Posts Tagged ‘Zynga’

Zynga announces new title, CityVille – first multilingual international release

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Social games giant Zynga has recently announced the global launch of a new title; CityVille. Trying their hand at cashing in on “city builder” type games, Zynga’s newest offering will allow players to build their dream city from the ground up. Zynga is touting the new title to be their most social game yet, and allows players not only to build their own dream city, but also interact with friends’ cities, as well as build franchises with the help of these friends.

This newest offering from the big Z will be their first international game launch in multiple languages; English, French, Italian, German, and Spanish. Clearly, that worldwide buying spree that Zynga’s been on is starting to bare it’s fruit.

The CityVille launch arrives hot on the heels of Zynga’s recent FrontierVille launch, a title which has attracted over 28 million monthly users. CityVille is reported to feature the biggest sprawling game board in Zynga’s titles, allowing players to construct massive cities; all the while balancing the needs of citizens, running businesses and, … you guessed it – harvesting crops. And while one Zynga ‘Ville’ after the other look and feel more or less like carbon copies of each other, CityVille will feature Zynga’s first 3D rendered buildings and characters.

“CityVille is where Monopoly meets Main Street,” said Sean Kelly, GM of CityVille. “We are thrilled to bring the world our most social game to date – building on the best-of-breed gameplay that Zynga fine-tuned with FarmVille and FrontierVille. Instead of harvesting crops you’re harvesting your neighborhood, instead of clearing your friend’s frontier you’re working on a friend’s franchise. We hope players from around the world have as much fun playing CityVille as we had building it.”

Selected game features as provided by Zynga:

  • City Building – Build your town from the ground up! Once the land is cleared, make way for deliveries by assembling a road. Keep your residents out and about by building restaurants, stores and city services such as post offices, schools and fire departments. Build homes for your townies, and earn more money for your city by decorating them to increase the rent.
  • Run Your City – A happy city, is a lucrative city. Plan the layout to make residents happy, and earn money as they eat and shop. Keep them well fed at restaurants, and run sales at businesses to attract a crowd.
  • The People – Your characters won’t all look the same – dozens of characters and city officials will be available on launch day, including the ones who keep the city running – business owners, doctors, firemen and police officers. More people will become available as your city expands.
  • Goods & Trading – Goods and trading are the lifeblood of your thriving city. Plant and harvest crops to keep restaurants stocked, and population stuffed. Send ships to import goods from places such as Shanghai, London and Rome to give your townies a taste of a different culture, and buy more storage, piers and farm plots to grow the city rapidly. Trading between players is encouraged – buy or sell goods to others to avoid stomach rumblings.
  • Neighbor Cities – Love thy neighbor. Visit your neighbors’ cities to help them secure more energy, decorations and collectible items. Be a good buddy by helping friends accelerate crop growth, expedite shipping times and construct buildings faster. Send them gifts to finish city service buildings and clear ground for them to build on. You can even own something in a friend’s city. As you go you earn experience and buy things for your own collections and to share with more friends.
  • Commerce & Franchises – Put that economics class to good use and grow your city. Trade with neighbors by buying or selling goods sent by rail. Offer goods to friends or buy their extra supplies when they come by to offer them. Deliver supplies via trains running at the edge of your town between all the neighbor cities. Friends can also run businesses in your city. Build an empire of business locations but don’t forget to supply them with goods. The more locations you get, the bigger you can grow your business headquarters in your own city.
  • Guided Play – As the city leader you must guide your city to become a thriving metropolis. The city advisor will always show you fun things to try next to make a great metropolis. Once tasks are complete, you can unlock rare buildings and decorations.

This ‘Ville’ now makes the sixth in Zynga’s franchise: FarmVille, FrontierVille, YoVille, FishVille, and PetVille. I’m putting $20 down on the next Zynga title: SpaceVille, or FinalFrontierVille. One or the other. Yes, Zynga has made some great games, that clearly, people like to play, but isn’t it time that Zynga steps out of it’s Ville zone, and start delivering new concepts? Even Sean Kelly’s statement surrounding the project admits that they’ve taken the best parts of FarmVille and FrontierVille and simply reskinned and reinjected them into a new game. How long can Zynga really keep the gathering/harvesting and time management theme going? For a company that’s supposedly at the top of it’s game, I for one, and severely underwhelmed with this newest offering. But at the end of the day … if players keep on playing (and buying), clearly the market has spoken.

 

A shift in direction at Zynga?

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

When mobile gaming really came to the forefront, and a number of social games companies had successfully implemented mobile versions of it’s games, there was one glaring hole in the bunch: Zynga. The social gaming giant which has garnered most of it’s profits from players on Facebook was a bit late to the mobile party, and up until a few months ago featured only a handful of titles available for mobile. Granted, they’ve been making moves to catch up, most notably with their iDevice version of their smash hit FarmVille. Note: iDevice. Zynga’s not said a word about Android, and it’s growing market share. Until now.

Announced at Facebook’s mobile event , Zynga’s first Android device title will be … Farm Poker. An odd choice you say? Perhaps not. Zynga’s second most popular title garners around 36 million monthly and 6 million daily active users on Facebook. Not too shabby. Toss a little bit of cross promotion of your other titles in there via Facebook’s single sign on, and it looks like a recipe for ultimate success.

According to Chris Morrison at insidesocialgames.com, Zynga is also angling to make Zynga Poker the worldwide standard in Hold’em, adding Chinese language support to the game back in August.

But why Poker? Why not take your number 1 hit, and continue that train a-rollin’? There are a number of factors involved, least of which is FarmVille’s growing age and shrinking user base. The addition of FrontierVille has helped Zynga keep, if not boost, userbase numbers, but there’s certainly a bit of cannibalization from one title to the other.

The other factor to consider in Zynga’s decision to push Poker is it’s independence. Remember, Zynga Poker is akin to “The Cheese Stands Alone.” Poker is the only Zynga title that was specifically left out of the exclusive Facebook Credits deal that went down early in September. Over the past year Zynga has made significant moves to liberate themselves from Facebook dependency, with varying success. Poker games certainly attract a unique segment of gamers – one that Zynga could be trying to repeat their gathering and nurturing, turned bluff and raise strategy on.

One more factor to keep in mind with Zynga Poker is Zynga’s application to patent “Virtual Playing Chips in a Mulitiuser Online Game Network.” Note that the patent does not file for coins, credits, vcash, etc., but rather, refers directly to Chips. As far as I’m concerned, nothing says poker louder that the term “Chips”. If in fact Zynga is trying to corner and establish the global Hold’em standard, patenting the monetary mechanism involved would certainly be a good way to do it.

Combined with Poker’s relative freedom from the rest of the Zynga stables, their possible bid at cornering the global Hold’em market, a Chinese localization, and the seemingly unstoppable spread of Android, Zynga Poker may very well mark the beginning of a significant shift in strategy at Zynga.

 

Devs caught leaking UID data get the silent treatment from Facebook

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

It seems as though the LOLapps/Rapleaf saga has some reaching complications for a number of developers who either knowingly or otherwise passed User ID information on to third parties. Those that Facebook has targeted will be denied access to communication channels for the next six months. According to Facebook HQ, these targeted developers were found to have accepted compensation for the data they’d gathered via the aforementioned third parties.

According to the Facebook statement, the information that was sold to third parties was not private, yet still an infraction against the social networking platform’s privacy policies. Mentioned in the same statement, Facebook says that this communications blackout will affect less than a dozen developers, all of them relatively small, and none in the top ten applications rankings.

As mentioned above (and multiple times throughout the WSJ expose), and according to Inside Facebook, this ban also applies to LOLapps. While LOLapps directly only serves around 15 million users, remember, they also run a white label service that operate a wide variety of other apps, thus serving many more than just 15 million users.

However… and this is where things get interesting. LOLapps’ latest title, Ravenwood Fair, is not affected by this communications ban. You’ll also remember that the Wall Street Journal article that blew the whistle on these UID sale specifically targeted the ten most popular apps on Facebook. Now, you can’t mention top apps on Facebook and not mention Zynga in the same breath. In fact, Nancy Graf of St. Paul, Minnesota has filed a class action lawsuit against Zynga over the situation. Oddly enough (or not), there’s been no word regarding Zynga being cut off from communications.

In other words, is Facebook merely making an example of these smaller firms to send a warning shot across the bow of those that would consider selling data gathered from Facebook? You decide. But keep in mind, the Zynga/Facebook relationship is so engrained that silencing Zynga would be akin to the proverb, “cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.”

In a more positive light, Facebook is reporting that they’ve reached an agreement with Rapleaf that states the data collection firm will delete every Facebook UID it has previously collected. Likewise, Rapleaf has committed to carrying on no further activities on Facebook in the future.

Facebook has also instituted a new encryption to UIDs, with developers having until the first of next year to implement the solution.

 

Zynga files for Virtual Currency patent – have they gone too far?

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Unearthed by our friends at TechCruch and reported last Friday, it seems as though Zynga has filed for a patent on virtual currency. The U.S. Patent Application #2010022767, titled Virtual Playing Chips in a Multiuser Online Game Network, specifically names FarmVille and Zynga as Examples of Embodiments. The application continues, naming “Non-Redeemable Virtual Currency” and “Non-Redeemable Poker Chips” as Zynga inventions, and thus, objects the company claims ownerships of.

As noted by Alexia Tsotsis in the original TechCrunch article, it appears as what Zynga’s after through this filing is patent on the ability to buy virtual currencies that can not be then later traded for actual currency. The specific wording:

“A method, comprising:receiving, at a server, a purchase order for virtual currency from a player, wherein the purchase order was made with legal currency, and wherein the virtual currency is usable within the context of a computer-implemented game;crediting an account of the player with virtual currency, wherein the virtual currency is not redeemable for legal currency;receiving a second purchase order for a virtual object within the context of the computer-implemented game from the player, wherein the second purchase order was made with virtual currency; anddebiting the account of the player based on the second purchase order.”

I’m no legal scholar, but from what I read from this filing is that Zynga is essentially attempting to patent the process of purchasing virtual currency that cannot then be resold. Additionally, sources indicate that Zynga may implement a fraud prevention system, blocking players from using real world cash to purchase virtual funds from other players within Zynga titles. I see two fundamental problems here, 1.) isn’t the process of purchasing virtual currency a service, and not a patentable action? and 2.) Zynga is effectively targeting the elimination of a secondary market.

VentureBeat’s Mattew Lynley offers up the theory that Zynga is pursuing this patent in order to protect and further their Zynga Poker title. Zynga Poker, you’ll remember, was the only title specifically left out of the Zynga goes exclusive with Facebook Credits deal that went down on September 8th. And oh look … it appears as though Zynga filed for this patent on – you guessed it, September 9th, 2010.

Lynley makes the case that in Zynga Poker, the use of virtual currencies may for under state gambling rules. In some states online gambling is highly regulated, in others, completely illegal. With this patent filing, Zynga is attempting to make the case that cash flow is one way – meaning players can pay into the system, but never take money out, thus circumventing any governmentally implemented gambling regulations.

Win or lose, I see this as a harmful move by Zynga. If they win, well, they just became the name in practically any and all online games that involve virtual currencies (how is this not a monopoly?). If they lose, they’ve opened the doors to an entire flood of other gaming companies to attempt the same feat, or at least set a precedent for legal minds to work their way around.

zyngapatent

 

LOLapps back on Facebook – but bigger questions, and a class action lawsuit, arise

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Call it the straw that broke the camels’ back, or shooting themselves in the foot – but it appears as though Facebook’s decision to cut LOLapps off has far bigger underlying consequences.

After a presumed stern warning from Facebook, LOLapps has been reinstated into the Facebook offerings. The company is quietly admitting that their programs got the boot because of passing user data along to a third party. Their reasoning is that they did this without their knowledge, and occurred only because of the manner in which browsers tracked user data. LOLapps have since dissolved the relationship. How do you dissolve a relationship that you never knew existed in the first place?

So far so good … however. The past weekend saw a story run in the Wall Street Journal detailing how a number of Facebook apps and games were passing user data to up to 25 various ad and data firms. According to the Journal report, with this data, third parties can easily look up a user’s name, regardless of privacy controls. One data firm that was mentioned in the WSJ article was RapLeaf, a user behavior data firm that builds user information profiles. Allegedly, RapLeaf then passed this data on to a number of other advertising and data collection firms. Similarly to LOLapps’ statement, RapLeaf comments that they did so unintentionally.

Post article, Facebook reps say that the company has put measures in place to limit RapLeaf’s ability to access user data. They also issued a statement citing their own policy that addresses developers and that they may not knowingly pass along user information to any ad networks or data firms. They did admit that a number of developers were in fact violating this policy – although LOLapps was the only one caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

The Wall Street Journal article specifically targets the ten most popular apps on Facebook, stating that they were/are all passing user data along to third parties. Three guesses who’s got a major presence in the top 10? You guessed it – Zynga. Oddly enough, none of Zynga’s apps were banned over the weekend, or now in fact. It’s not clear as to whether Zynga was/is passing data specifically to RapLeaf, which could have been the stumbling block for LOLapps. However, it didn’t take very long for Nancy Graf of St. Paul Minnesota to file a class action lawsuit against Zynga.

Filed in San Francisco, CA federal court, Graf’s lawsuit alleges that Zynga collected the Facebook data of its 218 million users and shared it with advertisers and data brokers in violation of federal law, and Zynga’s contract with Facebook. The case is seeking monetary relief for those whose data was shared.

“This appears to be another example of an online company failing the American public with empty promises to respect individual privacy rights,” explained Michael Aschenbrener of Edelson McGuire LLC, co-lead attorney for the class action. “Companies large and small need to learn to follow through on their privacy promises or risk having consumers decide that it is simply not worth it to use their services,” added Kassra Nassiri of Nassiri & Jung LLP, co-lead attorney for the lawsuit.

While I’m quite sure Facebook, and a whole lotta apps and games developers would rather put this one to bed as quickly as possible, it looks like Ms. Graf’s lawsuit is going to make sure that that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. When viewed under this light, PopCap co-founder Jason Kapalka’s predictions might happen a lot faster than we initially thought.

 

Zynga continues expansion – acquires German game engine studio

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Despite Facebook’s recent curtailing of how games and game notifications are presented on the social platform, Zynga is charging full steam ahead. Announced late last week, Zynga can now count Europe as part of it’s growing collection of assets via the acquisition of Dextrose, a German game engine developer.

Based in Mainz, Germany, Dextrose is the company behind the Aves Engine – a powerful engine that allows complex games to function in a web browser or mobile device through HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Dextrose, now to be known as Zynga Germany, might have been purchased by Zynga, but their future is as of now, still uncertain. Founders Paul Bakaus and Rocco Di Leo will become Chief Technology Officer and Country Manager, respectively, but Zynga has also stated that Dextrose would be focusing on the “best in next-generation gaming technology,” as reported by VentureBeat.

With one of the most common complaints about Zynga titles being their poor graphics, it’s clear to see what Zynga has in store for the Zynga Germany studio. When compared to the standard set of graphics presented today by Zynga, and the video below demonstrating the Aves Engine, we’ll either see a major retooling of Zynga titles, or perhaps pushing the brand even further, Zynga might roll out FarmVille 2.0, or FarmVille HD, etc. Either way, the question remains whether or not Facebook will support Zynga’s new Aves Engine tech, or….will this technology be something that Zynga will use to lure players away from Facebook, and onto their own platform(s)?

 

Zynga – Full speed ahead! Facebook – Dial it back.

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently outlined changes to the social networking platforms changes, specifically in regards to the way games notifications impact other Facebook users. Delivered from Facebook HQ, Zuckerberg said that despite being one of the most popular services on the platform, games are also Facebook’s biggest source of complaints. Looking at the numbers, some 200 million of Facebook’s half billion users regularly play games on the platform. Naturally, gaming companies want that number of players to increase, notably through viral notifications and buzz creation (think FarmVille status updates), something that Facebook has already revised, with these notifications only appear in the news feed of other users that have the same game installed.

Sounds fair and reasonable, no? Yes, if you’re Joe Average consumer, but if you’re a gaming firm with millions invested in a solid return, primarily based on Facebook’s platform. Remember, the last time Facebook altered it’s rules and regs, Zynga reported losing over 10 million users.

On the other side of the coin, fence, field, however you want to look at it, Zynga CTO Cadir Lee took center stage at the Oracle OpenWorld event in San Francisco and stated that approximately 10 percent of the world’s internet population (around 215 million people) have played a Zynga title. To support these kinds of numbers, Lee commented that Zynga is adding as many as 1,000 servers every week to stay on top of demand. Keep in mind, this isn’t just FarmVille we’re talking about, but Zynga’s ‘other’ children, FrontierVille, Mafia Wars, Café World, etc.

While these changes aren’t likely to effect the average Facebook gamer, as you’ll keep on seeing your friends’ notifications, it does have significant impact for Zynga, as well as every other Facebook gaming focused development house. Zynga wasn’t the first on the scene, but the certainly the ones who ‘got it right’ and maximized the Facebook landscape before the floodgates were closed. Facebook’s new implementations have effectively killed the viral spread, and to Zynga’s credit, they’ve already been diversifying, and with this announcement, it seems as though they’re one step ahead of the game – again. However, with this in mind, one can’t forget about the five-year deal that the company agreed to with Facebook, but keep in mind Zynga’s deal with Yahoo! as well as the rumored Google Games Service.

 

Zynga gets exclusive with Facebook Credits, and J-E-T-S!!!

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Social games monster Zynga has announced that Facebook Credits are now the exclusive form of payment that will be accepted. Zynga games will retain their own in-game currency, but going forward, Zynga users will now be presented with purchasing options via: Facebook Credits, bank transfer, prepaid game cards, and/or third party offers.

While most, if not all of the major Facebook developers have previously committed to Facebook Credits exclusivity, Zynga is the last to do so. Previously this year CrowdStar, Rockyou, Playdom, LOLapps, and Wooga all signed exclusive deals with Facebook.

The lone remaining title that in Zynga’s stables that has not made the exclusive switch is Zynga Poker. An interesting little side bit. I’m wondering if Zynga might just be keeping this one title free and clear…i.e. the “just in case” parcel. And let’s be honest, both of these companies make each other a boatload of cash, so Zynga’s certainly in the position to negotiate a bit of wiggle room.

This also raises the issue of Zynga’s dependency on Facebook as a revenue-generating platform. There’s been struggle and strife between the two previously, and it looks like Zynga’s finally succumb to Facebook’s desire to have them working exclusively with Facebook Credits…at least on their platform. Zynga games outside of Facebook, i.e. on FarmVille.com and Yahoo! will not have the Facebook Credits option available. Further market fragmentation?

J-E-T-S!!!

jets_logoJets! Jets! Jets! Ok, nothing really outstanding about this one, but with the New York Jets entry into social gaming via Arkadium (who’s only now making their way into the social gaming waters) could be the foreshadowing of things to come.

Arkadium and the Jets have recently launched the Ultimate Fan game on Facebook. Unlike EA’s NFL Superstars, the Ultimate Fan game doesn’t simulate actual football, but rather the fan experience. Players can purchase virtual goods to show off their ultimate fandom.

“As big brands continue to move onto Facebook, we are thrilled to be working with the New York Jets, one of the most forward-thinking professional sports teams in the world,” said Jessica Rovello, Arkadium President. “Together we have created what we believe will be the perfect social complement to this year’s football season.”

According to Arkadium, the Ultimate Fan app is the first “revenue generating” app officially backed by an NFL Team.

 

Zynga snaps up Boston’s Conduit Labs

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Continuing their global buying tour, social games giant Zynga has recently snapped up Cambridge, MA based Conduit Labs. Announced yesterday, Conduit Labs is no longer Conduit Labs, but rather Zynga Boston, shutting down their current games operations and focusing on Zynga product development. According to Boston.com’s Scott Kirsner, the acquisition was a pure stock transaction. Conduit Labs was founded in 2007 and funded by VentureWorks and Charles River Ventures to the tune of approximately $8.5 million.

conduitCEO Nabeel Hyatt will now become the head of Zynga Boston, while the Conduit Labs team will immediately see Zynga on their next paycheck. Conduit is yet another social games maker acquired by Zynga, most noted for Loudcrowd, a social music game that focused social networking on music fans.

“Boston is an epicenter for technology and has a strong talent market, making it an ideal location for us to expand operations,” said Mike Verdu, senior vice president of games at Zynga. “As one of the most prominent social game companies in Boston, the Conduit team shares a similar culture and drive with Zynga, and together we anticipate great successes from our new studio.”

As noted above, this is only one of Zynga’s most recent purchases, with Beijing, Tokyo, and Austin already onboard. These are in addition to Zynga’s past purchases in Baltimore, Bangalore, Los Angeles, and Los Gatos. Given these acquisitions and explosive growth the company has recently seen (thanks Facebook), Zynga is rapidly positioning itself as a player amongst old-school giants including Disney, who recently purchased Playdom to compliment it’s social gaming offerings, as well as EA, who snapped up Playfish to get their feet in the game. Disney’s been around forever, and EA’s certainly no newcomer to gaming. What sets Zynga apart from the crowd is exactly that, it’s relative newness to the gaming world.

However, as Zynga’s main bread and butter is still reliant on Facebook’s whim, recent development such as these acquisitions are clearly pointing the way towards Zynga independence, or at the very least, diversification. And don’t forget, Google’s rumblings of a social networking competitor to Facebook, as well as the “secret” investments from in Zynga could only be positive for the Palo Alto based firm that surely must be looking to set themselves apart from, or … perhaps purchased by…Facebook.

 

The Google Gaming puzzle is coming together nicely

Friday, August 13th, 2010

As reported by TechCrunch, Google Ventures has invested an undisclosed sum of money in iOS developer ngmoco. It’s believed that this cash was a part of a new round of funding ngmoco took on, although the company is already profitable. Speculation puts the figure somewhere in the $3 – $5 million range.

google-pacman-630

It’s worth noting that the investment was made by Google Ventures, and not Google, the search engine, etc. giant. This completely self regulating and governing body that is completely separate from Google.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let me add the grain of salt. Google’s made no secret about their interest in gaming. Last week they quietly help a gaming conference, ThinkGaming, with many in attendance having to sign an NDA before even entering the door. In addition to the backdoor investment in ngmoco, don’t forget that around the middle of July, news started circulating that Google’s been pushing cash in Zynga’s direction, albeit a bit ‘under the table’.

Right, pieces 1 and 2 of the gaming trifecta in place. What’s next? Well, we’ll need a dash of social knowhow, enter the Slide acquisition. Ok, and now we need to monetize it all….Jambool, anyone?

Again, as stated by Google Ventures, they do not make strategic investments. This flies directly in the face of comments made by Google CEO Eric Schmidt, stating that any company receiving funding from Google Ventures, “would have 20,000 Googlers there to help them.”

And then there’s the Android. Recent figures have put the Android on top in the U.S. mobile market, however, there is a massive hole in the high quality gaming department on Android. Something tells me that although ngmoco has primarily been focused on iOS apps, we could start seeing Android ready titles from the company soon. Ngmoco’s chief Neil Young has even previously complimented Android, but chose to stick with iPhone at the time (February 2010).

Oh, and did I mention that ngmoco competitor SGN, another hit maker for iOS, has already jumped on the Android market. SGN closed a bridge round led by Tomorrow Ventures. A primary investor in Tomorrow Ventures? Well, none other than one Google CEO, Eric Schmidt.

I’ll let you connect the dots. I rest my case.