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Five years and $600 million
September 12, 2013 12:59 PM   Subscribe


 
As soon as the market of unsophisticated gamers was saturated and fragmented, the scheme fell apart. Given that most of the games consist of "click here, then wait for five hours and click here again" mechanics, the barrier to entry is nonexistent and the depth is measured in nanometers.
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:05 PM on September 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


They employ a lot of people around here, so that's bad but couldn't happen to a nicer guy in Pincus (no really stop laughing) and this sums them up 100%:

The former senior employee who was present for Pincus' "No innovation" diatribe described Zynga's business model this way: "Steal somebody else's game, throw millions of dollars at it, and then, if it doesn't have it already, add virtual coins."
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:07 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I like how seemingly every tech company advances to the point where they're hiring jugglers and stilt walkers, and then collapses.
posted by The Whelk at 1:14 PM on September 12, 2013 [55 favorites]


[Management] would rather grab new players, keep them for three months or so, get $5 to $10 from them, and those players would quit and leave.

This attitude pretty much entirely explains why Zynga wasn't going to last, and why Zynga not lasting should have been completely predictable for anyone who realizes that unsustainable growth is, y'know, unsustainable.
posted by mstokes650 at 1:16 PM on September 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Next up.. "Groupon; who could possibly have predicted it would have problems?"

What I resent most about Zynga is how much oxygen they sucked out of the room. Remember Draw Something? What a fiasco. And they hired all these amazing game designers like Brian Reynolds who seem to have nothing to show for their time there. (Except, I hope, a big fat stack of cash.) Although Reynolds seems to have been happy, so who knows.
posted by Nelson at 1:18 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Good article, worth reading.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:20 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I could always argue that this would make the game fun, but I had a PM tell me—many times—that they 'couldn't get data on fun,'" said Pyke,

When users are quitting because it's not fun, There's Your Data

I quit FarmVille because it wasn't fun, but all FB-tied games shortly thereafter.
posted by tilde at 1:21 PM on September 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


I'm gonna go with "What are greed and hubris, Alex?"
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:23 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


sonic meat machine: "Given that most of the games consist of "click here, then wait for five hours and click here again" mechanics, the barrier to entry is nonexistent and the depth is measured in nanometers."

Yeah, those games are such bullshit.

*returns to playing Jurassic Park Builder*
posted by brundlefly at 1:25 PM on September 12, 2013


Given that most of the games consist of "click here, then wait for five hours and click here again" mechanics, the barrier to entry is nonexistent and the depth is measured in nanometers.

In Cookie Clicker, meanwhile, there is never a good reason not to be clicking cookies.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:26 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I like how seemingly every tech company advances to the point where they're hiring jugglers and stilt walkers, and then collapses.

Not "every." Not even "most." Most tech companies are plodding along, turning a profit, doing their bit to keep business running. Well—most successful tech companies. Deliver features, get new clients, keep old clients happy, and collect usage fees that handily cover costs and allow for a reasonable profit margin.

Companies like Zynga are more like schemes than businesses.
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:27 PM on September 12, 2013 [19 favorites]


Zynga was a success really. It was a carefully executed plan, executed by a small number of people, to extract as much money as possible and get out. You think people really care about making facebook games longterm?
posted by Ad hominem at 1:29 PM on September 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


"Villena said that he and his colleagues were pushed to work constantly, frequently hitting 80- or 100-hour work weeks. Despite the hours, the games suffered." (empahsis mine.)

I have never understood this mindset. Really? people working 10 hours a day, seven days a week, and they're making mistakes? or just giving less of a shit any more about their work, because who cares, jesus, I just want to go sit outdoors for a while?

Has there ever been an app where the quality went UP when you work the developers like slaves?
posted by nushustu at 1:32 PM on September 12, 2013 [55 favorites]


Who might speak well of Pincus when all is said and done?
posted by boo_radley at 1:34 PM on September 12, 2013


nushustu, I believe the phrase you're looking for is:
The beatings will continue until morale improves.
posted by Blue_Villain at 1:40 PM on September 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


Zynga was a success really. It was a carefully executed plan, executed by a small number of people, to extract as much money as possible and get out. You think people really care about making facebook games longterm?

I'd be with you generally except for the weird 3rd class of stock and Pincus' paranoid control of the company. That only really makes sense if he expects to be around for a long time.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:44 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I like how seemingly every tech company advances to the point where they're hiring jugglers and stilt walkers, and then collapses.

You don't get rich/famous/on the cover of Forbes/massive love from investors and The Street by saying "We want to be modestly profitable and reasonably successful."
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:47 PM on September 12, 2013


dumbass people think that game players will forever shell out for power upgrades and the like. Disney's falling for it now with its "buy action figure and play our game with that character bit."

Its really the end of marketing as we know it.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:51 PM on September 12, 2013


You could buy folded towels in our game, [but] why would you want that in a party game?

However many he's attended, that dude has apparently neither hosted a serious party, nor stuck around long enough to help with cleanup the next day!
posted by intendedeffect at 1:51 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't know much about that Pincus guy, but I always thought he looked like a dick.
posted by slogger at 1:55 PM on September 12, 2013


Look on my farm, ye mighty, and despair.
posted by thelonius at 1:56 PM on September 12, 2013 [26 favorites]


Apart from everything else, I think that you'd be nuts to build any sort of product or business around the Facebook API, given the alarming frequency with which it undergoes radical changes. It's like a textbook example for how not to build or manage an API.
posted by schmod at 2:20 PM on September 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but... isn't this pretty much what I've been saying for months?

I applied to work there and (like everywhere else) I didn't get the job. I had heard that there were looking for good game designers now, whether they found any I don't know, I just know they didn't hire me. I have heard that their development culture is very "brogrammer," though, so maybe it's for the best.
posted by JHarris at 2:22 PM on September 12, 2013


As a former PM at Zynga, I'd say a lot of the article rings true, especially the Facebook changes that crippled Zynga's growth mechanisms.

I would strongly disagree with the idea that Zynga was a smash and grab job, designed for short term looting purposes. Pincus wants to be a billionaire on his own terms SOOOOO bad its palpable in almost everything he did or said. He would love nothing more than to be lording over Supercell, King, EA, right now. That's why he swallowed his pride to bring in another CEO and stay on as a product guy.

Zynga was just terribly mismanaged (I think the examples of waste in the article are overblown, but overstaffing was absolutely a ridiculous problem on most new game titles during development) and completely failed to pivot to mobile because too much of the company and its revenue is built around PM driven feature cadence (almost all of whom cut their teeth on facebook games). Game designers are totally marginalized.

Brian Reynolds was primarily responsible for Frontierville, one of the worst Ville games in terms of player approval ratings, and Cityville 2, a flop so bad it was shut down after 3 months. Whatever his design skills, I think he's abysmal at casual game design. He got all sorts of special treatment because Pincus loved him like crazy because he designed some of Pincus's favorite games.
posted by shen1138 at 2:33 PM on September 12, 2013 [20 favorites]


This worries me because I play a lot of Words With Friends. I notice they are trying to monetize it a bit by selling little add-ons (statistics, tile counters, helpful hints) but the game isn't mentioned here so it is obviously not a priority or a big money maker. I hope it outlives Zynga, or that Zynga lives on to keep it running.
posted by chavenet at 2:34 PM on September 12, 2013


I would strongly disagree with the idea that Zynga was a smash and grab job, designed for short term looting purposes.

Wow. I might have been giving them too much credit.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:42 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


too much of the company and its revenue is built around PM driven feature cadence

What does this mean?
posted by RobotHero at 2:49 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Zynga FB games monetization is largely built around the idea that every week you must release new stuff (features like the latest building for your farm, new decorations, holiday themed stuff when they roll around etc). This is vital to maintaining stable revenue, as far as Zynga can tell.

The PM culture is fairly risk averse and revenue centered, so PMs will almost always copy something that's worked before with a minor tweak. Plus, many of the most successful features were built during the Farmville Mafia Wars days, at a time I believe users were mostly clueless about how they ought to be treated. "What, I need to post on 30 walls to get this new item? Sure why not?"

The problem is that this works ok for FB games, but trying to translate that to mobile games turned out very poorly. One, releasing weekly on Apple is impossible, the review time alone is 2-4 weeks at this point. Zynga PMs don't know how to design features that monetize over a quarter instead of a week. Two, FB Ville style game features don't work well on mobile games. There are no built in communication channels, wall feeds to spam (or paying to avoid spamming) and while its easy to click on a PC, its very hard to do well on a mobile touch screen.
posted by shen1138 at 3:04 PM on September 12, 2013 [13 favorites]


Wow. I might have been giving them too much credit.

Very much so. A perfect example is Kleiner Perkins, the fund that made a very early investment in Zynga, then doubled down by buying more shares after the IPO at their peak value ever. Obviously they took a huge bath on that latter investment. Bing Gordon (a Kleiner principal) sat on the board of Zynga and probably had daily calls with Pincus. He had as good inside knowledge as anyone about the company's performance.
posted by shen1138 at 3:12 PM on September 12, 2013


"..PM driven feature cadence "

The "rhythm" that new features are rolled out to existing games that drive more intermittent variable rewards and/or new reasons for customers to pay to play.
posted by dobie at 3:15 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pincus wants to be a billionaire on his own terms SOOOOO bad its palpable in almost everything he did or said.

I got that impression from the article, fwiw. Maybe that's the problem. He didn't want to build a successful company - he wanted to be freaking rich and be invited to the rich kids' Hey-Look-I'm-Rich parties and have people acknowledge him as the successful rich guy, rich in his richyness.

Is it that much of a surprise that the company suffered as a result? The company was just a means to an end.

Zuckerberg wants Facebook to be successful, because it's his baby and his idea and he cares about it. It doesn't mean that he'll succeed, but he's not doing it just to get a billion dollars and get laid.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 3:18 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


This demonstrates yet again how unions are killing business in America.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:19 PM on September 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


I think the examples of waste in the article are overblown

Can you elaborate, shen1138? The clown day at the office detail seemed rather OTT.

(Though I accept that some details like this are sort of context dependent. If Google did it, it would probably regarded as adorable whimsy rather than profligacy).
posted by dontjumplarry at 3:29 PM on September 12, 2013


Guy made 220 Million, even a 36 person dinner at French Laundry every week for a year isn't going to make a dent in that, what where they spending money on?
posted by The Whelk at 3:32 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I could always argue that this would make the game fun, but I had a PM tell me—many times—that they 'couldn't get data on fun,'" said Pyke

This is one of the most clear examples I've seen of the general tendency for metrics-driven organizations to ignore aspects that are crucial to being successful because they are hard to track with metrics (or harder to game than metrics).
posted by burnmp3s at 3:32 PM on September 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


In other words, when you focus so much on measurements, you tend to ignore, or actively reject, those important things that can't be measured. Like "fun."
posted by JHarris at 3:48 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Shit that cost real money is salary, real estate, and servers/bandwidth/hosting.

I worked for a company once where people argued endlessly over ordering sushi and who drank 10 diet cokes, yet the three floors in midtown never fazed them.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:17 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I often retell the story about a friend of mine, who was a community manager at Zynga, try to recruit me by saying "I always get 60 hours in a week, and sometimes it's as much as 80!"

She quit about a month later. I now choose to interpret that interaction as a desperate cry for help.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:21 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


In other words, when you focus so much on measurements, you tend to ignore, or actively reject, those important things that can't be measured. Like "fun."

Zynga is apparently like school reform for web gaming. No Ville Left Behind!
posted by RogerB at 4:28 PM on September 12, 2013


I like how seemingly every tech company advances to the point where they're hiring jugglers and stilt walkers, and then collapses.

Not "every." Not even "most." Most tech companies are plodding along, turning a profit, doing their bit to keep business running. Well—most successful tech companies. Deliver features, get new clients, keep old clients happy, and collect usage fees that handily cover costs and allow for a reasonable profit margin.


I'm glad you modified that to "most." Most tech companies probably never get enough funding put together to actually do the thing they set out to do.
posted by Foosnark at 4:33 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The clown day at the office detail seemed rather OTT.

According to what was explained to us at a quarterly meeting, this was a spur of the moment decision by Pincus and cost Zynga no money. There is a clown college in SF apparently that Zynga happened to see a performance of, and he invited them to do clown things in Zynga's offices for a week. They were weird and generally received poorly by the employees.

French Laundry for 40 people: if everyone is getting $600 worth of wine (not likely), that's $40,000 roughly. Treasure Isle made $1m in 30 days. That's $33,333 a day. Is it really that big a deal to spend a day's worth of revenue to treat a game team that had done something that, at that time, was almost unheard of? Realize that Zynga's early games did insane things in the context of the marketplace at that time. Mafia Wars hit 1m DAU on Myspace at a time that no one thought that was remotely possible. Farmville hit $1m revenue in a single day routinely when other top games were barely clearing $100k a day online.

The bouncy house example was an instance of the company's quarterly celebrations. A bouncy house in SF costs $109 to rent for a day. Let's say Zynga got the greatest bouncy house in history. This is probably, what, $2000 for the day? Let's say catering for each person, outrageously, was $200 a head (our satellite office's budget to spend per person was less than $50). Let's say most of Zynga's SF office showed up to the party, so about 1500 people. That's $300,000 for a party, happens 4 times a year, so $1m a year on these "lavish" parties. Remember, I'm rounding way way up here.

Is that really big a deal when you have 2-3 Facebook games that are each making $600,000 on their off days, peaking at $1m on the best days, and a dozen more games that are making at least $100,000 a day?

The real costs come when you staff a game team with ~100 employees over the course of two years. Let's say the average salary is 75,000 (I think I'm lowballing). That's $15m. For one game team. In 2012, Zynga probably had 3-5 game teams of that size, plus a dozen others that were smaller but close, like 60-70. Not all of these games were live, mind you, they were still in development. So you have a team of 100 costing something like $7.5m a year working on a game that was pulling in zero dollars. And then it launches Cityville 2, and gets shut down after 3 months because it pulls in pennies on the dollar.

Perks are nothing compared to poor payroll management.
posted by shen1138 at 4:34 PM on September 12, 2013 [47 favorites]


This demonstrates yet again that workers are killing businesses in America.
posted by elpapacito at 4:37 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Huh. And here I thought Zynga was some sort of money-laundering scheme.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:44 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


intendedeffect: "You could buy folded towels in our game, [but] why would you want that in a party game?

However many he's attended, that dude has apparently neither hosted a serious party, nor stuck around long enough to help with cleanup the next day!
"

I know, I know. Everyone wants to be around when the drinks are flowing, but see how many hang around when it's time to get all of the unconscious, greased pony-play midgets out of the bathtub...
posted by Samizdata at 4:45 PM on September 12, 2013


Thanks Shen. Pretty cool to get an inside view.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:51 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Couple things: I played MafiaWars from the very start until, uh, like two years ago. (This is my shame face.) For a while, it was a cool way to interact with one of my old hometown buddies, and it seemed like there was going to be some kind of progression or something — some new abilities, something. Nope, just endless new items and jobs that didn't ever add up to anything. I'd always played it for free, and tried to only ever send messages to people I knew were already playing it. It's kinda embarrassing just how much inertia I had on it, but after whatever redesign there was and I did the math thinking about how it was going to take me a month to beat some fakety Russian and even then not really achieve anything, I just walked away. Fuck it. I tolerated a surprising amount of non-fun drudgery in retrospect, because it was kinda cool to dabble with.

And that shitty experience meant that I was never going to get into FarmVille or MonsterTown or whatever the fuck, because I knew it was just going to be endless, mindless expansion of some virtual plot of bullshit.

I hated when they took over Words With Friends, which I'd been playing since it was Scrabulous. Zynga fucking destroyed that, and it was one of the few games where playing socially makes sense — turn-based board games are made for that! By the time they were demanding that I set up an account on Zynga.com, I was like, fuck that. I would never give these people my info if I could avoid it. Now, despite the actual Scrabble app being kinda worse, I play that instead.

I'll also say that hearing stories about the sexism and brogrammer culture really made me unwilling to extend them any goodwill — it just felt manipulative and skeezy and fuck 'em.
posted by klangklangston at 4:54 PM on September 12, 2013


Ad hominem: "Thanks Shen. Pretty cool to get an inside view."

One of the things I love most about MeFi - Regardless of the topic, we will almost always see commentary from people in the field or visits from the originator of an item or topic someone posted on.

Very much doubleplus cool.
posted by Samizdata at 4:54 PM on September 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


klangklangston: "I'll also say that hearing stories about the sexism and brogrammer culture really made me unwilling to extend them any goodwill — it just felt manipulative and skeezy and fuck 'em."

Not to mention the face that was no secret they had at least one behavioral psychologist on staff.
posted by Samizdata at 4:56 PM on September 12, 2013


Thanks shen, that's interesting. While Pincus may have been, in retrospect, a bit over his head, I don't think he's a bad guy. And he's still got some hundreds of millions of dollars to keep him company, right? Maybe we haven't heard the last from him. I wish him luck anyway.
posted by JHarris at 5:00 PM on September 12, 2013


(That is, now that he's presumably sadder and wiser for his experience. People who strike it rich on the first try, that's nice, but people who do so, then fail, but then come back with a clear view of their failings, they're golden.)
posted by JHarris at 5:01 PM on September 12, 2013


Samizdata: "klangklangston: "I'll also say that hearing stories about the sexism and brogrammer culture really made me unwilling to extend them any goodwill — it just felt manipulative and skeezy and fuck 'em."

Not to mention the face that was no secret they had at least one behavioral psychologist on staff.
"

Ummm, the fact, even.
posted by Samizdata at 5:08 PM on September 12, 2013


If games die when people stop having fun, Candy Crush is not long for this world.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:10 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Candy Crush recently added a non-optional "fun to boring?" slider after levels, coincidentally while I was stuck on an infinitely tedious, totally random level for like a week. They got a lot of "boring" out of me, and yet also kind of a lot of plays. It's complicated.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:40 PM on September 12, 2013


Candy Crush recently added a non-optional "fun to boring?" slider after levels,

Oh my. They're trying to turn fun into a metric, I think.
posted by RobotHero at 5:49 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I don't think it's going to help, because of the way their game is structured. Having to repeat any level thirty or forty times is going to get boring. Doing a level just once doesn't give me a ton of information about it. They should already have data on how many attempts, on average, a given level takes. So I don't know what they're going for, other than to confirm that everyone playing in the upper 300s is basically grudge-fucking the game at this point.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:53 PM on September 12, 2013


Candy Crush after roughly level 120 becomes an exercise in unfun as player skill becomes less and less of a factor and random generation of candies dominates gameplay. Most levels remain relatively easy but you seem to get the 2-3 levels per episode that complete suck and take forever to beat.

I figure burnout rate especially on paying customers (i've never paid a single cent) is ridiculously high.
posted by vuron at 6:11 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Happy to contribute to the MeFi community. Any other questions about Zynga, I'd be glad to shed light / dispel myths.
posted by shen1138 at 6:18 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Candy Crush becomes too hard at the point where they want you to keep paying to play the game. It's a weeding-out process.
posted by 23 at 7:03 PM on September 12, 2013


[R]eleasing weekly on Apple is impossible, the review time alone is 2-4 weeks at this point. Zynga PMs don't know how to design features that monetize over a quarter instead of a week.
Couldn't you put 6 weeks of new features in one update and then turn them on over the course of the next six weeks? You need a pipeline, and maybe getting 10 weeks ahead of the curve is simply not possible, but if that is the key thing on FB and not on ipad, why not try it?
posted by jepler at 7:19 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


See, I like a lot of F2P games, and have even put money in before. In Echo Bazaar/Fallen London, it was because I had genuinely enjoyed the game so much that even though I didn't have to, I was happy to put something in, pretty much unprompted after I finished the main storylines. In Clash of the Dragons, the game itself is fun enough that I put in a little to get some cards I knew were going to be helpful, and I can probably play several more months before getting even tempted to put more in. They do a pretty good job of calibrating value to purchase, and everything in there is possible to earn playing for free.

But I'm about to stop playing Kings and Legends, another card game, because the PvP is totally unbalanced in favor of the pay players, and the mode that's the most fun, co-op boss fights, has gotten to the level where it's not particularly difficult, it's either luck or a long slog. I'm not willing to spend an hour slowly sending units to their doom, especially when it's then a lottery for the cards (and you get something decent once every two months or so). Also, that game has an absolutely insane gold/purchase scheme, where you end up having to make separate purchases to attain different levels of "VIP," upon which you can spend your money on better things. But to get to the top level of that, if you made the minimum purchase, you'd still be out about two grand. It amazes me that there are so many players with higher level VIP, because you're still talking hundreds of dollars. I assume half of them are friends of the developers or got some beta gig or something, because for what the game gives you, it's an insanely terrible bargain. Most of the actual game play is fun, and it's a pretty game, but I've just gotten to that part where I don't give a fuck about it anymore, because it's not THAT fun.
posted by klangklangston at 7:26 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've just gotten to that part where I don't give a fuck about it anymore, because it's not THAT fun.

I actually think that one of the big things that works/worked in favor of casual games, especially at first, was that they all required a much smaller time-investment, up front. I know that for me at least, I don't demand as much fun from a game I only play for five or ten minutes here and there than I expect from something totally immersive like Skyrim, where I'm going to start playing and then look around and 2 days of my life will be gone, so it had damn well better have been fun. I think "pretty fun" is about all people expect from a five-minutes-at-a-time game so the bar for success, as a game, is much lower. Over time, though, that 5-minutes-here, 5-minutes-there adds up, and while it may take months or even years, eventually you've sunk as much time into your [Noun]Ville or whatever as you sank into Skyrim (okay, maybe Skyrim was a bad example, but, say, Dragon Age) and didn't have nearly as much fun, and eventually that sneaks up on people, maybe not even consciously, but it registers.

Which is not to say that there aren't Flash games out there that are good fun. And on the whole I hope the more-fun ones are probably surviving better, though even the good ones have a tendency to get infected with shady forms of monetization.
posted by mstokes650 at 9:06 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wasn't Zynga the company that threatened to fire employees whom they felt had too many stock options, on the verge of the IPO?

Hiring employees and making them work insane hours, cause they thought they were going to hit it big, and then taking back those options, seems like it would do pretty bad things to employee morale.
posted by meowzilla at 9:27 PM on September 12, 2013


mstokes650: "I've just gotten to that part where I don't give a fuck about it anymore, because it's not THAT fun.

Which is not to say that there aren't Flash games out there that are good fun. And on the whole I hope the more-fun ones are probably surviving better, though even the good ones have a tendency to get infected with shady forms of monetization.
"

My major problems with most of those games are -

Do X X times then have it make me wait until tomorrow.

Like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and harass all your friends about me to get stuff!

Pay me $20 to get $10 of credit which will put you WAY beyond the non-paying players!

One F2P that has impressed me as not being P2Win has been the (non-Flash) Path of Exile (It's microtransactions are all cosmetic as far as I have seen). Also, Sega scored some points with me when DCUO went F2P. I had only been a subscriber for a couple of months before that change, and they upgraded me to a special tier where I get all the DLC for life for free.
posted by Samizdata at 9:57 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


meowzilla: "Wasn't Zynga the company that threatened to fire employees whom they felt had too many stock options, on the verge of the IPO?

Hiring employees and making them work insane hours, cause they thought they were going to hit it big, and then taking back those options, seems like it would do pretty bad things to employee morale.
"

As well as being, IMLTHO, so far from being legal that it should have never entered their heads to try.

Sorry you made a business mistake to help abuse your employees, but, no, no take-backs.
posted by Samizdata at 9:59 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Couldn't you put 6 weeks of new features in one update and then turn them on over the course of the next six weeks? You need a pipeline, and maybe getting 10 weeks ahead of the curve is simply not possible, but if that is the key thing on FB and not on ipad, why not try it?

Bunch of reasons why this isn't feasible.

- The most basic is teams always slip. No matter the hours everyone is pouring in, no matter how good the planning, things slip. Bugs sneak through, firedrills happen, revenue dips and you spend two weeks trying frantically to figure out why, other games or Central Services ask you to support them. You think you'll make 6 weeks worth of content, and when it comes time to submit, you've probably only made 2 weeks worth of new content. Even if we wanted to, it just wouldn't get done.

- New features on mobile take time. To make one serious feature (not just a bunch of new vanity items, which admittedly is quite fast) takes probably 3-5 weeks, between spec-ing out, building it, testing it, tuning it and QA. And that's assuming you find the fun on the first try. A lot of ideas get put up, and then get shot down because people don't like it (although this was somewhat unique to our studio, which had significantly more creative control that typical Zynga studios). Assuming you staff intelligently (not 100 people), you're talking about 4-5 months of work for 6 weeks of "weekly" content. If you throw people at the problem, you're just burning money, because mobile titles (except puzzle and dragons) don't make enough money to support FB-sized game teams.

FB is different because you can run tests instantly on tiny fractions of the user population to do your testing and tuning, while the regular game is running. You can push and roll back features very easily, something that's nigh impossible on Apple. Make a mistake on iOS? It stays live for a month before you can fix it, unlike FB where a click lets you roll back the game to a previous state. So you gotta spend waaaay more care on mobile features. Android, you can do this, but no one makes anything for Android because there's no money in it. Some teams are experimenting with this, however, due to the ability to do whatever you want on Google Play.

- Coming up with features, especially on mobile where almost no one at Zynga has any idea what they're doing, is hard. It's hard enough on FB, and as I mentioned before, FB content translates very poorly to Zynga's mobile efforts. Mobile titles usually only have 1-3 big ideas per major content update. I've seen roadmaps for a bunch of different games, mobile and FB, and even the best FB teams rarely had 6 weeks worth of features laid out at any time.

- It's fairly tricky to "turn on" features one at a time. You need robust infrastructure on both the front and back end to do that, and game teams don't have the time to make awesome infrastructure plays that make no money immediately. It's unfortunately this short term revenue thinking that dominates PM thinking. Not to mention, many game teams don't have direct access to the server tools needed to make that happen. They used to, then one team trying to implement a feature took the entire population of a game down for some time. Zynga didn't let that happen again.

- The last thing a PM team will let happen is put in six weeks of unproven features into one update. What if they all suck? You've just destroyed rev for the quarter. Grats on never getting promoted or moved to a good game team again, or possibly even getting stack ranked on the bottom and getting no bonus.
posted by shen1138 at 10:31 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


But at least you're in show business!
posted by thelonius at 2:11 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hated when they took over Words With Friends, which I'd been playing since it was Scrabulous.

Wordfeud.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:41 AM on September 13, 2013


Is it me or did Zynga manage to buy Words With Friends just before the fad passed?
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:58 AM on September 13, 2013


shen1138, thanks for a dose of reality on my idea.
posted by jepler at 5:59 AM on September 13, 2013


Actually, the makers of Dots have done that semi-successfully. While I enjoyed the Gravity game play when it first came out, finding that poor UI wiped out over half of my score of the course of the week (I'd get up in the 20k mark, wander away, and come back 'reset' nearer to the 12k mark - mutliple times and gave up. Eventually I saw a tweet from the makers that said 'save more often'! but no instructions as to what user actions could force a save.

This also seems to be the way (timed releases) that EA is trying to ruin run PVZ2. I've fought my way through most of the game, eating up earned coins to use 1 of the four available bonuses you can 'buy' with earned coins. I've made my way to the fourth spot on the map, but it's not yet released.

Sometimes I miss not having the items they wan you to pay for (some bonus functionality and old favorite plants) but I'm also playing the heck out of it, trying to beat each level without resorting to buying too many plant boosts or ANY lightning finger things.

But the key is, despite EA's general incompetence, the team seems to have made the game completely beatable at the Free level.

If they roll out the future world/fourth world on the map in a few weeks - well, okay. I can wait that long, and/or just come back to it when that comes out.

I know Gravity version got me back into Dots a while (until I gave up on getting my score devoured).
posted by tilde at 7:17 AM on September 13, 2013


Is it me or did Zynga manage to buy Words With Friends just before the fad passed?

WWF was released in 2009, it was acquired in Jan 2011. At its peak, it had something like 13-14m DAU in mid 2012, and its down to probably 7-8m DAU at the moment. Unlike most games, a large chunk of With Friends game users are not connected to Facebook, so relying on Facebook DAU numbers short changes those titles significantly in terms of user metrics. There are very few games that have lasted that long in the top 25 games in DAU. Words is really the only smart title acquisition that Zynga has ever made.
posted by shen1138 at 11:13 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The other thing that Zynga fucked up with WWF was mobile integration. It didn't recognize my phone's facebook account as the same as my laptop's, which meant I kept missing moves, especially as more of my friends switched to playing it on their phones.
posted by klangklangston at 11:23 AM on September 13, 2013


Zynga might be the worst, but more and more I see games -f2p and especially p2w- abusing their customers. And, apparently, people LIKE IT. Why do people not ask 'is this game worth my money, no matter how many perks my $$ gets me?" I don't know. I've become a grumpy old man in games, I guess, where too many instances of big flashy PAY US! popups or terribly designed gambling mechanics or spam your friends for perks or grindgrindgrindgind just kills my interest in a game. Welp, back to Diablo 2.
posted by Jacen at 11:33 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Whelk: "even a 36 person dinner at French Laundry every week "

How more Whelk could a fiscal comparison be? Unless it involves cravats, none. None more Whelk.
posted by boo_radley at 1:20 PM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


tilde: "This also seems to be the way (timed releases) that EA is trying to ruin run PVZ2. I've fought my way through most of the game, eating up earned coins to use 1 of the four available bonuses you can 'buy' with earned coins. I've made my way to the fourth spot on the map, but it's not yet released."

Can we not even discuss this? I am still so blazingly pissed I couldn't play this on my PC OR the borrowed iPad I had for a while that I wish horribly horribly bad things to happen to decision makers at EA.

Well, more so that usual, that is.
posted by Samizdata at 7:24 PM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, god, I'm sorry, I didn't mean WWF, I meant Draw Something. I used to play a lot of Draw Something and it struck me that the great exodus from DS came right after the Zynga acquisition.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:08 PM on September 13, 2013


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