Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Zynga Reports Sharp Declines in User Activity - Has the Bubble Popped?

If you're on Facebook you've either seen the ads for or have been invited by friends to play any number of games that are likely Zynga commodities: Farmville, Mafia Wars, Adventure World, Texas Hold'em Poker. But things aren't rosey for the company, as they're starting to report that less and less people are playing what they're putting out there.

Ah, Farmville. I've never gotten the appeal myself, but if you talk to bored workers and irate bosses you'll probably be convinced that it's the best thing since sliced bread or worst thing since, unh, mouldy sliced bread? Er, moving on, the popularity of Zynga's Facebook games is one of the few steadfast things about the social outlet, or so it would seem at least.

As it turns out, Zynga isn't keeping nearly as many gamers hooked on their games as they'd like to, with some games reporting as much as a 40% drop in daily active users (DAU). For a company that lives off the amount of people that keep coming back to its game this is a troubling development indeed, but is it an entirely surprising one?

Admittedly, I've never actually played any Facebook games. Sure, like most I get invites asking me to "do whatever in whatevergame because friend x needs to mine for fish" or something like that, but those games just honestly have never appealed to me and I've often found them to be more akin to a pyramid scheme in design than an actual gameplay experience, which isn't exactly something I'm too keen on. What I'm left wondering is if others have started to think about games like Farmville and Mafia Wars the same way, or if there are other factors involved as well.

When I say that games like Mafia Wars or Farmville are like pyramid schemes, I'm going off of what I've learned from looking at some of the invites as well as the way that the internal structures of the game are set up. If you recruit friends then you get experience and money faster, as well as access to better goods and sometimes entirely new levels that are reserved for people that recruit a minimum number of friends. Of course if you can't find anyone willing then you can also pump real cash into the game to get access to these things as well.

This begs the question though: is it really worth spending money on these games, which are meant to be idle time wasters for when you have nothing better to do on Facebook? I mean, I could see shelling out money for expansions in WoW, or for stuff in TF2 (hell, I've done that), but to buy trees that have fruit that doesn't rot as fast? That's just a game being a money sink, and a rather dickish one at that.

Although I don't have experience with Zynga's games, I have played games where the only point is to always get more. Sure, they might be fun for a while, and when you're playing and comparing yourself against other people pride is definitely a factor. But after a period of time -- could be weeks, months, or even years -- the grind to stay ahead or even just stay "competitive" just gets to be too much. People grow sick of games that don't ask for but demand major investments of time and effort from them in order to remain playable, and that seems to be exactly what most of Zynga's games are doing.

Personally, I hope that this is the start of a downward trend in these types of games, because I see them as doing more of a disservice to gamers everywhere, rather than anything useful or good. I don't know if I'm alone in thinking that way, but I'm pretty sure that I'm not. Now, that's not to say that Zynga couldn't shape up and make its games better, but they seem to have fallen into the trap of thinking that what works now will always work, and I hope their audience realizes that in terms of fun vs. investment that it's just not worth it anymore. There are better games even on Facebook itself, not to mention just about anywhere else you can go, so I say let the crops wither, it's for the best.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating. I have my own issues with Zynga (most of them centered around my brief, unpleasant tenure there in their quality assurance department). I find that their model is a terrible one for the purposes of game design, and utterly inhuman in terms of respect for the gamer.

    I believe the best analysis of Zynga I've ever read termed the company, "Like a heroin dealer; he sells, but never uses the stuff he moves."

    If you accept links, here's one to an interesting, related article:
    http://insertcredit.com/2011/09/22/who-killed-videogames-a-ghost-story/

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