Zynga Bets the Farm on Mobile & “Midcore” Gaming

Zynga, the trailblazing social gaming company behind titles such as Farmville, Zynga Poker and Mafia Wars announced yesterday from now on its focus will be “mobile first”.

Mark Pincus the founder and CEO of Zynga, which as around 240 million active players, sees social gaming as being in a second wave of consumer adoption.  Whilst the company introduced its games to the masses via Facebook these users now want to play on-the-go using their mobile devices.

Although mobile devices have long been used for playing games, mobile gaming has, by and large, been about players downloading an app to play “offline” and against themselves – such as Angry Birds.  The challenge for Zynga is in creating an “online” mobile multi-player gaming experience.

Whilst shifting game-play to a mobile platform has its challenges 7 million of its players have already made that transition, with more than 50% downloading Zynga games onto their mobiles.  Although Zynga was very much dependent on Facebook in growing its business, and is still very much to this day despite having the portal, Pincus does not believe being reliant on the apps stores of Apple and Google is a concern or a barrier to growth.

And with the slow-down in growth from the big-game titles such as Farmville, the focus on projects last year for iOS games such as Horn, are also seen as a shift for Zynga in not only the gaming platform, but in the type of gamer they’re looking to attract.

Horn with its more complex game-play and better graphics is seen very much as finding the centre ground between social gamer and hardcore gamer.   And with their newly revealed game Battlestone that transition is being extended.  Built again for mobile Battlestone is an action role-playing-game; an “RPG” where the player has to make multiple choices to battle their way through the game.

The careful line that Zynga needs to tread with these “midcore” games is to ensure that the usual freemium model – e.g. sign-up for a special offer and get extra gameplay items or cash – doesn’t turn-off what is a very different type of gamer.  The midcore gamer certainly doesn’t want to keep having freemium features pushed down their throats, and more serious gamers will quickly tire if they perceive the game not to be winnable, or at least have a good chance of doing well, unless they sign-up to promotional offers or pay cash.  Get that mix right though, and Zynga have got themselves a big new audience.

James Barnes,

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