Zynga API puts spotlight on developers, infrastructure

Zynga emphasizes the importance of having its own infrastructure with new components designed to make developing social games easier, cheaper, and more efficient.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor on

SAN FRANCISCO -- Zynga had several announcements about new social gaming features during a media event hosted at its headquarters on Tuesday morning, but starting off with infrastructure and network news represented how serious the company is about its platform and developer community.

Kostadis Roussos, a fellow and chief engineer at Zynga, introduced the Zynga API as a layer that will enable developers to build social games more efficiently without having to worry about the hardware.

But first, Roussos offered some background on how the company got here. He explained that Zynga games are designed to offer users the "best 15 minutes of their day," adding that if "we do our job right," they shouldn't even know about the infrastructure behind it.

Of course, that's easier said than done. Roussos outlined that this kind of infrastructure depends on three things: serious engineering, scale and analytics.

Back in 2007, Roussos described that games were "trapped on shelves" in boxes for consoles, such as the Xbox or PlayStation. But he said that Zynga has broken away from the old model because it ships "live services."

"The games we make are living, breathing worlds," Roussos said. "They constantly change, every second of every day. Every player wants a new experience."

Roussos cited some statistics to prove how much Zynga has grown. For example, the social gaming company publishes about 100 updates per day with 1,000 new features a week.

But that doesn't even compare to the amount of content that gamers create each day on popular Zynga titles such as Draw Something and Words with Friends. Roussos cited that gamers complete approximately one million activites per second each day.

"Our ability to deliver content quickly to players and [let them] create content of their own is something the Internet has never seen before," Roussos asserted, explaining that Zynga had to build its own infrastructure comprised of essentially two parts: hardware and services.

That has been accomplished through the production of zCloud as Zynga developed and moved onto its own private cloud infrastructure.

"We figured out early on that in order to build an infrastructure to support this, the engineering culture needs to be built around speed," Roussos commented, describing zCloud as a race track for social games, supporting 10 million players a week. Castleville, for example, was scaled solely on zCloud.

Roussos said Zynga games operate three times more efficiently on zCloud than it would be using third-party cloud infrastructures, meaning that game developers don't have to worry about hardware and other resources being available.

Thus, Zynga has introduced several new components to zCloud, starting with the Active Social Network (ASN), which Roussos characterized as the "true barometer of social," counting how many people are actively playing with each other. He posited that this science helps Zynga build features for its users that are both social and fun.

Other features include "Matchmaking," connecting Zynga's 290 million monthly players, and "Optimized Game Mechanics," which includes a brand new architecture, codenamed "Darwin," that cuts software requirements in half. Roussos exclaimed that this asset, in particular, is like "magic" because it makes the platform more robust and efficient at the same time.

He went as far as to compare it to driving a race car at 100 MPH without ever getting pulled over or into an accident because it means fewer errors with less infrastructure requirements.

But beyond that is something that might be more tangible to developers: the Zynga API, which Roussos explained is a central and more efficient way for game teams to tap into Zynga services to make their games more social.

Roussos concluded that with these advancements, developers will be able to focus on creating and enjoying beautiful games without worrying about tech behind it.

"Now that we have back-end services that don't require back-end servers, we can open up zCloud to the world," he said.


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