Zynga Direct has potential but needs differentiation

Social games maker has large gamer community and infrastructure to run its own platform, but must provide new games experience and assure smaller developers no conflict of interest will arise, says analyst.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

Large social games developers such as Zynga have the opportunity and potential to develop their own games platforms due to their experience managing large gamer communities as well as the infrastructure needed to support the publishing of third-party games. However, to compete against market leader Facebook, these players must provide a different gaming experience and assure other developers there will be no conflict of interest, an analyst argued.

Shalini Verma, principal analyst of consumer services research at Gartner, noted that Zynga, for one, has a good repertoire of social games such as Mafia Wars and FarmVille that are attractive to gamers. In addition, it has the experience in successfully developing and monetizing these games to build a viable platform.

"Zynga has shown its ability to manage large communities through a cloud-based infrastructure, an experience that will come in handy in managing [a] social games platform," she added in her e-mail.

That said, the Gartner analyst highlighted that the "biggest challenge" for Zynga and its platform initiative, named Zynga Direct, would be to "provide a social games experience that is different from Facebook. This, she added, will give gamers an incentive to flock to Zynga's platform.

Another challenge lies in convincing other third-party games developers that there will not be a conflict of interest even though their games will co-exist with Zynga's on the Direct platform, Verma pointed out.

The social games maker last week unveiled plans to build a new game-focused social network to leverage beyond Facebook, the current platform leader in social games.

Details of the platform are relatively scarce right now, with CEO Mark Pincus only saying: "We are trying to build the next platform for play, not the next big game--but it's OK if we do." He did not give details on how it is planning to open up the platform to developers, according to an earlier report.

Choice brings wider reach
One games developer ZDNet Asia spoke to welcomed Zynga's platform plans, even as it admitted its first response was "apprehension".

Ashok Desai, CEO and founder of Asvathaa, said in his e-mail that as a developer, whenever a competitor opens up its platform to third-parties, apprehension will arise. The Singapore-based games developer released its Karma Kingdom game on Facebook last month.

"Will our games be used just to cross promote their first-party titles? Will we get the kind of support we need? These tend to be the power struggle considerations with [potential] users of the platform who are smaller in scale and operations [than the operator], he explained.

Having said that, Desai said developers would think "the world is a really big place" and there is room for more than Facebook's social games platform.

"When Zynga opens up its platform to third-party developers, many people would port over because 'more is better' in terms of reach unless it had really onerous terms," the CEO added.

Having more platforms leads to more agility and risk mitigation for the entire industry, while competition can also strengthen every platform, he surmised. Once Google+ and Zynga Direct start gaining traction, more developers will be able to publish their products across different platforms, instead of having exclusive games for selected sites, he noted.

Another Singapore social games startup, Nubee, agreed. CEO Tomokazu Ukishiro said: "The games market is a very dynamic one. It will always be good to have more choices for developers and ultimately for gamers. If Zynga turns out to be a good platform, I'm sure developers like us will leverage on it."

The new platform's success, however, will depend on delivering unique content to different games communities and whether these communities can achieve scale, Desai said.

"All the mechanics that made social games what they are today were effectively birthed in the cauldron of Facebook, so for another site to host these games effectively, it needs to have a similar environment, which is a tall order to match in terms of user connectivity and presence," he elaborated.

Gartner had earlier revealed that social games revenue was on pace to reach US$3.2 billion this year, growing to US$4.5 billion in 2012, aided mainly by in-game advertising and in-app purchases.

Editorial standards