Earlier this week we examined why Zynga is shedding users, causing its stock price to almost halve from its December IPO level. Zynga rose to prominence on the back of a farming simulation social game called FarmVille. Its success spawned a series of other 'Ville' games, such as CityVille, CastleVille, FishVille and PetVille. The theme of these games is to manage virtual stuff, with the help of virtual currency that you buy within Facebook (using real currency). The Ville series became tremendously popular, despite being shallow and irritating to many Facebook users - whose news feeds became clogged with virtual sheep, cartoon fish and the like. Mercifully, for most of us, the Ville dynasty appears to be dying out. In this post we explore why.
A reminder, here is what has happened to Zynga's top three Ville games over the past six months, measured in Daily Active Users (DAU):
The DAU of all three games on Facebook, which is where most of Zynga's users come from, has dropped dramatically in the six months since Zynga's IPO last December. The three games are hovering at the 4.1-4.6 million DAU mark, according to AppData. CityVille now has about 32 million Monthly Active Users (MAU), compared to 61.7 m in December 2010 when CityVille overtook FarmVille as the most popular Facebook game.
Users Tired of Throwing Sheep
So what happened? The simple answer is probably that Facebook users have become tired of these meaningless games. From my own personal experience, while I have never used a Ville game at least a few members of my family have. I'm confident this is a common theme for readers of this site! My dear little sister was a big FishVille fan for a while last year, even creating a fake Facebook user named "Fred MacManus." Fred wasn't my long-lost cousin; he turned out to be an animated fish from the game FishVille. OK, I have to point out that my sister is very intelligent and she played FishVille because it entertained her (and I too enjoyed the Fred character showing up in my Facebook news feed). But she tired of those games sometime last year and no longer plays them. Fred's Facebook profile eventually got deleted.
I can't help but think that's fairly representative of what's happened with other Ville users. They just got sick of the silliness.
Software Crashes & FarmVille Inflation
There have been other reasons for the Ville decline, which former or current Zynga users noted in the comments of our earlier post.
Stephanie Kelley cited regular game crashes and poor customer service. She is a regular game player on Facebook, as well as her smartphone and tablet. But Kelley "went on a Zynga strike" about three months ago because she had spent money on games that, according to her experience, "crash frequently, are poorly written and rely on spamming anyone and everyone in order to advance."
Scott Colin noted Zynga's tactic of aggressively cross-promoting new games in existing ones. Zynga users aren't biting as much now. "As soon as the pop up shows up in the game I am playing for one of their cross promotions," wrote Colin, "I simply block it right off."
Another commenter speculated that the decline in users is because Zynga raised its prices for Ville features and "special animals."
Whatever the reason, it seems that our collective obsession with virtual animals and virtual land on Facebook is declining, which is hitting Zynga where it hurts: its stock price. And that's real currency, not virtual.