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Zynga overtakes Yahoo! Games to be the largest games “site” on the Internet

By on July 21, 2009
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The analysis is, by necessity, rough, but there is a good chance that Zynga is now the largest web gaming business in the US. Zynga is growing, profitable and bigger than Yahoo. Does anyone still seriously claim that the free-to-play model doesn’t work?

Last week, ComScore put out figures showing that the playing of casual games was on the rise. It showed that 87 million Americans visited casual gaming websites in May 2009, an increase of 22% over May 2008.

The biggest site was Yahoo! Games, with 19.3 million unique visitors.

But is Zynga, one of the largest providers of free casual games on social networks like MySpace and Facebook already bigger than Yahoo?

How many users does Zynga have?

Zynga doesn’t show up on the ComScore stats, or on most of the other traditional web measurement tools. It doesn’t show up because Zynga’s website ain’t where the action is. Zynga is a distributed games publisher whose games are available on major social networks like Facebook and MySpace.

InsideSocialGames publishes a list of the top 25 games on Facebook and MySpace each month. I’ve pulled out Zynga’s games in the tables below:

Zynga’s Facebook unique visitors by game
Game Position Unique users
Texas HoldEm Poker 1 14,229,191
Mafia Wars 2 12,445,619
YoVille 6 7,857,944
Farmville 8 5,087,938
Street Racing 22 2,904,532
Vampire Wars 25 2,308,904
Zynga’s MySpace unique users by game
Game Position Unique users
Mafia Wars 2 12,270,381
Texas HoldEm Poker 5 5,867,598
Vampires 8 4,370,497
Street Racing 9 4,346,753
Yoville 10 4,208,107
Gang Wars 16 1,987,598
Dragon Wars 17 1,939,969
Fashion Wars 19 1,723,845
Friend Factory 20 1,566,993
Special Forces 25 1,330,808

How many unique users does Zynga have?

Of course you can’t just add these numbers together. ComScore looks at unique users, not the number of people playing each game.

But talking around the industry, it seems as if there is little overlap. If, in a given month, you are playing Mafia Wars, you probably aren’t playing Vampires. And the cross over between, say, Fashion Wars and Texas HoldEm Poker is minimal.

I’m going to estimate (and I believe this is conservative) that each Zynga user plays two titles a month, which means that Zynga’s unique users are half of the totals above. That’s 22,417,064 unique users for Zynga on Facebook and 19,806,275 unique users for Zynga on MySpace.

I’m also going to assume that the crossover between Facebook and MySpace is so close to zero as to make no odds, Adding the two figures together and rounding, I estimate that Zynga has approximately 42 million unique users across the world.

How many unique users does Zynga have in the US?

ComScore’s figures only cover the US. InsideSocialGames’ figures are global. So we need another estimate.

According to Alexa, 30% of Facebook‘s traffic is in the US. For MySpace, the figure is 66% (which incidentally, is bad news for MySpace in the long run, although possibly easier to monetise in the short term).

Assuming that Zynga’s unique users are distributed in exactly the same way as the platform on which it operates, that gives a grand total of approximately 19.8 million unique users in the US for Zynga.

So, does that make Zynga the biggest games website in the world?

According to my estimates, with some heroic assumptions, the answer is yes. At least, it’s bigger than Yahoo! Games, often quoted as being the largest games website in the world. Although I will throw in the caveat that this analysis (like so much Western analysis) leaves out usage in China, Korea and other fast growing countries.

But the key truth remains: Zynga is growing fast, and by my estimates is already the biggest games website in the US.

Does this spell the end of standalone websites for games? Have Facebook and MySpace truly become the platforms of the future?

Or are my assumptions completely unjustified?

Tell me what you think in the comments.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve:
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  • Serzentich

    8/14/2010 I lost my puppy on farmville and the box to redeem him doesn’t work this is the second day and it’s not fair that we play and have no recourse to learn how to do things-the zoo game has a discussion board, what’s up with farmville!

  • technologiez

    When are they going to put out more applications so people other than those with the iphone can use the features on farmville/facebook?

    I wouldn't mind paying a fee…it will weed out those not interested in it and never play their farm again after their first visit. I am sure that this has clogged up a lot of space on the servers.

  • lisa

    I can tell you speaking from a users perspective that they may have large numbers but of those many are duplicate, triplicate and more due to the nature of some of these games you can up your stats by swapping items from one account to benefit the other, and the recent changes in the game I was playing which is one of the top ones have made many players leave or play less
    I play on the facebook platform which has probably the most players over any other platform but the ongoing issues and general lack of customer support and new popups to buy stuff which is non stop in the game now is in my opinion turning off many long time players it will attract the new person and maybe keep some who have money and time to burn and as for the count of players in their database that I'm afraid is going to be misleading from my understanding you can remove the app from your end on Facebook but whether it gets removed from their database is another story.

  • Useful points, Pavan. MAUs are not counted exactly the same as Uniques on most websites. However, it does measure some form of “contact” with the app (while web UUs capture people who bounce off immediately).

    So I accept the point that it is not directly comparable with UUs. But it is still a useful measure.

  • Pavan

    Hello Nicholas,

    These Unique Users are not all registered users in ZYNGA as facebook counts even users who have not “authorized” or installed application but just clicked on request etc too(

    If so, UU is not same as total user base ZYNGA has, right?


  • mfarney

    Zynga's secret weapon is the fact that people can play these games on other social sites like Facebook for example. Thus, they have a larger audience by providing choices.
    Mathew Farney – Web Hosting

  • garland1975

    I do like zyga games, but i am worried about the developers keeping tabs on issues with some….I know over 3500 players on special forces and a lot of them have spent over 1000 dollars to raise their stats yet there are still issues with the game and people are mad…. i am missing over 2000 attk and 2200 def right now and dont know where it went? i have logged in and reported to no avail i cant even log into the discussion board now to let em know my problems any more? Mafia wars always gets new items and can invite tons of people ….special forces 4 invites a day and hardly any new weapons with no new levels ? please help if yah really care…..

  • Facebook poker chips

  • i love mafia wars its a great game. if you need to know anything about it join us at its got everything listed!

  • I'm not sure that I follow your point. I'm trying to work out how many uniques *Zynga* has. These are not broken out (as far as I can see) in any of the Facebook, ComScore or Nielsen stats. They are just counted as Facebook users, not Zynga users.

    If you know of any independent source for aggregated unique Zynga users, I'd be very grateful if you would point them out to me.

  • Name

    Facebook, Comscore and Neilsen already count zynga users under Facebook unique users because they are on the facebook website and are facebook users. So it is not accurate to count the same users on the same website again and again.

  • Thom, thank you for commenting, you make some great points.

    I strongly believe that microtransactions will be a very major part of the games environment, but agree with you that “offer-based” revenues are in long-term decline.

    I also agree that staff costs are a factor. But I wonder how much “game development” Yahoo does, versus the amount that Zynga does. At the moment, Zynga is as much developer as publisher, whereas I think (although correct if I'm wrong) that Yahoo is just a publisher. That could explain the staff numbers, but means that Zynga keeps all the revenue it generates.

  • (disclosure: I'm the former head of Business Development for Yahoo! Games, having sold my multiplayer network “All-Seeing Eye” to Yahoo! back in late 2004. While I certainly don't represent the firm, I can speak with some authoritative experience to the facts)

    What's really missing in this argument is time spent. The vast majority (if you discount Zynga poker) of what counts as “game” traffic and users with Zynga is simple acceptance of silly little “gifts” from a game — think the typical “You've received a new tree!” message from some FB friend who's playing a farming game.

    In the Zynga (and in fact, the entire “social network gaming” segment), your acceptance of that gift makes you a registered player on their roles.

    Similarly, of lot of the game play in many of Zynga's catalog games is simple click decisions — as opposed to the deeper engagement of say a game like Playfish's “Crazy Planet”. While certainly this will evolve in Zynga's favor over time, it is not the case today.

    Contrast this to the *tens of millions* of minutes spent in the US alone on Yahoo! Games. Keep in mind also that there's FOUR different businesses that comprise Y! Games:

    – Online web-based multiplayer games (poker, chess, card games, etc.)
    – Online casual games, such as web-enabled versions of Bejeweled, etc.
    – Downloadable casual games, again, full client versions of Bejeweled, Diner Dash, etc.
    – Editorial / media site for console & PC Videogames

    … and then you still have to add in revenue share deals for distribution like games from, et cetera.

    More telling is that Yahoo! runs all of these businesses with literally a fraction of the headcount that Zynga has. Go back and review Mark Pincus' comments from the recent Social Gaming Summit in San Francisco. His staffing is at close to 300, with 90 open positions! Far beyond any of his competitors, who comparatively aren't that far behind them in revenue.

    Worse still, look at Pincus' comments about revenue sourcing. It was stated that 60%-70% of most game's revenues come from offer-based media such as Offerpal and SuperRewards. While great for the players, historically all of these incentive-based media plays are a race to zero… every advertiser wants to pay less, not more. And the bigger the audience grows, the more the players game the system by taking more & more surveys to generate more & more points/virtual currency. Ultimately the quality of the responses is *always* driven down, and the advertisers either drop their prices or leave. I know *I* certainly wouldn't want to depend on this model for 60%+ of my revenue going forward!

    I can assure you, for all their recent tribulations, Yahoo! Games revenues have nowhere the risk.

    So, in summary — do Zynga's top line numbers look bigger? Maybe — but their a bit of a fiction as to what constitutes an actual *player*.

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  • tammyandrews

    I would not give them to much credit whre it is not due at all. Don't get me wrong I love the games I love Yoville and have had a problem with it for over two weeks and guess what they don't have anyone running there customer service department at all. They have computers emaling you but nothing live. I lost my husband recently and had a stroke in Febuary I found yoville and really enjoyed it but then I posted something about not falling for scams on there and got banned for 24 hours. Then a few days later I posted I had a popcorn machine and coffee machine for sale and got banned permanetly. If anyone reading this knows you have to sell stuff to make money. Well I cant and I have emailed them several times no responses and I finally found a number to call and was told no its only for credit card issues. Well I have used my money on the game and I don't get game play but they don't care. I have copies of all the emails and there computer related responses. I would rather pay for a game that has a good team backing it not a sloppy one that no one cares.

  • tammyandrews

    What Zynga lacks is customer service… You email them and they do a auto response never to hear from them again. So if you don't ever have any problems you will do well with the game but if you run into a problem forget it they are the worst I have ever seen. I would rather pay for a game that I am able to talk to a live person not a computer or a rude person saying there is nothing I can do I only do billing for credit cards.