Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Gaming company Zynga aims high on mobile phones

From playing alone, to playing against a computerized opponent, to now playing against real people, be they friends or strangers: it's a whole new genre of social games. The biggest boost it got in recent times was arguably the epidemic spread of Farmville over Facebook. And Zynga can claim some credit, for it was their creation.

One of the leading players in the industry, Zynga says it aims at connecting the world through games across multiple platforms and devices. Apart from Facebook, gaming enthusiasts, now can have access to their games anytime and anywhere on several mobile-enabled platforms giving mobile game developers the opportunity to grow tremendously.

It has a growing portfolio of mobile social games for both iOS and Android including recently launched Draw Something, Scramble With Friends, Dream Pethouse and Dream Heights.

In Bangalore, Zynga has its second biggest studio in the world, after the one at their headquarters in San Francisco. It opened in 2011, and a lot of mechanisms and features across an array of the most popular games are developed in Bangalore. Zynga India has more than 200 engineers and creative professionals.

Sean Uberoi Kelly, Vice President of Product Development at Zynga, was in the Bangalore studio recently. Here are the excerpts from an interview:

On Zynga’s new strategyOne of our philosophies is to go where the audience wants us to go. People are increasingly playing games on mobile devices, and now we are striving to have a big presence there. We launched a number of mobile titles in the last few quarters.

We acquired Draw Something, we launched last year Scramble with Friends. Another is Zombie Smash which which has come out on Android. We think Android is a great platform and we have a number of games on Google play.

As people are getting connected through smarter and smarter phones such as the iOS and Android ecosystems, they are also looking for new ways to be social through games.

The mobile presence
Zynga has been on mobile devices since 2010. Our first mobile game was Farmville on the iOS platform, and since then we have produced many games. We have more than 21 million active users on mobile devices. 

Factors spurring mobile gamesStrategically, we have seen three factors that have contributed to the success of mobile games. One, the app economy. Different platforms allow different experiences to be launched from them. It's not just about the browsers. There are now other capabilities like touch.

Secondly, we have a new business model that is the user-pay economy. Here the users don’t have to buy a game upfront. Our games are free, but if a user wants to play at a higher level, or derive more fun out of it, or if he wants to buy some goodies, then he can pay for them.

The third is the new set of devices that enable people connect socially. They allow you to connect with your friends. Like Words with Friends. I may not call up my friend every day to talk to him, but I can play games with him, that is more fun way to keeping in touch. This is a trend we think will grow in the years to come.

Web vs mobile
We look at mobiles as a unique space. We don’t believe that just because a game is right for the web, we should automatically put it on the mobiles. because there is a lot of difference in the way we interact with our friends on the mobiles.

On mobiles you can play anywhere. Secondly, on the mobile you tend to play more and in a different way. A game on a PC may be one that you play during your coffee break. But on a mobile you could be playing while walking down the hall or just for a minute on your way back home, or just before you sleep. Also, you can get in and out quickly out of mobile games, unlike on a PC.

Limitations of mobile appsA mobile screen that is only as big as a business card, is a huge challenge for a developer and designer. The interface has to be different. But mobile devices have grown impressively. Like they now have hardware accelerators, and you get experiences comparable to what you would get on a laptop screen. So technology hasn't been a really obstacle.

The India story
india is important to us in two ways. As a technology company we have a lot of developers. We have now a private cloud in addition to the public cloud, and India has been a major contributor to the development of the private cloud.

We do a lot of analytics here. We track data and get valuable info on how games are being played. And we also do a lot of software work here that helps us run our business well.

Six of Zynga’s global games are operated from the Bangalore studio. They are: Empires and Allies, Mafia Wars, YoVille, Treasure Isle, FishVille and Vampire Wars. The two latest mobile games developed in Bangalore are: CityVille HomeTown and Dream Zoo.

Bangalore, the only studio in India, is cross functional; meaning, we have the technology team here, there is the gaming team here and also a business team here. That is not the case usually in an external environment. but the technology infrastructure in Bangalore is so good that we are able to grow faster here.

Third-party initiativesIt’s not necessary that we should make all the games. We have announced some third-party initiatives. We recently launched our own platform zynga.com that will enable players to discover and play social games created by third party game developers. There are six publishers who have lined up with games for that platform. We will only be happy to connect with others.

(This article appeared in The Times of India, Bangalore, today)


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