Zynga branches away from Facebook, becomes more competitive

Zynga is touting is new games as more social yet still easy to learn, but these titles are far more complex than anything we've seen before.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

SAN FRANCISCO -- Zynga unveiled a slew of new and upcoming releases at its headquarters on Tuesday afternoon, most of which are much more complex than anything Zynga has released before.

We're looking at 10 new products that range from simple mobile apps to entry-level RPGs -- all of which point towards Zynga's shift away from being found primarily on Facebook and more so on other social networks and mobile devices.

“We challenge ourselves to find new ways to put play in your day,” said Mark Pincus, founder and CEO of Zynga. “We aspire to make Zynga a platform for play.”

Pincus added that Zynga is not in the business of being the company that makes the next hit game -- although he acknowledged that would be nice. It’s more than that, he explained, citing the overall theme of the event: friends. Pincus posited that it's more about the social side of gaming, friend connections and all of those qualities that tie Zynga into social media.

Zynga execs also repeatedly noted that its new games will be available for Google+, pointing towards a shift from being Facebook's best friend to a more serious player in the social, mobile and gaming markets.

But Zynga isn't turning its back on Facebook entirely. Making that kind of collaboration possible is the new Zynga Direct platform, touted as a medium for fostering a direct relationship with consumers online or via mobile by making a social "sandbox" around games, not just within them.

“That’s the deepest integration with Facebook Connect than any service on the web or mobile,” Pincus asserted.

Also tied into Facebook Connect is the new Project Z play service, a "social games playground," in which users can share and connect with Facebook friends, but is more of a standalone service at the same time. David Ko, chief mobile officer at Zynga, didn't go into much more detail than that, except to boast that when it is fully launched, it will be the largest social games space ever. Until then, eager gamers can reserve their alias, a.k.a. "zTag," immediately.

Zynga is also making a stronger push into mobile, especially by blowing up Zynga Poker into a new franchise called Zynga Casino, which includes the new Zynga Bingo app.

This mobile expansion is made possible because of a particular focus on HTML5, as many of the new and upcoming releases are being built on HTML5 (cutely dubbed “HTML5Ville”), CSS and Javascript. This gives Zynga an opportunity to compete with other app developers by hitting many more devices at once, but it also gives Zynga a chance to get away from social networks.

Zynga’s current gaming engine, which has been built to produce a next-generation social game from scratched, designed to be scaled over time using Adobe Flash 11. Zynga’s chief technology officer Cadir Lee boasted that Zynga is which is one of the largest users of public and private cloud computing with its own cloud, Z-Cloud.

Although Pincus said that Zynga is asking users between five to 15 minutes of their time during each use, many of the games introduced with demo videos look far more time-consuming.

For example, some of the new products belong to an entirely new category for Zynga: hidden object games, starting with Hidden Chronicles.

“It will leverage social connections and combine that with memory and skill,” said Roy Sehgal, vice president and general manager at Zynga. “It’s going to be extremely easy to use, but hard to master.”

Each of the levels include their own music, the graphics were far more intense than anything seen on FarmVille, and there are many more twists and turns in the storyline.

Another familiar title making a larger leap is Mafia Wars 2, which went live on Google+ during the media event. Zynga took one of its oldest games and a component within the game, and made it front and center. Older players will likely understand the premise and new spin more.

Along the same lines, CastleVille, the next chapter in the "Ville" franchise, which features an interaction design with several new firsts: user-driven story lines, character development, and new ways to collaborate and get ahead by partnering with other players in the game.


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