The rumor that FarmVille-creator Zynga would kick off its initial public offering sometime the past few weeks proved to be untrue, but the Silicon Valley darling did manage to push out a hot new game on Facebook and another on iOS, which shows that the game company has not run out of ideas yet, or at the very least, has not lost the knack for taking existing game ideas and giving them a liberal application of Zynga's magic sauce.
The new Facebook game is called Empires & Allies, and it's best described as a combination of the classic game Risk and Zynga's popular city building Facebook game CityVille. In the game, you not only build up a city, but also an army and then go headfirst into real-time battles against both computer opponents and friends. There's a big resource component to the game as well, and in order to dominate militarily, you also have to master the art of having enough oil, wood and ore to manufacture heavy artillery like tanks, battleships and jet planes.
The whole battle component is really what sets this game apart from Zynga's other big hits, FarmVille and CityVille -- which generally revolve around building something to your liking and then helping your friends do the same. Empire & Allies still retains that whole 'helper' vibe, but there's also a level of risk, competitiveness and aggression that are not present the farming and city games. And that is where Empires & Allies will succeed to reach a certain audience where the others have failed -- it's fun to invade friends territories (then taunt the victim by leaving a 'You've Been Invaded' note in their Facebook wall) and to fend off invaders when they try to take a piece of your land.
That, and the face that the game was launched in 12 countries at the same time, will help ensure that Empires & Allies is off to a good start. CityVille was Zynga's first game with a simultaneous international launch and that worked out in the game's favor, sending its popularity soaring, well past that of the company's first runaway hit, FarmVille. It's still too early to tell how Empires & Allies will fare with the Facebook gaming set, but early numbers (10 million players in 10 days) seem promising.
Zynga's other big gaming release comes from the Words with Friends camp -- a new iOS game called Hanging with Friends. The name of the game has a dual meaning -- this is a game that's designed to help you hang out with friends -- virtually -- while playing a version of the classic game hangman. The game connects to your Facebook or Twitter account and your friends list is populated automatically. To start a game, choose a friend to play with, then come up with a word from a series of letters and then, wait for your friend to guess it. Then, your friend (if they're game) will send you a word back; you have six tries to guess the correct letters. Not having any luck? You are offered several lifelines that can keep you out of hot water, which can be purchased with coins earned by playing games (or you can pay actual cash for them if you're so inclined). A free ad-supported game is currently available in the App Store along with an ad-free paid version for $1.99.
So the wait for Zynga's rumored IPO continues, but with the release of these two new high-profile games, it looks like the FarmVille-maker is gearing up for battle on the stock market and will get its chance to prove that it can survive what looks to be the Great Tech Bubble of 2011.