Gaming · Online gaming

Despite Zynga's success why do so gamers & producers say they don’t make quality games?

Sadie Gilmore Senior Software Engineer at Torque

January 7th, 2016

As an entrepreneur interested in the Gaming space, Zynga has always been at the top of the industry yet so many customers review the quality of their games as being very low quality? How is it possible that a huge gaming force such as Zynga make such poor quality games? How do they remain on top?

Sally Huang Co-founder/CEO at Roominnate

January 7th, 2016

What makes you believe they are at the top of the industry? Zynga has lost 75% of their stock value since IPO, down 82% from their highest private valuation. They have consistently underperformed in mobile next to companies like Supercell and King. All this occurs across a period when leading companies have seen their valuations and market cap triple over the same period. 

A better question might be, how did Zynga rise to prominence despite creating games that are generally regarded as poor quality? In a nutshell, Zynga enjoyed early success in the Facebook social gaming space because they designed games that exploited virality at a time when Facebook still permitted such behaviors on their platform. Zynga gained enormous player counts by rewarding players for spamming their wall and flooding their friends with requests. For a while, Zynga was the single most visible thingon anyone's Facebook feed. Over time, Facebook implemented measures to reduce application spam, and the game design alone was no longer compelling enough to sustain the user engagement. Eventually, this segment of the industry shifted to mobile and Zynga failed to keep up.

Hope that answers your question.

Jimmy Rimmer Senior Software Engineer and Technical Lead

January 7th, 2016

Zynga's business model is:

  1. Identify an independent game that makes a lot of sales
  2. Make a cheap clone of that game
  3. Market the heck out of it through their existing games.
In the software industry in general -- and gaming in particular -- there's often a point where, unless your game is a big-time hit, improving it beyond a certain point won't garner you enough sales to recover your investment. You can spend 2 years making a good game, or 3 years making it great, but that extra 50% in costs has to come from sales.

Zynga hedges their bets by cloning existing popular/quality games, which is part of the reason they're more successful than most. But above that, they're aware that "great" can be the enemy of "good." If you can clone a game in 2/3 of the dev time but only lose 5% of the sales you would've had, you've got a much better chance of seeing profit.

This is a common failing in the software industry, particularly among business that are "engineering-centric." They'll put a ton of time into a product to make it great, only to fail due to not being able to recover their losses.

David Doran-Marshall User Experience and Game Designer

January 7th, 2016

A few things: 1) Traditional games contain similar game mechanics to "zynga style" games. But Zynga and others isolated the habits that made those games fun then blocked players from playing without either waiting or spending money. Massive turnoff to traditional gamers and developers that want to make "fun" games. 2) Zynga then took this business model and tried to grind as many dollars out of it as they could. This lead to a great deal of fatigue. 3) Openly cloning other lesser-known developer's games got them a lot of mistrust. Zynga actually hasn't been doing so great. Current free to play leaders have integrated better gameplay into their games or made purchases optional. There are still several heavy hitters that have "gated" game mechanics. There is a fine line between offering something worth buying and putting up obvious walls that are meant to trigger a purchase timed perfectly with a habitual mechanic!

Alexander Lau Lead Programmer/CEO of Robotic Potato Games

January 7th, 2016

Sally is correct. Zynga used to be a top dog but is no longer. If you want to see how good gameplay models dominate the industry, look at Blizzard.

As with most entertainment, there's a strong difference between critical, artistic success and business success. Michael Bay and the Transformers movies are a perfect example here.

Companies like Zynga, Clash of Clans and Supercell/Candy Crush mostly garner success through heavy marketing campaigns, analytics and utilizing gambling/gaming style hooks to keep users playing.

Much like gambling, it's these hooks that utilize a strong component of human psychology. It's why you find yourself playing these games long past time you think they're fun.

Candice Hughes, PhD, MBA

January 7th, 2016

Sadie- Gaming is a fairly diverse field (more than someone from outside would expect). The issue is who are you asking about Zynga's quality of games? If you ask a console gamer, they will tell you the graphics are lousy, the game strategy and actions are simplistic and so on. If you compare Farmville with World of Warcraft, you can readily see they are totally different products with different markets. So what customers are you asking?

Even within casual games, which is the market space Zynga occupies, there are diverse games targeted to various ages and interests.

As others mentioned, Zynga is expert at metrics and at what could be considered a form of behavioral economics. How much reward to give people to get them to continue playing. Another factor that may be reflected in feedback you are seeing is that more recently there has been a fall off in people playing Zynga's games so you may see some dissatisfaction with their more recent games. It is not easy to keep up a steady stream of heavy hitter games. Entertainment styles come and go and it takes work to keep up and to keep game products fresh. Zynga has been highly successful in a difficult market, but they do need to work to keep ahead of competitors.

I also agree with Alexander's comment on Blizzard. They make some popular games that cross types of gamers. Hearthstone is a more recent one that is good.

Scott McGregor Advisor, co-founder, consultant and part time executive to Tech Start-ups. Based in Silicon Valley.

January 7th, 2016

As with many consumer products, awareness often trumps quality. People only buy the products that they know about. And people will only spend so much effort to learn about alternatives. The lower the money invested, the less time they will spend searching alternatives. This gives the companies with the greatest advertising budget a huge advantage. Which is to say that the market leaders (who are getting the most revenue and have the most money to spend on advertising) are best positioned to stay on top, regardless of better offerings by smaller companies with smaller marketing budgets. So big companies don't have to be the best to remain the most profitable, but small companies have to be outstanding to gain any traction at all. This is not unique to Games. If you look at Consumer Reports reviews of insurance companies, banks, and other financial services company you will see the same inverse relationship between the advertising spend and customer satisfaction ratings - companies with great customer satisfaction benefit from word of mouth (and spend money on customer satisfaction not advertising), while those with less stellar reputations just outspend them in advertising (and spend less on satisfying customers). So as an entrepreneur interested in the Gaming space, if you want to get to be a big dog the question you should ask is not how can I make a better game, but how can I get more awareness than all the other new entrepreneurs, at a lower cost?