. Games should be free. Games should be data driven. And games should do good. Those were lofty goals, but no one else in the industry believed in trying to make all of those things happen.

Pincus’s intent was to create a real business before he needed to go into a venture capitalist’s office. By the time Zynga raised its first round of money, it had generated only $693,000 in revenue in 2007, but it had a path to growth because its user count
was growing fast, and it was already profitable. As a result, Pincus was able to command unusual terms, like giving himself stock that had 10 times the votes of common shares and maintaining control of his board of directors.

He was also able to secure investors that he was already friends with. In a deal announced Jan. 15, 2008, Zynga was able to raise $5 million from Union Square Ventures, Foundry Group, Avalon Ventures, Reid Hoffman, Peter Thiel and other angels.

With the new money, Zynga was able to move even faster at a time when the great Facebook land rush was under way. The social network constantly revamped its platform and app makers had to adjust in real-time. Pincus called this “organic development,” where
the company’s own internal developers had to pay close attention to Facebook and redo their work every 90 days or so.

The business would be metric-driven, combining intuition and data. The would enable the business to rapidly iterate and drive reach, retention and revenue. That is exactly how Zynga put distance between itself and others; it learned what users wanted and
modified its games quickly, sometimes overnight, to better provide what the users wanted. Zynga started testing every idea. Web 2.0 companies behaved in this fashion, but game companies for the most part didn’t.

But it was true the company forever be at the mercy of the rules that Facebook made.

“Does it bother us that we’re a fly on Facebook’s ass?” Pincus joked in his talk. “In 2007, people laughed at me” for doing a Facebook app company. “We live and die by the changes these guys make.”

Data also could be a game designer’s enemy. If a game didn’t take off, Pincus had no qualms about killing it. He spent $3 million developing an unnamed role-playing game. But the title didn’t take off in a viral way when it launched, so Pincus pulled the
plug on it. Pincus became ruthless about canceling games that weren’t working.

Zynga was growing fast thanks to Mafia Wars and Zynga Poker, and it was making money. And Facebook was still growing like crazy.

At the time, the speed was important. Not everyone realized it, but Zynga was in a monumental race to beat others to the treasure. If it learned the most about how to make money from social games and executed the fastest, it would own the market, regardless
of whether giant companies came into it later.

So just a few months after its first round, Zynga raised another, larger pile of cash.

In July 2008, the world took notice as Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers invested $29 million in Zynga. Bing Gordon (pictured above), the former chief creative officer at Electronic Arts and now a partner at Kleiner, joined Zynga’s board. Mark Pincus welcomed
him as a key advisor.

The amount of money was huge for a gaming startup at the time. Few other companies had amassed such a large amount. It meant that Zynga was always going to have a pile of money to invest in its next major titles. That was a luxury that many of its competitors
didn’t have, and it was why they fell behind.

Later on, Pincus said that one of the lessons of failure was to surround himself with people that he could learn from. Gordon was such a mentor. While Pincus had the Web 2.0 experience, Gordon knew games. He was able to put Pincus in touch with large number
of job candidates in the game industry who were willing to try something new. Some of them, like veteran game designer Mark Skaggs, came from Electronic Arts. He joined as a top game exec at Zynga in November 2008. Skaggs would go on to lead some of the most
important games that the company would create.

“I’m a consigliere,” Gordon said in an interview with VentureBeat in the fall of 2010, referring to the Robert Duvall character in The Godfather movie. “I have my own assignments now and then.

I have done more recruiting than Robert Duvall. But I have high regard for Mark Pincus as a visionary. He combined the best of the web, games, and social. It never occurred to anyone those would come together.”

Gordon showed up at the company all of the time, lending his advice and bringing in new people as they were needed.

Recruiting talent

John Doerr and Bing Gordon

During this time, everything was moving fast. As Zynga expanded, it was able to bring on game talent in part because there was a recession that was killing off a lot of console game studios. Bing Gordon’s presence on the board of Zynga — and his regular
presence at the company — gave the company better credibility.

Gordon knew what Zynga’s reputation was like and he tried hard to contain some of that damage. According to papers obtained by the SF Weekly, Gordon wrote a confidential memo to his partners at Kleiner Perkins.

It said, “Mark needs strong lieutenants to keep him from micromanaging.” Gordon suggested that he and another top executive play strong roles in the company to offset Pincus’s style. “Bing to temper Mark, and bring on board a billion-dollar game industry
COO when Zynga gets to about $100 million.” The memo also warned that Zynga was overly reliant on Facebook.

But Pincus lasted far longer than anyone thought, given that he was running a game company. And he did so by finding talent wherever he could. He didn’t wait for the game developers to come to him.

Sometimes, Pincus found technical experts and asked them to become game makers. Justin Cinicolo, a mid-20s Carnegie Mellon University grad with a few years of work experience, decided to check out Zynga because his roommate got a job there and was coming
home with a smile on his face. Cinicolo also joined early and was so thrilled at the fast pace and energy that he recruited another dozen Carnegie Mellon friends to join.

What Cinicolo found was that Zynga tried to live up to what it would later codify as core values. The company told its people to “build the games you and your friends love to play,” “Zynga is a meritocracy,” “Be a CEO and own outcomes,” “Move at Zynga speed,”
“Put Zynga first, decisions for the greater good,” and “Always innovate.” Some might find that laughable, but Cinicolo could see the truth in it.

The idea of being a CEO resonated with Cinicolo, and it came from Pincus himself. Pincus recalled that, at his second company, he put some sheets on a wall and wrote everyone’s name on it. “By the end of the week, everyone needs to write what you’re CEO
of, and it needs to be something really meaningful…. People liked it. And there was nowhere to hide,” Pincus said.

Cinicolo was installed as a producer on Mafia Wars after the game launched. His job was to keep it growing and to beat its competition.

In analyzing the game, he had to rely on tools from Cadir Lee, who had co-founded two other companies with Pincus and had joined Zynga when it had around 100 employees, in November 2008. At the time, Lee’s mission was to build the greatest data warehouse
in the entire game industry.

Lee’s first job was to build a dashboard for analytics, taking it from a bunch of numbers to a user interface that could show producers like Cinicolo everything they needed to know about a game. They could do A/B testing, or test to see if gamers like a
pink message better than a blue message. When the results came back, it was easy to decide which worked better and the company could learn such lessons at an extremely fast pace.

“We built analytics from zero to a competitive differentiator,” Lee said in an interview with VentureBeat in the fall of 2010. “We have a mass of infrastructure, analysis, and statisticians. It is the lifeblood of Zynga.”

Benjamin Joffe, chief executive of social game maker Cmune, said that Zynga made analytics into a science and operated on the principle of “do more of what works.”

That was another thing that traditional game developers hated. They wanted to design their games by intuition and craftsmanship, not popular vote. But some of them saw the logic of it. Normally, developers would work for two to five years on a console game
and then find out on launch day if the gamers really liked it. With Zynga, a developer could create code that millions of players would see the next day. The feedback was immediate.

With analytics tools, it was a lot easier for Cinicolo to take the Mafia Wars game and boost it. Four months after it launched, it had around 100,000 users. Cinicolo’s goal was to boost it to a million. When he hit that, his boss Eric Shiermeyer asked him
to take it to 2 million. In 2008, Mafia Wars generated 20 percent of Zynga’s revenue. The next year, Mafia Wars grew dramatically and it contributed $32 million in revenue in 2009 and $161 million in revenue in 2010. Mafia Wars still has about 6 million monthly
active users.

“I went from project to project, with a ragtag group,” Cinicolo said in an interview in the fall of 2010. “I was creatively very energized. If stuff breaks, we fix it.”

Depending on the project, Cinicolo worked with Mark Pincus on a weekly or a daily basis, soliciting ideas from his boss on how to make the games better. The team would stick around for free dinners and drink beer as they talked about where to go next. By
2010, he transferred over to the mobile game frontier.

“Pincus acts like a partner,” Cinicolo said. “He’s never really a boss. He collaborates. In some ways, he has changed. He has gotten calmer. He is super-energetic and as passionate as ever. But he is more willing to do things like mobile where we know it
will take some time before it becomes as successful as the web business.”

At age 28, in the fall of 2010, Cinicolo was in charge of a number of major mobile game efforts as general manager of mobility.

By the end of 2008, Maestri settled his lawsuit with SGN and won the rights to Mob Wars. Then, in September 2009, he settled with Zynga, which agreed to pay him $7 million to $9 million. By that time, Zynga had its own bone to pick with Playdom, which Zynga
accused of hiring its employees in order to copy its games and steal its “playbook” for making popular games.

The making of FarmVille

In the spring of 2009, a small developer called Slashkey created a game called Farm Town. It was a simple farming game, not much different from farm games in China or the old Harvest Moon games on the consoles. All it did was enable users to simulate the
life and growth of a farm. With only viral word-of-mouth for marketing, the game spread like wildfire, adding 300,000 users a day. Within a matter of a couple of months, it had more than 14 million registered users on Facebook.

It seemed like FarmVille was an obvious copycat, but the game’s origins are a little murky. Mark Skaggs, the former Electronic Arts game designer at Zynga, said the idea for a new title came from Bing Gordon, the Kleiner Perkins partner and Zynga board member.
One day, he put his feet up on the desk and asked, “Why don’t you make a farm game?” It was a sentiment that Mark Pincus shared.

Skaggs was one of the instrumental early game designers at Zynga. He had been in charge of a variety of PC games that had sold more than 16 million copies at Electronic Arts, from Command and Conquer Generals to Lord of the Rings Battle for Middle-Earth.
He spent seven years at EA, after the 1998 acquisition of Westwood Studios. He left EA in 2005 to co-found Trilogy Studios, which was making a massively multiplayer online game. That didn’t work out, so Bing Gordon suggested that he give Zynga a try. He joined
early enough to have a lot of influence with the way Zynga designed its games.

Unfortunately, Zynga didn’t have a full team available. Skaggs had to look on the outside. Zynga was in talks to buy MyMiniLife, which had a few employees and a game engine that could be used for the farm game. Between Zynga and MyMiniLife, the team grew
to nine people. They worked for five weeks to get the job done. Some of that work was done before Zynga had acquired MyMiniLife, which included Sizhao Yang, Amitt Mahajan, Luke Rajlich, and Joel Poloney.

MyMiniLife was started in 2007 as a social network and it grew to 4 million users. The company was working on a game engine for running Flash-based games on a social network. This was a tough thing to do, as Flash games could run notoriously slow, particularly
if they weren’t customized properly. The engine was working well enough that it could be easily modified to run different games.

But MyMiniLife struggled to retain users. Max Levchin of Slide made the first acquisition offer, followed by Zynga, Hi5 and Challenge Games. Zynga wined and dined the team and kept raising the bid. Mark Pincus spent a lot of time working on the deal, which
was closed on June 5, 2009 for an undisclosed price. It was one of those times when Pincus had acted very decisively on just a little bit of information. He used his instincts and drove his team in the right direction to get the deal done.

MyMiniLife had built a stable platform that could handle lots of users. Without it, scaling would have been an issue.

The production team moved so fast that they stole the avatars, or virtual characters, from Zynga’s YoVille game. Mothers using Facebook to monitor their kids’ activities or stay in touch with old friends were the primary target. Besides Skaggs and the MyMiniLife
team, others who worked on FarmVille included Raymond Holmes, Sifang Lu, David Gray, and Craig Woida.

On June 19, 2009, Zynga launched its Farm Town clone, FarmVille. With the a production cycle of only five weeks, the game grew at an unprecedented rate. Unlike its rivals, Zynga started spending lots of money on ads on social networks. Within two months,
Zynga’s FarmVille had 5 million users. Pincus pulled resources from other projects to support FarmVille’s growth.

Meanwhile, Farm Town was hitting growth pains. By contrast, Zynga hit a million players within four or five days. It already had millions of users and was tapping the outside computer services of Amazon, whose Amazon Web Services division was farming out
data centers that the company didn’t need for its core electronic commerce business.

All of that computing power gave Zynga a lot of insight. Cadir Lee, chief technology officer, said in an interview in the fall of 2010 that Zynga could mine its data because it was a web company.

“We get data within 5 minutes of something happening,” he said. “Metrics and watching data is a part of the culture. Web companies do a lot of analysis. You have this virtual world where you track everything that happens, like how many plots of super berries
there are.”

Asked if FarmVille beat Farm Town because of Zynga’s better web infrastructure, Lee said, “That’s a fair representation.”

With Amazon, Zynga was about to scale its web servers up or down as it needed. It was much more prepared for hyper growth with a game than a smaller rival such as Slashkey.

“We solved a lot of tech problems for FarmVille,” Lee said. “We had some days where servers were on the edge of blowing up and we would release a new technology that gave us more head room. We learned what scaled way, and later on we would really shift the
way we built our games. We found it was not the amount of hardware that mattered. It was the architecture of the application. We had to build it in a way that took advantage of Amazon.”

The MyMiniLife engine proved to be a competitive differentiator and it was used again in every Zynga game from FrontierVille on. It was one of the secrets behind Zynga’s success, as other companies made Flash-based games that took to long to load or just
ran unacceptably slow.

Once again, traditional game designers looked down on Zynga’s “game.”

Ian Bogost, the Georgia Tech professor, was so disgusted with FarmVille’s lack of game play that he created a parody called “Cow Clicker,” where all you did was click on cows. It would take a long time for Zynga to escape that kind of criticism.

By July 2009, the world was catching on to Zynga’s fast growth. On July 31, 2009, comScore reported that Zynga had become the No. 1 online game operator in the U.S., surpassing Yahoo Games with a total of 44 million monthly unique users. Pincus said that
estimates that Zynga would generate more than $100 million in revenues in 2009 were “conservative.”

The free-to-play business model was working. Within a few months FarmVille had become the biggest online game in the world and a small percentage of users were buying enough games to make it profitable.

Zynga beat out the rivals because of execution. One of its smartest features was “wither,” which aged your crops over time so that they became worthless if you didn’t harvest them soon enough. That kept users coming back to the game often; and Zynga sold
“unwither” to revive withered crops. That was one reason why the game monetized well.

In an interview with VentureBeat in 2009, Pincus said:

Look at Farm Town. Something happens around 3 million daily active users. You hit ceilings. You have to be a real company with customer support, deal with fraud and payments, and all of those things force you to decide if you will double down and make an
investment for the long-term. Your management hassle goes up and you have a lot of employees. At the beginning, we knew who we wanted to be as a long-term company. There was no question we would be a long-term company.

In September 2009, Zynga launched Cafe World, a restaurant-building game. It was a pretty clear attempt to duplicate the success of Restaurant City, a Facebook game that launched in April 2009. Headed by general manager Roy Sehgal, the game became Zynga’s
fastest-growing game to date. Seghal said in an interview with VentureBeat that the Clubhouse Studio team consisted of 25 producers, product managers, game designers, artists and programmers. They were all from a variety of backgrounds, not just games, and
they worked on the title for about five months. Not everyone had worked on a game before.

Soon enough, Zynga’s Cafe World game had 28 million monthly active users, while Restaurant City had 16 million. It was like FarmVille versus Farm Town all over again.

Since Zynga raised more money than its rivals, it could afford to advertise, but not in an outlandish way. Still, the stakes were getting higher. Ad network operators such as RockYou were getting a dollar per installation of a game. That meant that other
developers would pay $1 for every user that RockYou convinced to try out a game on Facebook. Over time, the cost of advertising on Facebook rose, and many startups couldn’t keep up. It was starting to look uneconomical for them to do anything but sell out
to another rival, like Zynga.

By the fall of 2009, Pincus was looking like a prophet. At the Web 2.0 Summit, he predicted the future would be based on an “app economy.” The company had more than 50 million users, including 20 million FarmVille users. Zynga was selling something like
800,000 virtual tractors a day. All of that was happening amid the greatest financial collapse in modern times. That financial collapse was weakening all of Zynga’s competitors.

The Big Three

Zynga was becoming a little more respectable. But inside Zynga, all that mattered was that you could do your job and move with speed. That was why Zynga was ready to pounce when the right game, like FarmVille, came along.

Inside Zynga, Pincus was trying to stay humble and nimble. In a talk, he said he didn’t like good press stories about his company because it reminded him of his “fear of failure mode.”

With the huge growth of FarmVille, it became obvious to a lot of investors that the social game market was on fire in 2009. Console games and ad-based casual web games had cooled off during the recession. The world took further notice when John Pleasants,
the No. 2 executive at EA, resigned to take a job as the CEO of Playdom in June 2009. EA had 9,000 employes at the time, while Playdom had 65. It made everybody think social gaming was in its Gold Rush stage.

Pleasant’s departure was starting to look like a trend. Executives at the big companies wanted to cash in on the potential lucrative options at the hot social game companies. At about the same time that Pleasants left EA, Simon Jeffery quit as president
of Sega of America to become an executive of iPhone game startup Ngmoco, which itself was founded by Neil Young, a former EA executive. There was a race going on, and no one wanted to be left behind.

The pattern was clear. No executive wants to say it. But rather than try to fix a big company that’s having trouble with the transition to digital, these executives were going straight into the digital market to create or join companies in the hot iPhone
or social gaming markets. At the time, EA said that Pleasants was being replaced as COO by the returning John Schappert.

Zynga made the combination of free-to-play and asynchronous gaming — or turned-based gaming, where one player moved at a time — work well for players on social networks, who only had a few minutes a day to play. The turn-based gaming allowed players to make
their moves offline, at their own convenience, and play socially with faraway friends. That was a formula that worked well for tens of millions of people, many of whom didn’t consider themselves to be gamers because they just didn’t have the time to play.

Inside Network predicted that the virtual goods market in the U.S. would hit $1 billion in revenue. Much of that was divided among the Big Three of social games: Zynga, Playdom and Playfish. Zynga was far ahead because of FarmVille, but the standings could
change at any time if one of the game companies came up with a new hit.

Anybody could make a Facebook game. But the tough thing became getting it noticed as thousands of apps materialized on the social network. The Facebook game leaders could easily cross-promote their new titles to their existing users. The console game publishers
took notice. But without a hit game to start with, they had a tough time. Electronic Arts launched Spore Islands — based on a hit game franchise on the PC — in the fall of 2009, but the game bombed.

Desperate to participate in the new market, big gaming brands started circling the market. At EA, Schappert tried to cool the enthusiasm for the startups. In a talk in October 2009, Schappert said that the social gaming bubble was getting bigger and it resembled
all of the hype that used to envelop the mobile phone games and virtual world markets a few years ago.

He noted that when EA agreed to buy Jamdat Mobile for $680 million in December, 2005, that was a peak moment for the mobile games bubble. Venture capitalists funded lots of mobile game startups in the hopes of getting a similar outcome, only to see the peak
shift to virtual worlds such as Second Life.

“Social games have attracted a lot of eyeballs,” Schappert said. “Venture money is pouring into it. Is it sustainable or is it a bubble? There are a lot of parallels to mobile. For those who say that packaged goods games (sold in retail stores) are going
away, they are a little ahead of themselves.”

Schappert didn’t deny that the social and mobile markets were exciting. But he said that in two years, the social game industry will mature and come back down to Earth. At that point, Schappert said that the hit games on social networks will likely be familiar
brands, “not games that we’ve never heard of.”
John Riccitiello

In some ways, Schappert seemed like he was communicating a message to Mark Pincus. EA had made offers to buy Zynga over time. Zynga wanted $1 billion. Based on earnings at the time (Zynga would privately record a loss of $52.8 million on revenue of $121.5
million in 2009), it was an outrageous sum. Pincus was always willing to sell out, but only for a crazy price. Was that price justified? Pincus’s view was that virtual goods were going to become a huge market within five years, and Zynga had a chance to have
about 30 percent of that market. On that basis, Zynga’s value could be viewed as much higher. In the meantime, if someone was willing to overpay for Zynga, Pincus was willing to sell.

That kind of attitude showed that Pincus wasn’t thinking just about the near term, but the grand possibilities of the future. He was like Mark Zuckerberg, who early on had an opportunity to sell Facebook for $1 billion. According to David Kirkpatrick’s book,
The Facebook Effect, one-time Facebook executive, Owen Van Natta, brought a deal to Zuckerberg. He had an offer from Yahoo, which wanted to buy Facebook for a billion dollars. Zuckerberg turned him down. In fact, later on, Microsoft tried to buy Facebook for
$15 billion, Kirkpatrick wrote, and Zuckerberg turned that down too. Pincus was close to Zuckerberg, as an angel investor in the social network, and thought like him.

Then, on Nov. 9 2009, EA dropped two bombshells. It was going to lay off 1,500 employees and close a bunch of game studios. The layoffs were part of an apocalypse for game developers. Wanda Meloni, an analyst at M2 Research, found that 60 game studios had
laid off more than 8,450 employees from July to November in 2009.

And it was buying social game maker Playfish for at least $300 and as much as $400 million. Playfish was viewed as valuable because it consistently came up with original titles, like Who has the Biggest Brain? It had more than 60 million monthly active users
and it didn’t do much advertising at all to get them. Still, instantly, Zynga was now viewed as being much more valuable than others thought it was because it was a lot bigger than Playfish.

EA had joined the social gaming party. Coming so soon after Schappert’s talk, it seemed like the earlier speech was really aimed at reducing the price EA would have to pay for an acquisition. Before the deal, Activision Blizzard was EA’s clear rival. Now,
EA’s public enemy No. 1 was Zynga. It was as if John Riccitiello, the chief executive of EA, wanted to square off against his old colleague, Bing Gordon, in the hottest part of games.

Playdom copycat allegations

Since the stakes were so high, Zynga fought ferociously not only in the market, but in the courts too. In September 2009, just before it settled its lawsuit with Maestri over Mob Wars, Zynga filed a lawsuit against Playdom over trade-secret theft. Many in
the industry viewed that lawsuit as ironic, given Zynga’s history with copying. But from Zynga’s viewpoint, copying was OK. But stealing documents, code, and game ideas was not.

The lawsuit showed that the competition had become a knife fight. Zynga alleged that four former employees — Raymond Holmes, David Rohrl, Martha Sapeta, and Scott Siegel — left Zynga and took various documents with them. They included “The Zynga Playbook,”
which was the recipe book that contains Zynga’s “secret sauce” for competing in social games. If one employee had left, that wasn’t a big deal. But multiple employees made it appear to be a big deal.

In discovery, Zynga uncovered emails with Playdom executives that showed their loathing for Mark Pincus, according to an amended complaint filed back in May 2010. Playdom co-founder Daniel Yue  said, “God I hate Pincus.” Zynga’s lawyers argued that these
comments created a place where theft was seen as justifiable.

The court granted an injunction in Zynga’s favor in the lawsuit in March, and another one in August, saying that Playdom was not allowed to use the allegedly stolen trade secrets.

Zynga alleged that Rohrl, its former director of design, stole an entire game idea and its associated innovative game mechanics from Zynga and developed it under a different name for Playdom. Rohrl sent secret emails from his private Gmail account to Yue,
who promised to keep them private. They were talking while Rohrl was still employed at Zynga in January 2009, and Rohrl didn’t get a job offer until March, 2009. Zynga alleged that Rohrl got a bonus from Playdom for his actions. In March, the court issued
an injunction prohibiting Playdom from releasing the game.

Playdom later admitted that Zynga documents had been transferred to Playdom computers by former Zynga employee Chris Hinton (who was not a defendant) and these documents were used to compete against Zynga. But it seemed as if the Zynga Playbook really just
said “copy others” and that Playdom was now doing to Zynga what it did to others.

Zynga also alleged that Playdom hacked Zynga’s computer network and gained access to Zynga’s confidential customer list and customer data, including data on the then-flagship game Zynga Texas Hold Em Poker. Zynga said Playdom used automated scripts to steal
Zynga data on 1.6 million Zynga users, including how much virtual currency each customer had. The next day, on Jan. 28, 2009, Playdom allegedly sent solicitations to Zynga’s players to recruit them to Playdom’s own competing Poker Palace game. The lawsuit
was settled in November, 2010, after Playdom was under new ownership.

ScamVille

That time in the fall of 2009 was momentous for social gaming for another reason. On Halloween, at the close of the Virtual Goods Summit, Michael Arrington, editor of of the tech blog TechCrunch, confronted Anu Shukla (pictured right) , chief executive of
Offerpal, which specialized in creating Facebook ads known as offers, where a gamer got virtual goods if they signed up for a Netflix subscription or something like that. The resulting firestorm engulfed Zynga, other social game companies, and Facebook itself.

At the close of a panel where Shukla spoke, Arrington asked how Shukla could defend her business of making offers that were leading the social game industry “into hell.” He said that Shukla was either “unethical or you don’t know much about your business.”

Shukla responded with a long answer about why Arrington’s commentary was “shit, double shit and bullshit.”  The whole answer was captured on video. The question was whether Shukla and other offer vendors realized that there were a number of scam offers where
users didn’t realize they were signing up for monthly subscriptions or other “slimy” offers, Arrington said. Under the scam, users wouldn’t realize that if they clicked on an offer page, the small print would put them on the hook for paying for an expensive
service for a year or more. They would only find out when their monthly bill arrived.

Offerpal said that it was handling transactions in the millions, and sometimes there were bad offers that had to be weeded out. But Shukla defended the practice of monetizing games and other social apps through offers, which let people pay with their time,
participation and attention, rather than actual money. When players wanted to buy something in the games, such as a better plow to farm the land in Zynga’s FarmVille game, they have to pay. As an alternative to shelling out cash, they could accept an offer
from Offerpal, which gets the user to do something like fill out a survey or send flowers to a loved one.

Arrington said the offers were ineffective, meaning that advertisers like Netflix weren’t getting their money’s worth from the ads — but Facebook and others involved weren’t putting a stop to the practice because they were all making money from stupid users.

Shukla contended that those objections are “shit” because most of the offers were high-quality and were filtered. She said that more than 160 million consumers had participated in Offerpal’s offers over the previous two years. She said the vast majority
of offers are working out well, because the advertisers keep coming back.

Zynga’s own monetization team was already scrutinizing the offers. They were within a short time of putting a stop to the bad offers, but Arrington got there first.

Arrington (pictured right) followed up by running an article dubbed ScamVille, where he backed up his assertions with examples of scam offers in the “social gaming ecosystem of hell.” A few days later, Arrington wrote that a third of Zynga’s revenue came
from lead generation and other offers. Zynga insiders said that wasn’t true. Amid a firestorm of controversy, Zynga started taking steps to remove deceptive offers. But Mark Pincus defended the practice of offering CPA offers.

Then TechCrunch dropped another bomb on Zynga, running a video where Pincus, in a talk to an audience in Berkeley, Calif., acknowledged that he “did every horrible thing in the book just to get revenues.” Under heat itself, Facebook decided to suspend all
play of Zynga’s FishVille game because it found scam-like offers in that game. Six days passed before Facebook allowed Zynga to operate FishVille again. The resulting investigation forced Facebook to remake its policies on offers and narrow down its list of
approved vendors. Offerpal was booted out, and Zynga stripped out all offers for a while until it could guarantee there were no more scams.

The incident created a crisis of confidence for Offerpal, Facebook, and Zynga. Shukla was removed as CEO of Offerpal, but the company eventually had to move into a different part of the business. ScamVille further hurt Zynga’s reputation in the game industry
as a company that would sell out its users in order to get revenue. By cutting out the offers, Zynga had to reset its revenue and profit expectations. It would mean that ad revenue would be lower in 2010 than it was in 2009.

Regarding his speech about “every horrible thing” at Berkeley, Pincus said to Details magazine later, “I didn’t mean to be so crass. But I was talking in a bar.”
The Russians are coming

Zynga would still end 2009 with more than $121 million in revenues, as it later reported. Its net loss, which no outsiders knew at the time, was $53 million. But that didn’t matter as much as its user count, which was 207 million monthly active users, was
more than double the 99 million from a year earlier. Zynga later revealed that its top three games accounted for 83 percent of its revenue in 2009. It closed the year with 576 employees.

Despite the ScamVille crisis, Zynga was clearly one of the hottest new brands and Kleiner Perkins poured another $15.1 million into the company in an extension to its second round of funding. And on Dec. 15, 2009, DST, a Russian investment company led by
Yuri Milner (pictured above), agreed to invest $180 million in Zynga.

In an interview with VentureBeat, Milner said, “We put a price on certain intangibles, like the quality of the team, the leadership position in the sector, and obviously the amazing growth of the business. From the time we started talking to the point where
the deal was signed, the company grew up a few dozen percentage points on all fronts. That was quite a spectacular growth we have seen. All those things factor in the valuation.”

The deal allowed some employees to sell their shares, but enabled Zynga to stay private. It also gave Zynga a considerable war chest to fight off challenges like Electronic Arts.

Asked if the investment allowed Zynga to put off an initial public offering, Pincus dodged and said, “The approach we have taken with building the company and trying to be a participant in social gaming becoming an industry was to work really hard on the
product front and the infrastructure and the growth. We did not want to let the media and buzz get ahead of itself. We did not want the company to get ahead of itself on the financing front.”

He added:

What we have done is along the way tried to partner with high-quality, smart investors who added to the DNA of the company and supported our long-term vision and shared it. All the investors have done it before in their own way. The leaders have nothing
to prove. Whether it is Kleiner Perkins or Marc Andreessen or DST. There are groups that are ready to go for it and they want to see us go for it. That has been important to have that foundation. With regard to an IPO, it didn’t feel like that was going to
accelerate our next four quarters of product and people growth. There are things about being public that can hamper a team’s ability to execute before they are ready for it. This route was a no brainer.

Why would Milner, one of the savviest investors of the new Web 2.0 era, give such a big pile of money to Pincus? Pincus’s vision was that in five years, the virtual goods industry would become huge. If it stayed the top gaming company on Facebook, Zynga
would be in a position to have 30 percent or more of a very large market.

Already, Zynga was able to cross promote its new games to its existing game users. Others couldn’t compete on the same scale. Zynga also had collected a huge amount of data and experience on what worked with users. Other companies could copy the features
of Zynga’s games, but, without Zynga’s data, they had to guess at what features really generated the most revenue. While Zynga’s losses were still big, its future looked bright.

A turning point: Real game designers

Tim Chang, then a venture capitalist at Norwest Venture Partners, said in the fall of 2009, “It’s hard to tell for now what the real churn rate will be. Social games have churn rates. You have a hole in the bottom of the boat, but the boat is moving so fast
that you don’t see it taking on water.”

Zynga discovered that while it had a huge hit with FarmVille, the challenge was to keep it going and to come out with new games that made up for the users that it lost each week as players tired of older games. It learned that while it could add millions
of players in a week, its launches could go even smoother.

It added an office in India in part because it wanted its employees to be able to go home for the evening and hand off their monitoring responsibilities to someone else during a big game launch.

That kind of move was very important for a large and growing game company, given what had happened earlier with Electronic Arts. EA had earned a reputation for putting its workers through “crunch time” so often that it got hit with an employee revolt, started
by a woman who called herself “EA Spouse.” Later revealed as Erin Hoffman, EA Spouse spoke up on behalf of all of the overworked EA employees. A full-fledged investigation ensued, the whole industry went into a phase of introspection, and EA had to deal with
lawsuits and was forced to ease up on the throttle.

Zynga was vulnerable to the same problem because the company was shipping new code for its games on a daily basis. Opening an India office was an attempt to forestall a revolt.

As Zynga bulked up, it also realized it needed to get more talent for making games on board. And as it hired more and more veterans of the video game industry, Zynga got more and more respect.

Interestingly, even Hoffman eventually went to work at Zynga.

Brian Reynolds was one reason for Zynga’s growing respect. Reynolds was an old-school game developer, trained by game industry legend Sid Meier in the creation of games such as Sid Meier’s Civilization, Civilization II, Sid Meier’s Gettysburg, Sid Meier’s
Alpha Centauri and others. In 2000, he left Meier’s company to become chief executive of Big Huge Games, which went on to create the Rise of Nations real-time strategy game. The company was acquired by THQ in 2008.

Bing Gordon introduced Reynolds to Mark Pincus, who knew his name because he loved playing real-time strategy games with his nephews when he was younger.

“That is how Brian Reynolds got here, because Mark was a Rise of Nations fan,” Gordon said in an interview in the fall of 2010.

Reynolds joined Zynga on June 30, 2009, with the aim of starting Zynga East, a new game studio based in Baltimore, Md. He became Zynga’s chief game designer and recruited many of his former colleagues to create a full-fledged game development studio.

“My job is to see what good game design techniques I can bring to bear on social games and to do new, innovative stuff,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds helped Zynga rehabilitate its image among game designers. In February, 2010, Reynolds gave a talk about Zynga’s practices at the annual Dice Summit, an exclusive gathering of game developers in Las Vegas. At that time, Zynga had six of the top 10
games on Facebook and had more than 239 million monthly active users. FarmVille alone had more than 79 million users. Reynolds commanded a lot of respect among game developers and he put a friendly face on Zynga. At that same conference, Zynga’s Mark Skaggs
(pictured right in red) collected the award for Best Social Game.

Reynolds could talk to the crowd in terms of game play and the motivations of gamers — topics that they could relate to. He described how social games worked. He said that shame was a good motivator to get people coming back to games like FarmVille, since
you didn’t want your friends to catch your farm looking run-down.

“Welcome to the web,” Reynolds said. “The whole game is sitting on servers in a room. You have control of the entire game at all times. The metrics are available in real-time.”

Reynolds said that it made no sense to mindlessly port game franchises from the consoles to the new social platforms without designing something that worked especially well with Facebook users.

This sort of talk was helpful to game developers who wanted to cash in on the social gaming gold rush. But for Zynga, trotting out someone like Reynolds was a powerful expression of its respectability and an equally powerful recruiting tool. Reynolds made
the rounds at the conferences, but he didn’t reveal what he was working on until much later. He said he believed that console games and social games would coexist, and that social wasn’t a threat to core games.

The ideas that Reynolds learned from legendary game designer Sid Meier still apply at Zynga, he said. Meier liked to build a prototype as quickly as possible, then improve it based on what users do, and it’s the same at Zynga. At the same time, in both traditional
design and social design, it’s important not to overvalue with users say they want. In the case of the Civilization games, for example, if the designers followed every player request, the games would have become overloaded with features and forced players
to micromanage the game in a way that became tedious.

After Reynolds joined, so would a number of other famous game creators. Steve Chiang joined in the spring of 2010 to become head of the company’s game studios. Other star developers who joined were Louis Castle (who recently left), a former Electronic Arts
and Westwood Studios veteran, and Bruce Shelley, who became a consultant for Zynga after Microsoft shut down his own Ensemble Studios, which made the Age of Empires games.

The “Cuban Missile Crisis” with Facebook

FarmVille showed the power of viral marketing, where Zynga could cross-promote its games across its network and turn new games into instant hits. But Facebook users began to complain that they were getting too many spam messages from other Facebook users
who were playing games. Facebook cracked down on the game spam, shutting down game notifications that were sent into the main news feed of Facebook users. Facebook also limited other forms of viral communication on its platform.

The upshot was that Facebook got fewer complaints from users about the game spam, but the usage of game apps dropped dramatically. Suddenly, in the spring of 2010, Zynga was losing tens of millions of users. One of the results was that app makers who previously
didn’t have to advertise now had to do so, and the ad revenue went straight into the pocket of Facebook. Zynga effectively had to start paying Facebook more money. At this point, in Facebook’s “post-viral era,” the business models for Facebook game companies
weren’t looking so good, and venture capitalists started funding more mobile game companies.

Then another shoe dropped. Facebook came to Zynga and said that it would require the company to use its new Facebook Credits virtual currency as the sole virtual money for transactions involving Facebook games. Facebook would get a 30 percent cut of the
virtual goods transactions. Some saw this as an inevitable move by a platform owner to set up a tax. The 30 percent was the same cut that Apple took for apps sold on its App Store, and it was what Microsoft took as its share of Xbox Live online game sales.

Facebook’s Deborah Liu argued that the introduction of a universal currency would be much like the impact of the euro currency in Europe. That allowed people to use the same currency in different countries, and with Facebook Credits, users would be able
to use the same Credits currency across all Facebook apps. Facebook contended this would give gamers more liquidity and incentive to spend money across a lot of apps. It would also make it easy to do international transactions.

But the 30 percent fee didn’t go over well, given that Zynga was used to paying just ten percent to other virtual currency providers on Facebook. On May 7, news broke that Zynga was preparing to launch a web site dubbed Zynga Live that would serve as a portal
for its own social games. Mark Pincus called an all-hands meeting to tell his staff about the plans, underscoring the tension with Facebook over Facebook Credits. The tension in the meeting was palpable.

“When you operate on someone’s platform, it’s a continuous crisis,” said one former Zynga insider. “We were adolescents growing up together. Facebook didn’t know its own strength, and we didn’t know how to behave. Facebook was worried they were getting too
dependent on us. It was like growing up with a best friend. You get into a fight.”

Zynga went so far as to create FarmVille.com and was planning to launch Zynga Live, a web site that would have taken Zynga’s game to a Zynga-owned network. To some in the industry, Facebook’s moves were necessary for Facebook to establish a viable business
model built around ads and Facebook Credits. Zynga’s moves made sense as well. If it was ever going to go public, it had to diversify away from Facebook.

But the showdown was a kind of brinksmanship that threatened to destroy both companies. For Facebook, Zynga was the goose that laid the golden egg, keeping Facebook members on the site. And for Zynga, Facebook was an indispensable market, providing access
to millions of potential players.

In a speech given during the time, Pincus warned Facebook to focus on what it did best: the plumbing of the social platform.

“Facebook is at a crossroads,” said Pincus. “They have to decide whether its more important to be the web’s social platform, to make their social plumbing pervasive,” presumably through an expansion of more open technologies and communications infrastructure
such as Facebook Connect. “It’s sort of like being the plumber for the online world. If I were them, my goal would be to be the social platform. They have to decide to be the plumbing or the portal. I hope they find the business model around the plumbing.”

He added, “Where this ought to go is it should be an open Xbox Live for the web. If we get to this place where there are achievements, a consistent user experience, a way for web publishers and networks and sites to participate, and an easy way for developers
to develop amazing game experiences that enhance relationships among people, then I think social gaming can end up being the few real consumer experiences on the web and be a massively large business for all of us.”

Cutting the Facebook Credits deal

Owen Van Natta started showing up at meetings at Zynga during this time. He was the former chief executive of MySpace and the former chief operating officer at Facebook, where he served from September 2005 to February 2008. Van Natta knew Zuckerberg and
other Facebook employees well. He was just the kind of advisor that Mark Pincus needed to deal with the Facebook Credits negotiations.

Zynga announced in February, 2010 that it had brought Van Natta on board as an executive, though he had been going to meetings a lot earlier than that.

In talks with Zynga, Facebook revealed that 50 percent of all application programming interface (API) calls were from Zynga games. That meant that half of Facebook’s activity was based on a single partner. Zynga, meanwhile, noted that it was spending an
enormous sum of money on ads to try to recruit Facebook users to play Zynga games. Did Facebook really want to squeeze out its No. 1 partner? Why shouldn’t the amount that Facebook collected from Facebook Credits be more like 3 percent to 4 percent, which
was what other virtual goods transaction vendors charged?

Facebook was doing its own soul-searching. But Mark Zuckerberg figured out one thing. Facebook itself wasn’t going to be like Tencent, a giant Chinese social network and game company which owned more and more of its own partnership entities over time. Tencent
was grabbing more and more of the stack in its ecosystem. Facebook, on the other hand, was the social pipe. Zuckerberg concluded that Facebook wasn’t going to make its own games. It didn’t have the wherewithal to do that. That was Zynga’s core competency.
It had to rely on Zynga to provide the most popular applications, so it couldn’t put Zynga out of business.

On May 18, Facebook and Zynga stepped back from their tense nuclear standoff over Facebook Credits. They announced that they had entered into a five-year strategic relationship that ensured mutual support for each other on the social network. Under the deal,
Zynga agreed to expand its use of Facebook Credits and eventually use only that currency for virtual goods transactions on Facebook.

Zynga agreed to pay Facebook a full 30 percent transaction fee on every virtual goods purchase.

Facebook and Zynga said the deal would be good for both companies, and Zynga appeared to stand down from its threat to pull its games off the social network and invest heavily in other game networks. The companies said the agreement focused on the topic
of Facebook Credits and that there was no special deal that Facebook cut for Zynga in that agreement. That part was true.

But there was another agreement the companies didn’t talk about. In that deal, Facebook promised to market its platform and grow its user base so that Zynga would always have fresh users for its games. For its part, Zynga agreed to make its games exclusive
to Facebook as long as Facebook delivered certain user numbers to Zynga. No other companies were able to strike a similar deal.

By July 2011, almost all Facebook app developers would be required to switch over to Facebook Credits. Zynga, CrowdStar and other developers paved the way by using Facebook Credits early, thereby

willingly paying 30 percent of their transaction revenues to Facebook earlier than they had to do so. The contractual matter solved some of the problems. Zynga also brought Facebook to the negotiating table because it exploited its other options for reducing
its dependence on Facebook. But after a while the companies figured out how to align their own self-interests.

After it was over, Mike Arrington of TechCrunch said that the dispute over Facebook Credits was like the Cuban Missile Crisis of tech. Gordon agreed. In an interview in the fall of 2010 with VentureBeat, Gordon said, “In all the years of the video game business,
there has been natural friction between content publisher and a platform company. We saw in the video game business that, over time the friction got smoothed out. The easiest way to build stable relationships is to have people on both sides that persist for
a while. The No. 1 trick of the publisher and the platform company is to survive together for a while.”

When details of the Facebook Credits deal between Zynga and Facebook became public more than a year later, other game developers were steamed. They had been told that nobody got a sweetheart deal on Facebook Credits, not even Zynga. But Zynga extracted some
concessions out of Facebook that made its acceptance of Facebook Credits and the 30 percent fee more palatable to Zynga. Still, Zynga was in no hurry: It would be April 2011 before Zynga completed its transition to Facebook Credits. And Zynga kept making exclusive
games for Facebook.

FrontierVille changes Zynga

As chief game designer, some of Brian Reynolds’ ideas at Zynga weren’t going so great. His team in Baltimore was working on a variety of ideas. One game called Fashion Wars didn’t work out. Nor did Civ Wars. Even with seasoned game veterans, it took time
to get social games right.

Zynga launched Reynolds’ first successful game, FrontierVille, on June 9, 2010, about a year after he joined. His team at Zynga East had 16 employees, so the title took a lot more time and investment than many of Zynga’s previous games. Even so, that team
still far smaller than what other companies needed to create console games, which typically had more than 100 developers working on them.

The game was critical in one respect. Facebook’s move to curtail game spam earlier that year meant that Zynga was losing players by the tens of millions. On April 20, 2010, Zynga had 252 million monthly active users. But by the time that FrontierVille launched,
Zynga’s numbers had fallen to 216 million monthly active users. It needed something to reverse the slide.

In FrontierVille, Zynga had produced what nobody could criticize. It was an original game, unlike most other games Zynga had created. That was a major milestone at the time. It had a frontier theme where players created a homestead in the wilderness and
had to grow it into a bustling frontier town. It was a family game, more about tending crops and livestock than it was about shooting guns off and scalping your neighbors.

Reynolds was as hardcore as they came. He used to delight in setting off nuclear bombs in his game demos while working for designer Sid Meier. But now he had become a casual game maven, essential to Zynga’s mission in raising the bar and attracting new audiences.

The depth of FrontierVille was in its social game play. In FarmVille, your friends could help you tend your crops and you might never pay them much attention. But helping others was key to the game play of FrontierVille. You could help your friend tend crops,
feed animals, chop trees and revive withered crops. You could raise your family, tend crops, chase varmints off your land, add neighbors and raise your reputation by helping others.

“In this game, you can see who is helping you more easily,” Reynolds said in an interview with VentureBeat. “What I was taught was to take a lot of simple pieces and have them interact in deep ways. The goal is to improve the quality of the social experience.”

Reynolds described the game as “Oregon Trail meets Little House on the Prairie meets FarmVille.” Being original was part of Reynolds’ charter.

When FrontierVille launched, it saw a lot of user traction right away, but then usage flattened out. The problem was that the team didn’t have an analyst focused on looking at user data, so there were basically a bunch of designers flying blind. Then, when
Zynga finally put a full-time analyst on FrontierVille, usage started taking off again. Then it soared past 30 million users, making it one of the company’s biggest games.

Creating Zynga’s new culture

The success of FrontierVille and Reynolds’ team of game developers helped Zynga figure out its identity. As the company grew its revenues, it was able to pick up lots of new developers. Rivals such as Playdom had raised money as well and they were able to
start acquiring game studios — already battered by the recession — relatively cheaply. So Zynga decided it needed to do the same thing.

There were plenty of distressed game studios. Zynga looked at hundreds of them before it acquired one. Eventually, it ramped up to where it was acquiring game studios at a rate of one per month.

Zynga added people at a fast rate too. Then, in July 2010, Disney agreed to buy Playdom for $763.2 million. Now not only did Zynga have to compete against EA, it also had to fight against Disney.

Zynga didn’t have any major brands to compete against its rivals. All it had were its people. Colleen McCreary became Zynga’s chief people officer in March 2009. The former human resources executive for Electronic Arts said that it wasn’t easy to create
a common corporate culture when the company was moving so fast and acquiring so many new game studios. But she felt like the team had something in common.

“We are a large, motivated group of people who are excited about being on the cutting edge of something new,” McCreary said. “They built their careers elsewhere and see this as the next big thing.”

McCreary’s team pulled together some core principles for creating a better company culture. The only way to get people working as fast as they could was to empower them and make the company live up to its core ideals.

McCreary herself joined after taking a suggestion from Bing Gordon. She talked with Mark Pincus for three hours, and she felt like it was almost like a mutual therapy session. She turned Pincus down to take a job in India for EA. But Pincus stayed in touch,
and after four months he tried again. This time, she accepted.

“It said something about his desire that he kept in touch,” she said in an interview in the fall of 2010. “He wanted me to find the best people to come in and build product in a motivated way.

He wanted us to create what every CEO in Silicon Valley wants. At a startup, the first 20 people you hire are friends. The next 80 are those you need to get the work done. At some point, we get so big that we have to figure out how we will scale and manage.”

As Zynga was growing, it could pick up workers from places that were laying them off, like EA. Traditional game developers liked Zynga because “it was a chance to connect with a consumer that they never had.” Those developers had small roles on huge teams.
But at Zynga, a team of 10 to 25 people could create a big game in three to six months. With Reynolds, McCreary said Zynga took a big risk on him, trusting him to produce something wonderful after a long time of trial and error.

But employees were under stress at Zynga, where the work pace was punishing. People who didn’t meet the standards were under the whip. They had to perform or leave.

Zynga held its employees accountable. John Doerr, the Kleiner Perkins partner, convinced Pincus to adopt O.K.R.s, or “objectives and key results,” a management technique used at Intel and Google.

The company as a whole and every group within it has one objective and three measurable key results. Pincus asks his people to write down three priorities for the week and then see how they did on Friday executing them. It keeps people focused and keeps
them from burning out, Pincus said. That system helps weed out the poor performers, but it also keeps them from getting distracted with too many things that don’t matter.

Some people viewed Zynga as “Ghetto Google.” That meant it had perks like free food for employees, but the perks weren’t quite as nice as the search giant’s. Still, Zynga picked up the tabs for employees’ laundry or dry cleaning.

“We don’t want a sense of entitlement and we want people to be scrappy,” McCreary said. “And we are not Goo Hoo Soft.”

After a while, employees started asking what a career path was like at Zynga. If a software engineer was going to move up, what was the next step? Within a few months, Zynga prepared its career path, which involved getting people to work 20 percent of their
time on future goals and to train their replacements. In the fall of 2010, Mark Pincus was still spending hours with McCreary going over the goals of each individual employee at Zynga. While Pincus was busy and could be tough, he held office hours so that
people felt free to drop in on him. When Zynga has unhappy employees, Pincus gets very involved, McCreary said.

For those who felt overworked, especially at launches, Zynga tried to get relief. It could hand off work to its India office and rotate people through shifts. Later on, Zynga would reveal that 64 percent of its employees had been on board for less than a
year, and 92 percent for less than two years. Many of them stayed on, though, even though Zynga was a tough company to work for, because they got lots of promotions and quarterly cash bonuses. They also saw a big payday coming in Zynga’s future, as it was
getting into a good position for an initial public offering.

A more mature Pincus?

As Zynga’s culture matured, so did Pincus. He wasn’t quite as evil as the FarmVillains piece made him out to be, since there were dozens of employees from his previous startup, Support.com, who were working at Zynga. If he were such a jerk, why would anybody
want to work for him again? He outlasted even the expectations of insiders who thought Zynga would bring in a more professional game industry CEO at some point.

To Bing Gordon, Zynga arose in a disruptive, game-changing time. Nobody rode out this period better than Pincus, Gordon said in the fall of 2010.

“He was prescient and it was wildly interesting to me,” Gordon said. “Mark has a spectacular insight when it comes to audience building, ease of use, and communication with friends.”

Gordon believed that Pincus wasn’t in it for the limelight. He said Pincus happily stayed in the shadows and was not jealous of his own employees’ successes. Reminded that he wrote a negative memo about Pincus’s leadership style early on, Gordon said, “Mark
is a different person than he was then. I had said that Mark had never worked at scale before. In 2008, people thought that Mark could not run a big company. There was a previous board that threw him out. That was a concern for normal investors. My role was
to make sure that didn’t happen.”

Early on, Pincus was tough on weak performers. He had to be told when he wasn’t talking like a CEO. When Colleen McCreary arrived as chief people officer in the spring of 2009, she had to help eliminate 30 employees who weren’t meeting goals. Over time,
Pincus focused on areas that mattered the most, such as the business model, recruiting, partnerships, future investments, and the games themselves. In speeches like a talk at the Web 2.0 Summit, Pincus liked to wax poetic about a future where people played
social games so much that the company could consider them perpetual customers. That was how users behave with established sites such as Amazon or Google. Pincus wanted to make Zynga into a destination, not just a passing fancy.

Gordon added, “I said to Mark, I think you can be a world-class CEO. For me, it felt like working at EA in the 1980s, but three times faster and with smarter people.”

Gordon added, “Somebody who started four companies is smarter. You have to hire a lot of No. 1 draft picks, bet on them, give them authority, and take risks on them.”

There was a time when it seemed like investors might want to throw Pincus out of the company. He got a lot of negative feedback from employees. But the venture capitalists and the board didn’t have control of Zynga. Pincus still had a big ownership stake,
and he had control of the board and voting power. Much like Mark Zuckerberg, he had been able to negotiate from a position of strength when it came to getting investments. So Pincus had more time than he otherwise might have to change his style and become
more people-friendly. He learned to become the CEO of a very large company — something that he had never done before.

Not everyone agreed that Pincus is right for the job. Roger McNamee, a co-founder at Elevation Partners, told the New York Times, “Zynga should be an example of entrepreneurship at its best. Instead it’s going to be a Harvard Business School case study on
founder overreach — this will be a cautionary tale.”

It’s worth noting, however, that McNamee was the former business partner of John Riccitiello, CEO of Zynga’s arch rival EA. Of course he would say that. Still, there were some problems. Andrew Trader, one of the earliest employees at Zynga, had left the
company in March 2010. Later on, Pincus attempted to take back some of his stock option awards. Trader reportedly had to get a settlement from Zynga. That reported happened to others, according to the Wall Street Journal, and such “clawbacks” didn’t sit well
with some people. Those clawbacks would later come back to haunt Pincus.

Building the zCloud

Zynga’s whole game network was possible because of the rapid growth of internet infrastructure and new “cloud computing” solutions such as Amazon’s web services, where it rented out computing power from its data centers to small companies. That helped Zynga
create a flexible cloud infrastructure, said Cadir Lee, chief technology officer, in an interview in the fall of 2010.

Zynga started with a hosted infrastructure. It moved to a public cloud, adopting Amazon Web Services, when FarmVille took off. That meant it could tap Amazon’s data centers whenever the demand justified it. After a while, in 2010, Zynga started to create
its own private data centers, dubbed the zCloud, as it became bigger and bigger. It was a hybrid approach that let Zynga use its own private data centers as well as Amazon’s public cloud, depending on its needs.

The bill to do this wasn’t cheap. Zynga would spend more than $199 million on infrastructure in 2011, up from $62 million the year before. But the hybrid public-private cloud could do what Amazon did, with lower costs. Now that it had a bunch of major games
that were all in their various stages of life, Zynga could move around servers as needed. By making investments in its own data centers, Zynga could save money. If, for instance, it figures out how to reduce power usage, the costs savings will flow to Zynga’s
bottom line, not Amazon’s.

FrontierVille benefited from a lot from what Zynga had learned running FarmVille, Lee said. Zynga considered its analytics, storage, cloud computing, and game applications architecture to be competitive advantages for the company. Many of the games shared
code and functions. Zynga gathered data and then spit it back out in a form that can help the game designers create better games for users. It also had a huge investment in security to protect its virtual goods from hackers.

The company could now grow its users by tens of millions or lose that many in a matter of weeks. It could move games on or off its own private cloud, known as the zCloud, as needed. In a 24-hour period, Zynga could add or subtract 1,000 servers in an automated
fashion. It could deliver more than a petabyte of content per day, and its storage was now in the tens of terabytes. (Later, Zynga would say it processed 15 terabytes of game data per day.) Still, every now and then, Zynga had outages, partly because of its
dependence on Amazon.

But owning data centers also came with risks. If the demand for Zynga’s games were to drop dramatically, as has happened on occasion, Zynga would get caught with too much infrastructure on its hands and losses could result. That’s probably why Zynga will
likely own part of its data centers and will rely on external hosts for the rest.

Allan Leinwand (pictured above), the CTO for infrastructure engineering, said that Zynga preferred flexibility. It appreciated the four-door sedan that Amazon offered, but he said there were times when Zynga’s applications needed something different.

“Maybe one day you want a sports car, maybe another you want a Winnebago,” Leinwand said. “A four-door sedan is what you’re getting with the public cloud. Once we knew our app, we knew we needed to be flexible. We made zCloud better for our games. Amazon
is making a great platform, but we wanted a sports car for some applications and an 18-wheeler for certain applications. We needed to customize the cloud to meet the needs of our players.”

In any event, the fact that Zynga was considering such an option of owning its own data centers puts it into rare company. Only the biggest companies, such as Facebook, Google, and Apple, have invested in owning their own data center operations, when their
user counts run into the hundreds of millions of users. And thanks to their cloud operations, those companies have the closest relationships with customers and that is why they believe they will rule the world.

Going GlobalVille

Zynga was thinking seriously in the spring of 2010 about how to restore its growth and position itself for an initial public offering. Beyond its Facebook empire and its data center infrastructure, it needed a global audience. The U.S. social game market
had stalled in the post-viral era. But Facebook wasn’t the ruler in every overseas market. In places such as Japan, Zynga needed to find other ways into the market.

So, in June 2010, the company struck a deal with Japan’s Softbank investment firm, which also had rich holdings in mobile. Softbank agreed to invest $150 million in Zynga’s Japan operation. At that point, Zynga had raised more than $520 million to invest
in social games, including an unannounced $100 million deal with Google, which was planning its own social network to challenge Facebook.

In April 2010, Zynga’s games were played by 252 million people every month. But many of the games were seeing people trickle away, so the company knew it needed to open new markets. In Japan, Zynga sought to expand into mobile games and produce local content
for Japanese users. Masayoshi Son, CEO of Softbank, said he looked forward to working with Zynga to create a social game powerhouse. Zynga also believed it needed to be in Japan to understand the future of mobile behavior in the U.S.

Zynga also wanted to expand into the Asian markets, where free-to-play online games were born and customers were very receptive to virtual goods. The company started looking for overseas acquisitions and it built up an ability to launch its games in multiple
languages on the same day.

As part of its expansion effort, Zynga launched the first international version of its Zynga Poker game in August 2010, launching the game in Mandarin Chinese for Facebook players in Hong Kong and Taiwan. The game had 28 million monthly active players already,
but the localization effort was aimed at grabbing even more. Zynga had a voracious appetite for more users, and now it was willing to go to great lengths to get them.

Soon enough, Zynga was launching games in multiple languages on the very first day they launched. But in Japan, things weren’t going so well. Zynga was planning to launch games on both the web and on mobile. Big gaming networks operated by DeNA, Gree, and
Mixi were growing fast in Japan. But the team didn’t execute well in startup mode in Japan. The games they created were late and weren’t big hits. If Zynga was going to break into the Japanese market, it was clearly going to take longer than it hoped.

Going mobile

One of the best moves that Zynga made was withdrawing from the iPhone game market after its initial foray. Rival SGN was diving headlong into the iPhone in the middle of 2009.

But Mark Pincus found that Apple’s platform was wanting. He wanted Apple to turn the iPhone into a “socially enabled” device, much the way that Facebook had enabled social games on its network. Apple didn’t have a lot of the features that would allow games
to spread like wildfire among friends or make it easier to discover games. He also wanted Apple to launch its in-app purchases to enable free-to-play games on the iPhone.

Rivals such as Electronic Arts, SGN, and Gameloft had no qualms about the market. They were investing heavily in learning how to make money with the new smartphone platforms. Meanwhile, Zynga made a ton of money by focusing its teams on Facebook, which generated
far bigger audiences and far more revenues than mobile games did. But Zynga stayed on the mobile sidelines so long that it had to start buying its way into the market when mobile began to look more promising.

Zynga later made a run at playing catch-up. It offered to buy Ngmoco, the iPhone-focused mobile game company started by former Electronic Arts executive Neil Young (pictured below). Bing Gordon would have been ecstatic at such a deal, as he was on the board
of both Zynga and Ngmoco, and Kleiner Perkins had invested in both of them.

In October 2010, Japan’s DeNA acquired iPhone game maker Ngmoco for $403 million. That price was something like 13 times revenues — a very high price. But DeNA was on a billion-dollar run rate with its business on mobile phones in Japan, and it is intent
on expanding to Western markets for social mobile games.

The acquisition set up an interesting competition. While Zynga had been fighting with Playfish and Playdom (and later EA and Disney), it now had to realize that DeNA and Japan’s mobile gaming social network Gree were also gunning for a worldwide mobile social
gaming empire. And they would be more than happy to trample over Zynga.

Zynga brought aboard former Yahoo executive David Ko as a senior vice president for mobile in October 2010. In December 2010, Zynga made its biggest move into mobile with the acquisition of Newtoy, the McKinney, Texas-based creator of Words With Friends,
a Scrabble-like word game on the iPhone that had become a huge hit with 12 million downloads. The acquisition was Zynga’s seventh deal in seven months, but it showed it was serious about mobile.

Zynga didn’t announce it at the time, but the company paid a hefty $53.3 million for Newtoy, which was started by brothers Paul and David Bettner. That was the most that Zynga paid for a company, but the price was low relative to other kinds of gaming deals.
At that point, Newtoy added a mere 23 employees to Zynga’s tally of 1,300. Mobile was yet another way to diversify beyond Facebook.

Justin Cinicolo, the former Mafia Wars producer, assumed a leadership role in Zynga’s push into mobile. In the fall of 2010, he said in an interview that Pincus had more patience now for the mobile market to come into its own.

“He is more willing to do things like mobile where we know it will take some time before it becomes as successful as the web business,” Cinicolo said. “We have a good understanding of the web. Now it makes sense for us to spread our games everywhere.”

Of course, Zynga had to figure out how to deal with a big problem. There was no guarantee that its big position in Facebook games would help Zynga at all in mobile games.

CityVille’s population explosion

Zynga had been looking for a sequel to FarmVille for a while. FrontierVille had all the right elements for that, but the game never hit the same mass market as the farm game. So the company put a lot of its effort behind the next game that was spearheaded
by veteran game designer Mark Skaggs. Skaggs had established a pattern of creating a big game and then handing it over to others to run while he moved on to something new.

Zynga created the CityVille team from scratch in 2010. Skaggs, who had worked on FarmVille and was a former Electronic Arts designer, estimated that 95 percent of the people on the team had never worked on a game before. The team started with established
play practices that had been successful in other Zynga games, such as picking up rewards, or loot, upon achieving something. Then it focused on what would be fun to do in a city game. The result was a lightweight city simulation that can be played in a matter
of minutes — but which players feel compelled to return to on a daily basis.

They created a city simulation game called CityVille, which included something new for a Zynga game. It had animations and the icons of friends moving around on a city map, creating the illusion that it was a real-time game. the game was also rendered with
3D polygons that allowed the city to be rotated and viewed from different angles. And it had a guided tutorial to teach new people how to play. It included the FrontierVille social features that allowed players to progress by helping their friends, and it
allowed users to buy Facebook Credits to advance faster. On the surface, it looked like SimCity or rival social game Social City. But Zynga’s game was simple and suited for Facebook, which didn’t allow a great deal of interactivity.

Zynga announced CityVille on Nov. 17, 2010, saying it would be available in four languages at launch, the first time Zynga had localized a game for different regions at launch. But CityVille wasn’t quite ready to let CityVille out. For weeks, Zynga kept
tweaking the game. Finally, on Dec. 2, Zynga launched the game. At 1:22 am that day, the game launched and the staff drank champagne. In its first 24 hours, more than 290,000 people played the game. That was Zynga’s best launch ever, much higher than FrontierVille,
which had 116,000 players on day one.

The crowds kept coming. After five days, Zynga had 6.5 million players. They had built more than 2.7 million homes and created 500,000 bakeries. The timing was good, since the decline of FarmVille meant that Zynga’s numbers had fallen to an overall 193.8
million monthly active users, compared to 260 million monthly active users in the spring of 2010. The grown soon became exponential, with 26 million users playing CityVille by day 12.

“This feels fun,” said Skaggs, the Zynga vice president in charge of CityVille, in an interview at the time. “It’s like reliving the fun and excitement of the FarmVille launch. We are buzzing with energy about how to keep it going.”

CityVille helped create the impression that Zynga was unstoppable in social games. On the secondary shares market, Zynga now had a valuation of $5 billion, larger than publicly-traded rival Electronic Arts, which had $4 billion in revenue and was one of
the largest console game publishers in the world. CityVille passed up FarmVille on Dec. 24, 2010, when it still had 58 million users. On Jan. 3, CityVille passed FarmVille’s all-time high of 83.76 million users, a previous record set in March 2010. On Jan.
14, 2011, CityVille hit 100 million users, just 43 days after the game launched. In the 50-year history of video games, CityVille was the fastest-growing game ever in numbers of users. It pushed Zynga’s users to more than 296.6 million on a monthly basis.
On Facebook, CityVille was five times bigger than the next closest app.

Bing Gordon, the Zynga board member, said that CityVille shows what happens when you structure rewards in games the right way. He said its success was proof that games are like a “social lingua franca” of the web, where you relate to people or deepen your
relationship with them by playing social games with them. CityVille drove Zynga’s bookings and revenues upward in the first quarter of 2010, as users bought virtual goods such as batteries.

The big numbers drew sponsors. In May 2011, Zynga launched an in-game deal with DreamWorks to promote the film Kung Fu Panda 2. Users added 15 million Kung Fu Panda 2 themed drive-in movie theaters in their cities. While Zynga didn’t have well-known game
franchises, it figured out how to cash in on brands with its games through simple virtual item integrations that were basically ads.

CityVille was so successful that Zynga ran with it. The company later launched CityVille Hometown, a mobile version of the game, and it also announced it would launch a version of CityVille in China on the Tencent social network. The latter deal could give
Zynga access to China’s most popular internet service portal, with more than 674 million users.

The so-called Zynga City game was under development at the Zynga China Studio in Beijing. Zynga acquired that studio in May 2010, when the studio was known as XPD Media. The studio has a team of local Chinese game designers, artists and developers. Zynga
would also launch it on a new social network in the future. CityVille went more global than any game Zynga had ever made.

Gold Rush or bubble?

In January 2011, Zynga privately obtained a valuation of its company. The third party evaluation firm said that Zynga was now worth $4.98 billion. As the economy improved and the value of both Facebook and Groupon kept going up. Zynga also benefited from
a period of froth, as investors were looking for a way to cash in on the Facebook phenomenon. Only a few investors could actually invest in Facebook, but the demand for shares was rising.

On Feb. 13, 2011, the Wall Street Journal reported that Zynga was raising $250 million in a round of funding that valued the company at $7 billion to $9 billion. It was a lot more than the secondary market valuation of $5 billion and it showed that investors
were still excited about investing in social games and anything related to Facebook. At the time, Zynga was still riding high on CityVille and it had 275.8 million monthly active users.

EA’s value was around $6 billion. The comparison between the valuations was crazy. EA’s projected revenue for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2011, was expected to be as high as $3.7 billion (non-GAAP). For calendar 2010, Activision Blizzard’s revenues
were $4.8 billion (non-GAAP). EA and Activision both had more than 7,000 employees. Both were profitable on a non-GAAP basis.

Everyone had an inflated belief about Zynga’s value. Zynga’s revenues in 2010 were estimated to be $850 million, with a profit of $400 million, according to confidential sources cited in the Wall Street Journal. (Actual revenues, revealed later in Zynga’s
IPO filings, were $597 million and net income was $90 million). The company had more than 1,500 employees and it had been buying a game studio once a month. By comparison, EA said it was on track to hit digital revenues of $750 million in the fiscal year that
ends March 31.

Back in October, Zynga’s value was a mere $5.27 billion, according to limited trading on secondary markets, where employees and other shareholders were allowed to sell their stock to well-heeled investors. At that point, its value surpassed EA’s. Bubble-conscious
observers asked: what did Zynga do to double its market value in a little more than three months?

Zynga was trading at more than 11 times 2010 revenue. Activision Blizzard was trading at around 2.7 times 2010 revenue, and EA was somewhere around 1.7 times revenue. Zynga was most likely being valued on the basis of its potential revenues and earnings;
since it was growing at a faster rate, investors were naturally going to value it higher. And Zynga was clearly part of the rarefied social media technology club that also includes Facebook, whose value soared to $50 billion in a recent funding; Groupon, valued
at more than $6 billion; LinkedIn, which is preparing to go public; and Twitter, valued at $8 billion to $10 billion.

Zynga attracted enormous investor interest since it cracked the free-to-play gaming model, where the games are free but players pay for virtual goods. Asian game companies had done that as well and it was worth noting that Tencent’s value was around $46
billion on the Chinese stock market. Most of China’s online game companies, however, were valued at under $4 billion.

People could argue that Zynga’s value isn’t real, since it was in the midst of an investment bubble, and it is bound to deflate. But traditional game companies had to realize that Zynga could use its valuation to buy assets with real value. Zynga was buying
a small game studio every month, but it had built enough of a cash hoard to buy a traditional game maker. It could invest enough money in new games where it would become a threat to be reckoned with. That was how bubble value could turn into real value.

Lots of big game brands were going to attack Zynga’s core market of Facebook games during 2011. But it was likely going be very hard to dislodge Zynga, which had moved into a kind of self-perpetuating state. Zynga had to spend a lot of money on marketing
to stay there, but as long as it had the cash, and could get more of it, Zynga was very formidable on Facebook. Zynga could also point to mobile as the next great market for expansion.

At the time, no one got the details on Zynga’s investment round exactly right. But Zynga later said that it raised $490 million in February. The large round served Zynga’s purposes of postponing an IPO until it could accomplish goals such as regular profitability,
diversification beyond Facebook, mobile expansion, and international expansion. All of those goals would help Zynga produce earnings that could keep investors from getting spooked. Previously, Zynga had raised around $360 million, so the new round gave Zynga
more cash than the company had raised to date.

By March, Zynga’s valuation was $10 billion. By late May, Zynga’s valuation was determined to be $13.98 billion. At that point, rumors that Zynga would go public started building. Some backlash had begun to build that no company could create value at such
a rate, and that this was part of another Silicon Valley bubble.

Recognition at last

At the Dice Summit in 2011, 700 game designers and other elite members of the industry listened to an opening discussion about how games such as FarmVille and Angry Birds were disrupting the traditional game industry. Zynga was represented by Bruce Shelley,
a famous game designer who had created titles such as Age of Empires and was now a consultant for Zynga.

Mike Morhaime, head of Blizzard Entertainment, said he plays Words With Friends, a Scrabble-like word game on the iPhone, so that he can connect with old friends.

Greg Zeschuk, co-founder of Electronic Arts’ BioWare division, said he pulled someone into his office to show off CityVille on Facebook. “Come take a look at the future of games,” he said. He said game designers can now reach so many users so fast with games
that are accessible and easy to play. At the time, CityVille had around 100 million users.

“We have never had a chance to reach so many people so fast with something so easy to play,” Zeschuk said.

Bruce Shelley,  co-founder of the now-defunct Ensemble Studios and maker of Age of Empires, was so enthralled with Zynga’s FrontierVille (made by his friend and game veteran Brian Reynolds) that he decided to start work on Facebook games himself.

“This [game] had engagement,” said Shelley. “It was a real game. It meant that game design had been brought to a new space where it had never reached before.”

At the summit, Bing Gordon received one of the highest honors in the video game industry. He received the lifetime achievement award from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences for his work in the game industry over 25-plus years. Gordon was an early
employee and chief creative officer at Electronic Arts. He could have retired after his 25 years at EA. But as a partner at Kleiner Perkins, he had scored big. He had funded both Ngmoco, the mobile game company that was sold for $403 million, and Zynga. Gordon’s
award was not only recognition of his past, but also his current successes. And that meant that Zynga, Mark Pincus, and social games now had a place in the game industry.

Rich Hilleman, chief creative director at Electronic Arts, said that Bing’s comments often have to be translated from “Binglish.” But Hilleman, game designer Will Wright, and others said that Gordon was frequently brilliant (with one of them saying, “you
can’t judge a book by its cover.” In the video celebrating Bing, Mark Pincus said, “The scariest thing about Bing is that he is usually right.”

Gordon wrote a poem called the Golden Age of Gaming, which celebrated the industry’s ability to reinvent itself. Gordon thanked many of his colleagues for “giving me the chance to reinvent myself.” He added, “Twenty five years later, we are all an overnight
success.” One of the gems from the poem: “Today our industry is experiencing reframing; but recognize this: we are all in the golden age of gaming.”

It certainly was a Golden Age for Bing, and for Zynga.

There was still some lingering tension and doubt. Jade Raymond, a celebrated game developer at Ubisoft, said she found it depressing that people were spending less time with the hardcore console games that her company had made. However, most game companies
were furiously creating digital gaming businesses in social and mobile games. Zynga had changed the whole industry.

In a lecture the next day, Gordon told the Dice audience that Zynga was focused on the broader topic of play. As far back as 2004, Electronic Arts had noticed that its games were consuming more time than movies. EA’s Club Pogo accounted for 225 million hours
of play in 2004, compared to 180 million for Madden NFL, 150 million for Halo 2, and 126 million hours for the most popular movie, Shrek 2. Gordon believed that game design was so powerful that it was going to spill beyond the borders of the game industry.
He called it the “videogamification of everything.” The thinking of game designers was spreading into non-game web sites that wanted to attract more people. Social software was remaking of everything, from corporate learning to education. And while he touted
Zynga’s games, he also said, “World of Warcraft is the new Tolstoy,” in a nod to hardcore games.

The audience listened to Gordon’s sometimes rambling talk, which brought together experience from both the console side and social. He was a bridge between the industries. He had helped bring Zynga a long way from its days of ridicule. Simon Carless, executive
vice president of the UBM Techweb Game Group (which puts on the Game Developers Conference), said, “There’s a lot less tension than there used to be. The social developers are using more game design concepts, and their games are more fun than they used to
be. And the core game developers are learning how to create more social experiences.”

Google courts Zynga with Google+

Google quietly gave Zynga more than $100 million in venture funding in a round that was never announced. One of the reasons was that Zynga didn’t want to cause an open rift with Facebook. But Google was clearly aiming at driving a wedge between the two partners
as it prepared to launch its own social network. After much preparation and media speculation, Google finally unveiled Google+ on June 28, 2011. After two weeks, the service hit 10 million users; after four weeks, it hit 25 million. By October 2011, it hit
40 million users.

The company slowly doled out invitations so that it could add features and maintain good service. On Aug. 11, the company opened the service up to games. Vic Gundotra, senior vice president of engineering, said that the experiences that people share together
are just as important as relationships, so the goal of Google+ games was to make online games as fun and meaningful as playing in real life. That meant Google was going to put a premium on social sharing in games, which would be built by third parties.

In a little jab at the spam-like nature of game notices on Facebook, Gundotra said that “Games in Google+ are there when you want them and gone when you don’t.” In other words, Google designed its game business so that it wouldn’t spam non-gamers.

It launched 16 titles, including Zynga Poker. Once again, Zynga was trying to diversify away from Facebook. And Google looked like it was going to be a major platform that could grow as large as Facebook and even steal some users away from it.

There was a reason why Google seemed like it was in a big rush to get games up and running on its Google+ social network. That’s because games were the way that Google would put financial pressure on Facebook.

Joseph Ranzenbach, vice president of operations at PrivCo, a New York company that evaluates financial data for private companies, had some interesting analysis of the Facebook-Google fight. He said that Google+ games could badly damage a major source of
revenue for Facebook.

That’s because Google started by only taking a 5 percent cut of virtual goods transactions from third-party game makers, while Facebook was taking 30 percent. If developers sell virtual goods for a game on Facebook, they have to use Facebook Credits and
Facebook gets to keep 30 percent of every transaction. That has made a number of developers angry.

PrivCo calculated that roughly two-thirds of Facebook’s revenues come from advertising, while the remaining third came from Facebook Credits. So Google+ games was attacking a third of Facebook’s revenues. Of course, lots of Facebook’s ads were placed on
pages where users are playing games, so a significant chunk of the ad revenue was related to games as well.

Google found a way to attack Facebook, and Zynga was an important piece of the puzzle in making it happen. In the future, Zynga might not have to fret so much about being dependent on Facebook. With Google+ around, Zynga could be a kingmaker among the social
platforms.

Finding a replacement

Zynga became a place of rapid advancement, with a chance to get promotions at an unbelievable pace. One of Mark Pincus’s rules was that employees should try to find their own replacements. The rule applied even to him.

Zynga had a number of possible successors to Pincus over the years. Bing Gordon gave him advice, but there were operations chiefs such as Vishal Makhijani. Owen Van Natta, the former CEO of MySpace and an angel investor in Zynga, joined the company in early
2010. He was an executive vice president in charge of running revenue strategy, corporate development, international expansion and brand.

But on June 3, 2011, Zynga hired John Schappert, the former No. 2 executive at Electronic Arts, as chief operating officer. Schappert’s move signaled loud and clear, like his predecessor John Pleasants’ move to join Playdom in 2009, that social and casual
games were a giant wave in video games. And the veterans of the industry were now more than willing to surf on the leading edge of that wave.

Schappert had a long history at EA, starting as a game programmer and founder of the Tiburon game studio in 1994. His team made Madden NFL sports games for EA and EA bought Tiburon in 1994. Schappert rose through the ranks to take the No. 2 job, but jumped
ship in 2007 to join Microsoft as head of its Xbox Live online gaming business. He rejoined EA as Pleasants — who EA made clear was asked to leave — departed for Playdom. At EA, Schappert helped steer the company’s expansion into digital games, in competition
with Zynga. That business was on track to generate $833 million in digital game revenues for EA in the year ending March 31, 2012.

At Zynga, Pincus had finally found his future replacement and also brought aboard an executive that investors would have faith in as an expert in the video game industry. Van Natta became chief business officer and was eventually moved out of his executive
job at Zynga. He stayed on as a board member, but seemed redundant after Schappert came on board.

Clearly, the hand of Bing Gordon, Zynga’s “consigliere,” seemed apparent in the recruitment. Schappert’s job was to bring order to the house, which had been expanding at a rate of an acquisition per month. He also had to preside over a rapid expansion of
game launches as those teams started finishing games they had started under Zynga’s ownership. Schappert brought more game cred to Zynga, and that meant he was good for a potential IPO. Those potential investors who weren’t comfortable with Pincus were likely
to be very comfortable with Schappert. And while there was a delay between the announcement of Schappert’s departure and his arrival at Zynga, EA didn’t sue Zynga for hiring Schappert.

Schappert’s hiring was marked by a couple of other events that signaled Zynga’s maturity. The company sued Vostu, a leader in social games in Brazil, for copying Zynga games. And Zynga also launched Empires & Allies, the company’s first combat social game
made by for EA veterans who created the Command & Conquer series. Empires & Allies grew quickly and it filled another genre in the cartoon-oriented social game market that Zynga was starting to cover from all angles. Soon, other games like Pioneer Trail and
Adventure World would arrive. It seemed that everything necessary for a good initial public offering had fallen into place.

The EA empire strikes back

During the summer, Zynga was courting a big prize. PopCap Games, the maker of outstanding casual game titles such as Bejeweled and Plants vs Zombies, was openly exploring its own initial public offering. PopCap’s employees had waited a long time for some
kind of payoff, and it was finally coming near. Zynga wanted to buy PopCap and it was willing to part with almost all of its cash — or at least take out a huge line of credit — to do the deal.

Asked what he thought of Zynga’s purported value, PopCap CEO Dave Roberts told VentureBeat, “One has to be careful about believing valuations based on the secondary market. I am not saying Zynga is not valuable. I think it is a very valuable company. Nobody
believes that that really is an appropriate market evaluation. And likewise you have to be careful when small pieces of equity are raised by companies. If Microsoft invests $50 million in something, they don’t care about the valuation because it’s a small
amount of money to them. That doesn’t mean the rest of that company is worth a lot. I don’t think we’ll ever know Zynga’s true value until it is public. The same is true for PopCap.”

Then, on July 12, EA snatched PopCap away. It agreed to pay $750 million in cash and stock, as well as a potential bonus of $550 million if goals were met.

The New York Times said that Pincus reportedly offered PopCap Games a total of $950 million in cash to buy the Seattle-based casual game maker. But after hearing about the company’s history of “clawbacks,” or rescinding share awards, and fierce internal
fights, PopCap decided against it. Instead, the company agreed to take a $750 million offer in cash and stock (plus a $550 million possible bonus) from EA, the Times said.

That explanation was an odd one, given the rescinding of share awards was a story that broke in November 2011, many months after the PopCap deal was announced. And on its face, the offer from EA looked a lot more attractive than Zynga’s offer. Still, when
EA snared PopCap and Zynga didn’t, it started to make people wonder. Why wouldn’t a company like PopCap want to hitch its fate to a winner like Zynga? Was there something under the hood that didn’t look right? Pincus had indeed taken back stock options from
some early Zynga employees.

The Times also said that three unnamed sources said that Rovio, the maker of Angry Birds, walked away from a Zynga acquisition offer worth $2.25 billion in cash and stock. Rovio made it clear that it wanted to go public. Zynga had been painted as walking
on water. Was it now falling back down to Earth?

PopCap cofounder John Vechey said in an interview with VentureBeat that Electronic Arts felt like a great match because John Riccitiello, CEO of Electronic Arts, was very knowledgeable about games and understood what PopCap was good at. Barry Cottle, head
of EAi, the company’s mobile and casual game studio, said PopCap was one of the dominant companies in casual games with fast growth on both Facebook and mobile games. The company made more than $100 million in revenues a year and was growing at a 30 percent
rate. Sales of Bejeweled made up about 40 percent of its revenues, and about 20 percent came from Plants vs Zombies, PopCap chief executive Dave Roberts told VentureBeat. But the company was born in 2000, long before the era of social gaming. If there were
any justice in the world, PopCap should have been in a position to buy Zynga.

Almost on cue, just as Zynga seemed to lock up the Facebook market, it took a broadside from EA. Almost as revenge for stealing Schappert, EA launched its life simulation game on Aug. 9, 2011.

EA had the massive franchise of The Sims, which had sold more than 140 million copies on the PC and the consoles, to fuel the growth of The Sims Social on Facebook. The game was the first massive hit from Playfish, the social game company that EA bought
for at least $300 million in 2009. It was a surprise comeback, given Zynga’s dominance on the social network.

Raptr, the social network for gamers, revealed that an analysis of its 10 million users that many of The Sims Social users — millions upon millions of them — had come from Zynga. EA’s own social games and The Sims 3 accounted for only 15 percent of the total
players of The Sims Social. Zynga players, on the other hand, account for 50 percent of all of The Sims Social players.

On Sept. 12, the Sims Social’s numbers exceeded FarmVille’s. By Oct. 12, The Sims Social became the No. 2 game on Facebook with 66 million monthly active players, compared to 76 million for CityVille, according to AppData. If roughly half of those players
came from Zynga, that was about 33 million users who had defected. Of course, not every single one of the Zynga players quit playing a Zynga game in order to play The Sims Social. But CityVille dropped from more than 100 million players.

EA’s success reminded everybody about what Zynga itself acknowledged as a risk factor in its IPO filing: The barriers to entry are low in social games, and the competition is intense.

“The Sims Social proved they can bleed, and if they can bleed, we can kill them,” said Jeff Brown, vice president of corporation communications at EA, laughing.

But by the end of its run, it was clear that The Sims Social wasn’t going to catch CityVille. The rate of growth fell off and, with extra marketing spending by Zynga, CityVille started to grow again.

The long awaited IPO filing

In late May, word leaked that Zynga had decided to file for an initial public offering. LinkedIn did so well with its IPO that Zynga was considering diving through the same open window for IPOs.

It was a false alarm. Then, again, in late June, rumors surfaced that the company might raise as much as $2 billion at a valuation of $15 billion to $20 billion. That would have made Zynga worth as much as three times the value of EA. Finally, Zynga filed
registration papers with the Securities and Exchange Commission on July 1 to raise more than $1 billion. By that time, more than 80 tech companies had filed to go public as the window for IPOs opened wider.

For the rest of the game industry, there were mixed feelings. Those who hated Zynga had even more reason to whine about the injustice of a company with copycat origins having such a huge potential valuation. On the other hand, Zynga’s S1 revealed a treasure
trove of information about the company that had been secret so far.

Zynga’s S1 said that in four years, the company generated more than $1.5 billion in bookings and it had amassed $995.6 million in cash. Its players created and stored more than 38,000 virtual times every second and spend 2 billion minutes a day with the
service. The company had 2,268 employees, an audience of 148 million monthly unique users in 166 countries, and more than 232 million monthly active users (as some users play more than one game). On a daily basis, Zynga had 62 million daily active users, up
from 24 million in September 2009. That was far more than any other social game company on Facebook and a reason why Zynga’s IPO was so highly anticipated. Those users interacted with each other 416 million times a day. Every day, Zynga processed 15 terabytes
of game data.

Zynga revealed some other interesting metrics in the filing. It said that 2.5 percent of its users paid for virtual goods in games. That was only 7.7 million paying customers. In one sense, that meant that Zynga was vulnerable. If someone stole away those
7.7 million users, Zynga’s revenues would plummet. On the other hand, it was a huge opportunity. Zynga could double its revenues simply by increasing the number of payers to 5 percent. That was why Zynga was pursuing alternative monetization techniques. This
kind of data was invaluable to the industry, and it only seemed that, because Zynga was going public, the industry was now learning critical things about itself.

One of the interesting parts of the filing was that Zynga noted that it was making more money from FarmVille than ever, even though that game had been launched in 2009. Expansions such as its FarmVille English Countryside helped boost revenues, and even
after two years, FarmVille still had half of its peak users. By contrast, most console video games sold for a few weeks before gamers moved on to something new. So Zynga had done a good job getting a broad group of users and holding onto them.

Ad revenue was only about 5 percent of total revenue. Zynga had opportunities to increase that as well, but it had been wary ever since the ScamVille incident, which jeopardized Zynga’s relationship with consumers.

But Zynga didn’t go public right away. The SEC had questions and Zynga had to amend its filings to make the regulators happy. Then the stock market became increasingly unpredictable. Throughout the summer the news about the world economy started to turn
sour. By Aug. 5, 2011, everything was looking sour again as European economic fears bled into everything else, knocking the stock market down again.

Some of the amended filings raised hell. Facebook game developers were furious when they found out about the tight relationship between Facebook and Zynga. The developers were angry because of a new disclosure by Zynga, filed with regulators, which showed
that Zynga gets benefits that apparently no other game company gets. In the filing, Zynga said that it received a special deal when it agreed to support Facebook Credits, a new virtual currency from Facebook, a year ago. In that deal, Zynga agreed to give
30 percent of its virtual goods game revenues to Facebook, the standard fee for using Facebook Credits.

In exchange, Facebook had agreed to help Zynga hit growth targets for its games. Facebook did not, as initially reported, agree to kick back revenue to Zynga from ads placed by Facebook alongside Zynga games on Facebook. Facebook said there was a deal to
share ad revenue with Zynga if it chose to move its Facebook games off of Facebook, but that ad deal never kicked in, according to a statement by Facebook. The 30 percent fee is what every developer pays, and Facebook told developers that everyone was treated
the same.

But other developers were upset about Facebook’s support of Zynga’s growth targets. Facebook reportedly (in a redacted section) promises growth by the end of the five-year agreement, according to a source familiar with the agreement.

“It’s an outrage,” said an executive at one Facebook game developer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, at last week’s Casual Connect game conference in Seattle, where the Facebook-Zynga deal was the subject of much conversation. “It means we can’t move
to Google+ soon enough.”

“We all knew Zynga had contractual advantages, but the extent of it makes Facebook a tough platform for everyone else,” said Trip Hawkins, chief executive of Digital Chocolate. “Policy changes have made revenue and margins more challenging this year, so
it is a bitter pill for all of us to find out that the market is neither competitive nor fair. Their relationship could not be more complicated. It’s like a bad marriage that is staying together for the money. You don’t get the feeling that either side really
feels happy or free. Ironically, they could both use more real friends.”

In conversations with game developers, Facebook tried to calm developers down and explain that it really doesn’t favor Zynga in a way that is unfair to the rest of the development community. There were, in fact, times when Zynga hated the Facebook-Zynga
relationship.

Meanwhile, Zynga’s on-again, off-again IPO started becoming a joke. Lots of IPOs were yanked altogether starting in August. Finally, rumors surfaced that Zynga would go public in November. Then it became after Thanksgiving. But first, Zynga decided to hold
its first-ever press conference at its new headquarters, a high-rise building that could fit 1,700 employees and was affectionately named “the doghouse.”

The Big Bang

Zynga’s huge staff of what would shortly become 2,700 employees needed a lot of space, and many of them moved into the old Sega U.S. headquarters building in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood. But the question arose: Zynga had only launched a
handful of games in 2011. What were all of those game developers doing? If it took six weeks to make FarmVille with a staff of maybe 10 people, then Zynga theoretically now had enough developers to make around 1,600 FarmVille games in a year.

Of course, the ante for game development was getting higher. It was taking longer to make games (FrontierVille had taken around a year to get right), and the teams were getting bigger. Zynga never told anyone publicly how many people it took to do games.
It considered that information to be a competitive secret. But a lot of observers thought Zynga had too many people.

VentureBeat has learned that Mafia Wars 2, the sequel to one of Zynga’s most successful games, took 80 people about 18 months to complete. Zynga announced the game on Sept. 20 and launched it on Oct. 10. The title featured 3D Flash animations, but it was
still mostly a two-dimensional game. The game grew to more than 17 million users, but then the audience started dropping off.

But finally, on Oct. 11, it was evident that those employees had been busy. The event was like Zynga’s own little E3, the big video game trade show. At a press conference in its sprawling cafeteria (with everything from Zynga french fries to cafe mochas
offered for free), Pincus unveiled 10 mobile and social game initiatives. Not all of the titles were ready to launch, but it was the sort of Big Bang you expected out of talented development teams that had been busy toiling in secrecy.

The event was orchestrated to give the press, analysts and investors a taste of what was to come on a number of fronts. Each initiative showed that Zynga was hammering a way at the concerns investors might have about its ability to stay on top. Mark Pincus,
the would-be multi-billionaire, made his first appearance on a stage in months. In the past, he hadn’t been careful or scripted. But that day, he was pretty polished.

He started out with a story about the good old days at Zynga in 2007, when the company first started making games for Facebook. He said the team hired some students from the Culinary Academy across the street to create food in the company’s small headquarters.
One of those students, Amelia, later became the fictional head chef in Zynga’s Cafe World game, and she was now the head chef. He asked the journalists to turn around in their seats and look up. Thereupon they saw rows of employees standing on the open walkways
of the building’s upper levels. Pincus recognized the staff and apologized for taking away their cafeteria for a day.

Pincus didn’t hog the stage. Pincus laid the groundwork for all of the presentations by senior Zynga executives. He allowed each domain expert to get on stage to describe their own games. When he introduced the company’s chief operating officer, John Schappert,
who was recruited away from Electronic Arts, he said Schappert had fulfilled Pincus’s goal of finding his own replacement.

Pincus said, “We challenge ourselves every day to … get you guys to play. You are busy. You are on the move. You don’t have time to sit and play games. But we really think play is this macro theme and activity that we all need to fit back into our lives.
Everything behind what we are building is this mission to build a platform for play.”

Pincus said Zynga’s basic design principles focus on the FTUE, or first-time user experience. The best opportunity for Zynga to make an impression on a player is in the first three clicks of a game. He said that in casual games, you have to sell the player
on the whole game in the first three clicks and that five to 15-minute experiences of playing should “feel like a meal.” You shouldn’t have to change your routine for Zynga’s sake.

Zynga Direct and Project Z

At the press conference, Pincus mentioned one new initiative, Zynga Direct, which the company has been working on for two years. It’s a platform for creating more social interactions around Zynga games, whether they’re played on the web or on mobile devices.
Schappert later described a part of Zynga Direct, dubbed Project Z, as an online destination where Zynga players can go to play Zynga games. Schappert said Project Z was a “social gaming playground,” where players could play under their own gamertag names.
But he didn’t go into much detail, either.

Project Z would be an independent website that exclusively hosted Zynga games. It would use Facebook’s connect feature to build a social graph of your friends on Project Z. You would then be able to go directly to Project Z to play Zynga games instead of
playing them on Facebook. It was Zynga’s own platform, like Microsoft’s Xbox Live online gaming service. And on this platform, Zynga wouldn’t have to pay 30 percent of the proceeds to anyone.

“Project Z is a Facebook Connect platform that leverages your Facebook friends to play in an environment tailored with just your friends,” Schappert said. “We learn a lot more about our players, not just from stats but from talking to them, and this is what
they wanted.”

The world hadn’t heard about these off-Facebook projects since more than a year earlier, when Zynga was threatening to move off Facebook in the showdown over Facebook Credits. Zynga had never stopped doing work on these projects, even though it established
a detente with Facebook. But these projects were stopped and started multiple times. The problem was that the job amounted to Zynga creating its own social network. And the difficult thing about that was that Facebook had succeeded in creating its own broad-based
social network that was heading toward 800 million members. Zynga needed to figure out how to differentiate its own social network enough to draw Zynga fans to a separate web site.

Now, it appeared, Zynga really had been serious when it said it wanted to diversify beyond Facebook so that it could have a direct relationship with its gamers without having any intermediaries in between. It wasn’t just a paper tiger, meant to threaten
Facebook.

David Ko, head of mobile, came on stage to describe five new mobile games. Mobile could be a bigger market than Facebook games, so Zynga had to try to grab market share in that market in order to keep growing fast, diversify beyond Facebook, and continue
executing well prior to going public. Ko had spent $53 million on Newtoy and was acquiring more and more mobile game developers.

Zynga also showed off new Facebook games like Zynga Bingo, Hidden Chronicles, and CastleVille. And it said that Mafia Wars 2 would now run on Google+. The whole press event was meant to show that Zynga’s employees had been busy and the company was now spreading
out in all directions.

Pincus closed the event saying that Zynga is committed to one vision that hasn’t changed since the founding: “We want to be the biggest macro bet on social gaming.”

“We believe that this is the way everyone around the world will want to embrace play in their lives,” he said. “We know it is early. We know it is primitive.” He said social gaming will come to life in the next few years and will become more mobile, so that
you will get something like a World of Warcraft experience in five or fifteen minutes.”

CastleVille saves the day

In late October and November, the stock market was still volatile. Toward the end of November, a new IPO window opened as companies such as Yelp filed for IPOs and Angie’s List succeeded in going public. But Zynga had its ace in the form of CastleVille,
a game whose purpose was to bring massively multiplayer online role-playing games to the larger mass market.

Zynga bought a company called Bonfire Studios in October, 2010. It included a number of seasoned developers who had worked at Microsoft’s Ensemble Studios, the creator of Age of Empires. As Microsoft shut Ensemble down, Bonfire was born. Zynga pounced on
it and renamed it Zynga Dallas.

Bill Jackson (pictured right), creative director of Zynga Dallas and a former Ensemble employee, had led the development of the game for more than a year. Now Zynga Dallas was launching CastleVille, the latest in the series of Ville games that had become
the mainstay of Zynga’s simulation games. The title mashed up Zynga’s usual cartoon style, which had a wide appeal among Facebook users, with more interesting game play than it had in the past.

“CastleVille takes Zynga’s Ville legacy to a new level of social,” Jackson said.

The game was a goofy title inspired by movies like Shrek, though its play style wasn’t an exact copycat of anything else in the market. Zynga launched the game on Nov. 14. On that day, The Sims Social was no longer a huge threat. Zynga had roughly 40 percent
of the market share for social games on Facebook, with more than 45 million daily active users. EA had just 12.5 million daily active users.

After six days, CastleVille had 5 million users. About 68 percent of CastleVille players were playing at least twice a day. Zynga said that in six days, 135,176,035 quests had been completed. Players had expanded into new parts of the map (covered by dark
Gloom spaces) a total of 4,594,750 times. About 23,845,983 beasties had been banished. Some 8,262,768 baby cows had been raised. And 182,360 Bubbly Grogs had been crafted.

Seventeen days after CastleVille launched, it had 20.8 million monthly active users. A full year after CityVille had launched, CastleVille had taken the title of the fastest-growing game in history. On Dec. 12, 2011, CastleVille had 31.6 million monthly
active users, according to AppData. If anything would make investors happy, it was another hit game. And this was just one of the first launches in what Zynga’s No. 2 man, John Schappert, would call “the most active launch period in the history of the company.”

Going public

Back in 2009, there was a time when Zynga got nothing but good press. At that time, Mark Pincus said he should have been thrilled that Fortune, Forbes, and BusinessWeek had all written about his company, but he wasn’t.

“I should feel happy, but I feel shitty,” he said. “I feel like the emperor with no clothes.”

He said that both social games and Zynga have a lot of potential, but they also had a long way to go before they could be considered successes.

When you headed for imminent failure, the best thing you can do, Pincus said, is to be in a position where you can intellectually and emotionally own your failure. At that point, he said, “You know you can control your own destiny.”

By 2011, however, there was no longer much danger of imminent failure.

As the IPO season neared the end of the year, Zynga was wrapping up its details. It changed its accounting to suit the regulators on Oct. 14. For the period ended Sept. 30, Zynga said net income was $12.5 million in third quarter ended Sept. 30, down 54
percent from a year ago. Revenue was $307 million, up 80 percent. Bloomberg reported Zynga would likely go public after Thanksgiving. Zynga’s destiny would be in the hands of investors.

Competitors tried to stir up negative stories about how Zynga treated its employees. All of a sudden, Mark Pincus was the emperor with no clothes again. The Wall Street Journal reported that Zynga’s Pincus had been leaning on poor performers to give back
their stock options. On Nov. 17, chief business officer Owen Van Natta resigned from his job. And the New York Times reported that Zynga’s employees were dissatisfied and that PopCap Games had been so alarmed about Zynga’s culture that it turned down a $950
million cash offer from Zynga in favor of the $750 million plus $550 million bonus from EA. Rovio also reportedly turned down a $2.4 billion Zynga offer.

But Zynga didn’t seem to worry about the negative press. The company filed its plan to raise up to $1 billion at a $8.9 billion valuation on Dec. 2, with a per share price range of $8.50 to $10. It planned to initiate a nine-day roadshow to pitch investors.
It would price the stock on Dec. 15 and start trading on Dec. 16. It was the last real window of the year for going public, and the company decided to take it.

The amount of money being raised and the valuation were a lot smaller than what everyone had expected, which was a $15 billion to $20 billion valuation. Worse, the valuation was less than it had been during the company’s previous round, which means the most
recent investors were seeing the value of their investment in Zynga decline. If the price rises above $14 a share, those investors should be OK.

But even at the reduced amount, Zynga would be worth more than EA at $7 billion, although EA had four times the revenue. That was a long way from the good old days. Andrew Cleland, the partner at Comcast Ventures, recalled that Pincus had told him Zynga
would be more valuable than EA in five years. In reality, it took Pincus just a couple of years.

Cleland’s calculations suggested that Zynga would spend more than $500 million in research and development in 2012, and that Pincus probably wasn’t managing for profitability in that year. The long-term vision demanded heavy investment, not quick profits.

“Zynga is a remarkable venture story, and the company’s impending IPO is a huge moment for the games industry — it marks the coming of age of the West’s leading proponent of casual, free-to-play gaming,” Cleland wrote. “With the timing for the company’s
roadshow now seemingly confirmed, what should we expect from Zynga as it goes public? The answer reflects Pincus’ exceptional level of ambition and has implications both for how investors should think about the company and how other developers manage their
go-to-market strategies.”

But Cleland’s long view might not have been shared by investors spooked about the European economy and Zynga’s own slowing growth. Where would Zynga’s new users come from in the wake of reinvigorated competition? To slide in value from $20 billion to $10
billion from July to December was almost as precipitous a drop as Zynga’s rise. The company was no longer walking on water. Now it had to earn every bit of respect and credibility. The reaction from the employees has been anger, in part, because the value
of what they own is half of what they thought it was.

Once the company unveiled its investor roadshow, Pincus finally had a chance to make his pitch to everybody about why Zynga had a bright future. He said that he expected the number of gamers to double from 1 billion in 2011 to 2 billion in the next five
years. About 18 billion apps were likely to be downloaded in 2011, and that would quadruple in five years. And $9 billion would be spent in 2011 on virtual goods, and that would triple in five years.

On mobile, Zynga had 11.1 million daily active users in October, up from 991,000 a year earlier. That’s a much smaller share of the overall mobile gaming market, but the growth rate is impressive. Zynga bought much of that with its acquisition of Newtoy,
but it was still good progress.

Zynga’s ad revenue is $55 million, up 162 percent from a year ago. Advertisers include Best Buy, which had a campaign where players in CityVille built 8 million new Best Buy stores in the game. Ads are just 5 percent of total revenues now, but are growing.
That represents a vast revenue opportunity. If Zynga makes just $1 a month in ad revenue from each of its 200 million users, that would amount to $2.4 billion in revenue a year.

The good thing about ads, Wehner said, is that they can be inserted long after a game launches. FarmVille launched in June 2009, but its Lady Gaga sponsorship was launched in May 2011. Hence, Zynga has some significant opportunities to backfill on revenue,
making ad money and better sales per user with older games.

During the road show, Pincus reportedly said that Zynga might be able to double its number of paying users. Right now, about 2.5 percent, or 7.7 million users, pay money for virtual goods in games. It was no easy task, but if Zynga could double that, it
could potential double the revenues of the company.

Michael Pachter, a research analyst at Wedbush Securities who specializes in games and digital media, said there are several scenarios in which Zynga could double its paid user base within the next one to two years. The two key drivers of growth will be
Facebook and mobile devices.

Pachter said that if Facebook hits 1 billion users, the number of people who play Zynga games will almost certainly increase in tandem. And if this happens, Zynga could still be close to doubling the number of paid users it has without significantly shifting
the total proportion of Facebook users who play its games.

Zynga’s John Schappert said the company will launch new games, enter new international markets, expand to new platforms from Google+ to Tencent to Zynga.com, and grow its markets in mobile.

“Why now?” Schappert asked. “We are entering the most active launch cycle in the history of the company.”

“We believe it’s the most powerful business model in entertainment,” Schappert said. In other words, if you think about Zynga as an investment, it seems like a bargain at a $10 billion valuation.

When Zynga goes public, the stock market will put that notion to the ultimate test. And if all goes well, Mark Pincus, the Pretender and the Man Who Would Be King, will finally get to say to all of his detractors, “I told you so.”(source:venturebeat