There are many thoughts and phrases we can use, most of us will use the term ‘told you so’ in regards to a certain former Microsoft person. I am not like that, reasoning in this case is that I do not really know Don Mattrick. Many gamers saw the acts and choices voiced by Don Mattrick before the Xbox One was released and these acts almost drowned the console long before it was released. Now, I asked myself more than once, why he went this way, and I am not convinced that a few members of the Microsoft board pushed him into that direction. The problem was that these members have absolutely ZERO concept on what a gamer is, moreover, I feel certain that the mere concept of the dimension of a gamer is a pure alien concept to these BI Based Excel readers, so it all seemed like Don got fed to the sharks and after that got thrown into the Piranha pool and ended up in a bad situation, when the board members realised the error of their thoughtlessness, he got ‘promoted’ to CEO of Zynga. Now, all this is pure conjecture on my side, but I feel decently certain that I am not that far of the mark.
It must be said that I remained loyal to my Sony consoles (although I will never stop loving my Xbox 360). The Xbox One has a few flaws, mainly short-sighted ones. I will not bore you with resolution, although that could be regarded as a factor. My issue was twofold. One, the mandatory push to online acts (Sony has a similar flaw as your achievements can ONLY be seen when you are online). The system has a few additional glitches Sony does not have, but my biggest issue was the short-sightedness of the drive. You see, Sony offers the same drive size, but they let you upgrade if need be, so the ‘real’ gamers upgraded their systems on zero hour, so they start the system with a 1-2Tb system, which means as long there is no crash, the system will always have space for whatever you need. Many are willing to pay the additional $125 to get that maximisation. Microsoft failed because for $15 (yes, fifteen dollars) the system could have been a 1Tb system from day one. The difference between a 500 Gb and a 1Tb drive is a mere 15 dollars. What a silly level of short-sightedness, it would have satisfied 90% of the gamers. This is part of the message Don Mattrick ended up delivering and the fact that drives cannot be upgraded was not a good thing.
The games were another matter. The initial game release was as shallow as it gets, Ryse showed promise, but if you watch the YouTube movie (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-e1MQnh3V0) you will get three clear impressions.
- The movies look really good, the storyline is an excellent one
- Too much of the game is repetitive, slamming your shield and diving out of the way
- ‘Second wind’ rejuvenation in boss fights
This does NOT make for a good game.
So what had all the possibilities of legendary status, became a below average game. Delays form games like Watchdogs did not help either. The big issues that makes a console were all substandard, so Don Mattrick got the short end of the stick.
In this setting he got placed as CEO of Zynga. Now Mark Pincus is back. It is the subtitle of the article that makes for the issue in play. “Farmville and Words with Friends publisher still trying to recapture past glories, with new (old) boss saying ‘we need to get back to being the leader in mobile data and analytics’“. I do not disagree, but Zynga already had issues as Pincus went on a nice sabbatical. That part is given in the quote: “Zynga reported revenues of $690.4m (£467m) in 2014, compared to Candy Crush maker King’s $2.26bn (£1.5bn) and Clash of Clans publisher Supercell’s $1.67bn (£1.13bn)“.
The part not shown is that Farmville was a really fun game to play, but Zynga became all about harassment, harassment of friends and mails to get your friends to send you stuff. That is not the best way to remain on friendly terms with your friends, especially as they might not be into gaming. So those who play a lost hour on games like Farmville, Fishville, Mafia Wars, Cityville, Cafe World and Hidden Chronicles (to name but a few) resulted in people ‘losing’ friends and the aggravation of waiting forever for the parts, or spending way too much to skip of to ‘purchase’ those parts was for many reason to call it a day and to move to other grounds (perhaps the loss of 60% of the gamers that Zynga had, was exactly for this reason). Candy Crush and likeminded titles work on other principles and they have been very successful. I saw through that ploy too and I am not willing to spend on it (in the way King wanted us to). I would have been willing to purchase the game for $20 on my mobile. Providing that the special candy would reset with a decent counter, so that the challenge could remain. I reckon that most of those games would be excellent games on a Nintendo, so instead of ‘harassing’ others, the Nintendo street pass solution could be used. In that case the game could be an instant hit and Zynga ends up catching 30-50 per player (but only once). I still believe that this could be a path Zynga could walk with those games. 40 million users could amount to well over 100 million dollars in revenue for one game, which is not that bad.
The quote “Pincus added that he intends to make Zynga’s famous focus on data and analytics a key part of its continued comeback strategy” might be a possibility, but in which direction? Truly new games, added challenges for all games or another ploy in marketing growth? Because growth in players would imply growth of revenue, but that only happens when people fell relaxed spending a few extra dollars. It is often not the dollars spend, it is the value for money that pulls players across. I personally feel that spending a few dollars, not when I have to, but when the tactical advantage, or the long term benefit is shown. That part was clearly shown in games like Castle age, where I spend like $10 in 2009, which gave me some powerful items which changed the curve completely (in my favour), meaning that the strength going from level 4 to level 15 in one moment had long term benefits. The same can be said for Elemental Kingdoms. The fact that both games are completely different has no bearing. Elemental Kingdoms is a truly innovative Customisable card game, which can be played on a tablet. However, unlike Magic, these cards, as they are virtual can actually ‘evolve’ in more powerful cards. By spending ‘coins’ you get from winning games. The artwork is excellent and the game is a decent challenge. A last example is Book of Heroes (Android/IOS) where a mere $5 doubles the power of the game. Those approaches makes many dash out the dollars for the pleasure. Consider again those 40 million players, that $5 could constitute 200 million, an amount that is almost guaranteed to work. It is when the power and the fun of the game hits us that many players would be eager to add a few more dollars to the counter. That part had been absent in Zynga games.
So, will Zynga be able to turn the tables around? There is no real way to say. What looks nice, still needs to be playable. If there is one lesson that has been pounded on these developers is shown by games like Minecraft and Blockheads (IOS). These sandbox games are the type of games that players find more entertaining and they are enjoyed a lot longer. The question becomes where could Zynga go then?
I reckon that the past (CBM Amiga) shows several games (and possible directions for Zynga), 20 years old but every bit as playable and could be a new iteration of gaming. RPG and Sandbox games have a future and no one seems to be tapping into that source. Consider some of the games from Amiga (and in one case CBM-64) where we get value for gaming and where Zynga could still make money too. Those are options for the future. Now you wonder why I mentioned those two platforms. Well, simple. Many of these games were excellent in addiction, challenge and fun. The tablet and Mobile phone is more powerful than those systems ever were, so they are likely to be easily implemented in new technology that beside the fact that most of these games can be found on what is called ‘abandonware’. I am on one side in favour of this happening, on the other side do not want to trespass on someone’s copyrights. But when we consider that today’s generation could be equally excited to play Dungeon Master, 7 cities of gold, System Shock, Populous, Lemmings and a league of other games is just a good thing. Some of these games should never be forgotten.
So how does this hit back on Zynga? I think that they can look at these achievements and look at new ways to appease the coin of the mobile player. I do not think that the vision of Mark Pincus is wrong, I just think that Zynga needs to cast a wider net, because it is partially about: ‘he intends to make Zynga’s famous focus on data and analytics a key part of its continued comeback strategy’, but for a much larger part it is to make the game about gaming and gamers, not just about the maximised profit of a business plan, because when the player catches that scent, they’ll permanently move away quite quickly (but that might be just my view on the matter).