‘Ello readers! This week, news came out about Zynga, the infamous social game developer. While Apple was making a new announcement, Zynga was apparently taking advantage of the Apple hype to lay off nearly five percent of its staff while presumably hoping nobody noticed. The layoffs are not all; Zynga is also shutting down several of its older games and cutting funding for The Ville, the game that got Zynga sued by EA. It seems Zynga is reporting a bad year, and 2012 has been rough on the social gaming titan. But why could such a successful company see such huge losses in such a short time? Zynga is only a few years old, after all, and their games have enjoyed quite a bit of success.
The answer seems simple, really. Zynga have alienated their potential customer bases with their shady business practices. The more hardcore gaming crowd is either not interested in social games or put off by Zynga’s tendency to rip off other social gaming outlets. Casual gamers, meanwhile, have simply moved on to the next trendy thing, leaving Zynga with an ever-shrinking audience of those people who for whatever reason continue to play their crappy games.
This, as many have said before, is one of the problems with casual gaming. Companies like Zynga alienate hardcore gamers, who largely want nothing to do with their mass-appeal style of game making, and casual gamers are a large but inconsistent market with a short attention span. I can certainly vouch for this; I played Draw Something for all of about a week before getting bored and moving onto something else, and people are reluctant to start Words with Friends games with me because I so rarely see them through to the end.
Another big issue with social games in general is that they really offer nothing of value. While most games offer at least an interesting and varied gameplay experience or some attempt at telling a story, games like Farmville offer almost nothing but arbitrary rewards. Most social games are more like a Skinner Box than an actual game; “players” of these games are essentially pressing a button to receive a food pellet. While such experiences may be rewarding in the short term, it is not at all surprising that people will quickly get bored and move on to the next fad. For Zynga, this is usually not a problem. After all, the majority of the top Facebook games are Zynga properties, so as long as the next big thing that people are moving onto is another Zynga title, the company has nothing to worry about.
The fact that Zynga are now posting a loss means that people presumably are not moving onto other Zynga properties, and this combined with the relatively lukewarm response to The Ville means that hopefully the industry is moving away from Zynga’s shovelware social games. I realize, of course, that I am being far too optimistic; even if Zynga falls it is only a short amount of time before someone else comes along and takes over the casual game market.
Nintendo’s supposed push for the hardcore also initially gave me hope that casual gaming is shrinking, but of course Nintendo has decided that a tablet is the best way for gamers to play games. I highly doubt that casual gaming is going to disappear, and indeed it remains to be seen how badly 2012 will really wind up being for Zynga. While casual games are not a bad thing, the number of casual games out there that are on the level of Plants vs. Zombies or the classic Tetris are much lower than the number of games like Mafia Wars and Top Girl.
The social game market has exploded from seemingly nowhere, but will it fade out the same way? The social game boom cannot last forever, and the decreasing state of Zynga’s finances points to a possible decline in casual social games. The purchasing of OMGPOP, another social game maker, has wound up being a mistake for Zynga; however, only time will tell if one bad year is enough to bring Zynga down. One can only hope.
What are your thoughts, Lusi-gamers? Is one bad financial report a sign of Zynga’s fall, or can the social game titan pull itself out of this mess? Are social games dying, or will they perhaps die soon? Am I completely overreacting in saying that this is a sign of things to come? Comment and let me know what you think, oh readers!