Updated: Jan 7
It can be argued that Zynga was the originator of the free-to-play mobile game, kicking off what would become a multi-billionaire industry years before it truly took off. Their best-known game and one that put them on the map was Farmville for Facebook. In Farmville, users would tend a farm in real-time, with crops and other events happening while you were away. It was a game you could stop by, play while chatting on Facebook, and come back to later in the day to see the fruits of your labor. This ability to see your work pay off over time was truly exciting. It had been done before in the gaming market, but never so well executed as it would be on a social network. Couple this with easy access to sharing your farm with friends on Facebook, and you had a recipe for massive success. With the rise of smartphones and mobile gaming, Facebook gaming became obsolete. People had moved on to mobile and while Zynga did try pivoting, they weren’t fast enough and soon fell into obscurity. By the end of 2013, monthly users dropped to half of what it had been.
Since 2013, Zynga took steps to restructure the company and reprioritize its goals. Focusing on a strict “quantity over quality” business model by releasing tons of mobile games for quick returns and continuing to work on their long-term games such as Words With Friends. This structure paid off quite well, seeing a dramatic increase from 765 million in 2015 to 2.7 billion for 2021. Despite not being in the spotlight like it once was, Words had its biggest quarter ever this past year. The idea of working on their long-term games was inspired by “live service” console games such as Fortnite and Call of Duty: Warzone. These games are consistently updated, providing new content to users at a steady pace. This keeps players coming back. Zynga’s idea to follow these industry trends has worked well for them so far.
Despite coming out again as one of the mobile industry leaders, Zynga has seen some cause for concern recently. Due to easing COVID restrictions and fewer players actively engaging with mobile gaming, there has been a nearly 20% drop in market value. While CEO of Zynga, Frank Gibeau sees this as just a passing trend stating “any given day in the marketplace, you’re going to be up, you’re going to be down, you can’t as a CEO look at it on a daily basis”. Meanwhile, Zynga will continue to work on releases such as Farmville 3 and Star Wars: Hunters. Two new mobile games will more than likely see a solid return due to the popularity of the IP alone. Star Wars: Hunters can see massive numbers by the nature of being a Star Wars title. While the Farmville IP may not be as popular as it once was, there will certainly be interest to long-term fans who have fond memories of the old game on Facebook. If they can recapture that nostalgic feeling of working on a real-time farm, they just might see that massive success come back once again.