Why Social Will Not Save Zynga

Early last year when Mark Pincus regained CEO position, Dan Porter, Zynga’s VP&GM, posted an article on How Zynga Could Change The Game. One thing he proposed was expanding the reach of social, arguing Zynga is strong at understanding player interaction by weak at game design, i.e, level design.

Almost a year passed. Zynga has been doing too much since Pincus is back. I am not sure Zynga followed “expanding social ” advice, but I am pretty sure that social will not save Zynga and Dan’s idea is flawed.

Key Element of Game is Fun (Meaningful Player Progression)

People play games for fun. That’s it. It’s a simple idea, but powerful. Recommendations made on game improvement are often around reaching more audience, trying different genre and art styles. These things matter. But only when the game is fun.

Fun can mean many things in a game, achievement, socializing, experiencing the story, competing with others, developing your avatars, collecting loots, etc. All those things make players feel that they can make strategic, important decisions in game, and that they make meaningful progression along the way.

Most of Zynga’s games, except a few, lose focus on creating fun. One example is NFL Showdown. Zynga put a lot of money in IP but the game is just shallow. After playing NFL Showdown a few days, I feel helpless in the game. Other than spending money to train my players, there is no other way that I feel I can make decisions to make game result different.

I think Zynga really should focus on game design(core loop, level design, balancing, etc) to make the game interesting, not just make a game and ask people to connect with their social accounts.

Social Need to Be In the Core Loop

Core loop drives user behavior and determines win-lose situation. In many of Zynga’s games, social is not in the core loop. For example, Words on Tour. You can play the game without using the social element. On the contrary, Expires & Allies are great at integrating social into the game. You can send loots and troops to your friend. To get loots and to train troop, you need to go back to core loop to play the game. That’s an example of social helps player play together.

I think Zynga need to think social as a very important part of gameplay, not just a tool of connecting people, acquiring users or marketing the product.

Social is Not A Barrier Any More

When Zynga was founded, few games adopt the concept “social”. So after Zynga launched its games on Facebook, it become sensational overnight. DAU exploded. Sensational in terms of how games spread among people, not how games allow people to play together. Later on, Facebook blocked Zynga, mobile game dominates the world and Zynga declines.

Facebook blocking does impact Zynga. But another big reason is social is not a barrier any more.

In the early days, you see only a few games on your social network. A social game can easily acquire millions of users through network effect. Today, all games today have social elements (facebook login, friends invite, etc).All games compete on reaching to you and asking to join. People are tired of (even very uncomfortable with) inviting friends.

Social is a must have element in game. It’s no longer a secret weapon.

So don’t reply on using social to reach more people. Make your game fun.

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