Zynga is having a banner week. Not only has the house of FarmVille managed to pull off a pop culture coup by partnering with Lady Gaga (which includes revealing three of her brand new songs in FarmVille), but founder Mark Pincus makes an appearance in the June 2011 issue of Vanity Fair, with an extended profile that includes silly physical descriptions usually applied to Hollywood celebrities: "A slight five feet six, with large liquid brown eyes, Pincus looks down for a moment and purses his lips..."
Goofy visualizations aside, the article goes on -- among other things -- to discuss Pincus' personal relationship with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (and how their friendship helped them work together during 'tough times,' i.e. when Facebook demanded a 30% cut from all developers -- including Zynga -- on the social network).
This was an interesting tidbit that led to an impromptu discussion with my coworkers as to how much cronyism played into Zynga's overall success, however, I was much more intrigued by the three paragraphs that describe just how the concept behind Zynga games came to be. Essentially, Pincus is obsessed with the concept of being coached. He mentions that he has hired a tennis coach, ski instructor and has a private yoga instructor, and, in the past, has worked with a life coach. And all that coaching somehow translated into playing games.
"... he started to think about what would happen in games if you could, essentially, pay for a coach. Why couldn’t you gain an advantage in games by paying for it? “I was addicted to this online game, Rise of Nations, where you move your nation through civilizations, to the point that it really hurt a relationship I was in,” he says. “These kids online were just destroying me—they were coming in with tanks, and I was throwing spears at their tanks.And I thought to myself, Wow, I would really pay some money to not have it be this way.” Most of us would think of this as cheating. “It’s breaking the rules of the Western ways of gaming to buy your way ahead, but so what?” he says. He’s got a point: why do games have to be fair? After all, in life, everything is easier if you throw money at it. It’s all easier then."
So, there you have it, the idea that turned FarmVille-creator Zynga into a gaming phenomenon -- problems are easier to solve if you throw cash at it. Agree with it or not, it seems like Pincus isn't the only one who thinks that way -- Zynga has 250 million users, is valued at $10 billion and possibly looking at making an entrance on the stock market (much like Bejeweled creator PopCap) next year.
And here I had always considered FarmVille to be the penultimate gamification of socializing, but after reading this profile, the whole thing seems much more like the gamification of problem solving. What do you think? Sound off in the comments below.