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Zynga targets Whales, not true fans

By on October 10, 2011
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Last week, Patrick O’Luanaigh, CEO of nDreams, wrote a post that gave four reasons why he thinks Zynga has peaked.

Reader Clr64 made the following comment:

I’ve recently started playing Adventure World after a long break from playing social games (no time)

It’s a fun game but annoying as hell – everything mentioned is this article is true and I have to admit I have spent money because I’m one of those that have poor impulse control. It is a fun game though or I would not have bothered.

The thing is – I’m so angry at myself for spending money on it. I believe companies like Zynga are missing the boat – if they make the experience so much fun that you don’t mind spending money (and you feel like your getting value instead of being manipulated) I think the profit potential would be much higher. I really can’t spend any more money on Adventure World so I’m going to be weaning myself off – I can’t afford it.

I think this comment sums up what I meant in Whales, True Fans and the Ethics of Free-to-play games and what Patrick talked about in his post.

I don’t think metrics-led design needs to be bad. But I do think that games businesses with no soul will struggle to survive.

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: thecurveonline.com
  • Thank you for some very interesting comments. This post – and the overall topic of whales versus true fans – has been fascinating and getting great feedback.

  • Clr64

    I thought labeling me or anyone else stupid was a little harsh – offense might not have been the best word choice. I had not been playing the game long enough to know that what I purchased would have so little value, that is ignorance not stupidity and it didn’t last long. It’s just a matter of courtesy, I did not intend to offend you.  

    If I had money to burn and enjoyed the game enough the cost/reward ratio would not be such a big deal.  However, I do not have enough in my entertainment budget to make this game a good value for me which is why I will stop playing. This does explain the success of Zynga, as long as they can continue to find whales that are willing to accept the cost/reward ratio they will continue to be successful and while you may consider it extortion, obviously to many people the value is there.  Although, this is exactly why their churn rate is so high and requires the continual astronomical advertising budgets they have. Even with their ability to cross promote they have to continue to push out new games and advertise them heavily. The overall value of the game experience does not promote high numbers of long time, loyal customers.  

  • Guest

    Ok, listen. You paid $20 for 20 minutes of gameplay. Where else is the cost/reward ratio so skewed with no payoff other than your own entertainment? Zynga made a game that is basically a phone sex line, charging $1 per minute for the privilege of clicking on something and waiting for a bar to fill up. Whether you think it’s fun is irrelevant. You willingly and knowingly paid them for a service that is at best unethical and at worst extortion.

    There are plenty of similar games that are a great value; Tiny Towers, Animal Crossing, Game Dev Story. They’re not hard to find. You knew you were getting ripped off and did it anyway. And you’re going to take offense at ME? I should be offended by you.

  • Clr64

    An addition to my post – Adventure World is an addicting game and proves Zynga’s business model to a T.  I do take offense to the phrase of the earlier response “fuck stupid people.” Yes, I can make some stupid choices, like spending money when I know I’m being manipulated. Zynga has one part of the equation correct – the game is fun.  Afterwards though, when I realize that I spent 20 bucks for an additional 20 minutes of fun – that is when I get annoyed.  For 20 bucks I feel that I should get at least 2 hours of fun – as if I went to a film.  The price is too high in Adventure World and the sinks suck up too much energy too quickly.  I wonder about the churn numbers on this game – it’s addictive but expensive.  It would seem that the lifetime value of the customer would be fairly low because of the high cost of the game.

  • Mylescc

    The only social game that I have ever spent money on was Dungeon Overlord. I was attracted to the game due to being a massive fan of Dungeon Keeper. It is one of the only social games I have actually really enjoyed and played for more than 2-3 days. There is no “pay of GTFO” moment, as JamesWallis describes, and I didn’t feel that I actually would ever have to pay. I spent money on the game because I was enjoying it and I 1. wanted to support the developers and 2. felt that buying some of the in game items were worth their value and would add the the experience. 

    The thing that really annoys me about social games by zynga is the constant attempts for you to add a friend. None of my friends on Facebook really play the same social games as I do, and I don’t want to constantly have to post achievements on my wall, or be prompted to invite friends. I find it infuriating. 

    While it is obviously a good business model, otherwise companies like zynga wouldn’t be doing so well, but I think causal gamers will clock onto how annoying many of the features of social game are and stop playing them. Then hopefully developers will focus more on providing better free to play models.

  • Mylescc

    The only social game that I have ever spent money on was Dungeon Overlord. I was attracted to the game due to being a massive fan of Dungeon Keeper. It is one of the only social games I have actually really enjoyed and played for more than 2-3 days. There is no “pay of GTFO” moment, as JamesWallis describes, and I didn’t feel that I actually would ever have to pay. I spent money on the game because I was enjoying it and I 1. wanted to support the developers and 2. felt that buying some of the in game items were worth their value and would add the the experience. 

    The thing that really annoys me about social games by zynga is the constant attempts for you to add a friend. None of my friends on Facebook really play the same social games as I do, and I don’t want to constantly have to post achievements on my wall, or be prompted to invite friends. I find it infuriating. 

    While it is obviously a good business model, otherwise companies like zynga wouldn’t be doing so well, but I think causal gamers will clock onto how annoying many of the features of social game are and stop playing them. Then hopefully developers will focus more on providing better free to play models.

  • Guest

    My problem isn’t that companies like Zynga are creating games that are the equivalent of smoking, addicting people on purpose with full knowledge of the risk to their social and financial health. My problem is that everyone else goes “Well, Zynga did it” and rush to turn their good products into these horrible time vampires with no redeeming value. Look at the top grossing apps on the Apple store and 10 out of 15 are these “free” games designed specifically and unapologetically to fuck stupid people. It’s borderline fraud on an ethic level.

    I think just like smoking these extortionist “free to play” games should come with a warning.

    Sorry for the rant, I’m just so sick of this crap.

  • Anonymous

    Adventure World is unique, at least in the Zynga games I’ve played (I’ve seen it in other companies’ games), in having a “pay or GTFO” moment. To proceed to the Volcano zone you need 400 water, 400 food and 400 oil. Your own territory generates only one type of resource at the rate of one a day. Your friends’ zones also generate one a day. So you either need a lot of friends, and visit them all every day (at approx 1 minute per friend), or pay up. And it comes at a classic sunk-cost fallacy moment: you’ve invested a lot of time in the game and you’re really close to entering El Dorado, surely you’re not going to quit now? 

    I wasn’t tempted, but I suspect others may be. Many more will be put off. I’m looking forward to examining Adventure World’s numbers.