5 Lessons Developers Can Learn from Zynga’s Success

5 Lessons Developers Can Learn from Zynga’s Success

Nobody really needs the aid of statistics to convince themselves of the popularity of social gaming, but Raptr, a social network dedicated to gamers of all kinds, went ahead and published a breakdown of how much playtime social games get next to more traditional fare.

The verdict? Zynga’s “-Ville” games (FarmVille, PetVille, CityVille, FrontierVille) see far more playing time than social gaming’s remaining Top Ten put together. In fact, according to the report, the amount of time that goes into Zynga’s -Ville line (approximately 120 minutes a day) is pretty much on par with the number of minutes that core gamers put into online sessions with games like Assassin’s Creed, Gears of War, Grand Theft Auto, and Mass Effect.

Any mention of social gaming–especially Zynga’s offerings–tends to stir up grumbling from men and women who enjoy more traditional fare. Smart developers, however, don’t need to refer to Raptr’s report to know that Zynga’s continued success teaches some valuable lessons about creating and selling games of any kind:

Free-to-Play is an Enormous Draw — There’s arguably no better way to get a game in the hands of the public than to make it free. All the advertising in the world isn’t a substitute for drawing players in and getting them into the action without delay. From there, they’re inspired to spend money on microtransactions in exchange for exclusive items and powers that they can show off to other players.

New Content Should Constantly Be Added — Zynga’s games are constantly being built upon, even when Zynga adds new social games to Facebook. Adding new content to older games keeps them relevant, and gives players incentive to come back and start playing again (and, in turn, spend money).

Iterate and Refine Gameplay Accordingly — Zynga sits back and lets players cultivate their own land, so to speak, while it garners statistics and data. From there, the company adjusts the game according to feedback. If one gameplay element proves popular, Zynga can add similar elements. In the same vein, when a gimmick has run its course, Zynga can remove it before it gets stale.

Lower System Requirements and Barriers to Entry — Social games see a great deal of playtime on work stations, which are often last-generation machines that lack significant processing power. Most of Zynga’s games run off web browsers and Facebook, so people can check in with their farm or city while they’re checking their messages. There’s no need to launch a separate application or install additional software. Launching a Zynga game is typically an easy, non-threatening process.

Use Giveaways and Promotions to Raise Awareness — Most social games are driven by two kinds of economy. There’s the in-game currency that can be earned with relative ease by completing certain tasks, engaging in trade, or by otherwise interacting with the virtual world. And then there’s the rarer form of currency that can usually only be purchased with real-world money via microtransactions made through credit cards or PayPal. Typically, this “rare” currency can be exchanged for very valuable rewards, like exclusive items or potent power-ups.

Many social games make the mistake of locking away large chunks of the game until the player coughs up a certain amount of rare currency. Zynga, however, lets players access most of its games for free, and hands out small increments of a game’s rare currency on occasion. This inspires users to keep on playing, and to build up small stores of rare currency by purchasing more via microtransactions.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

Leave a Reply