Today’s “Zynga Unleashed” event in San Francisco revealed moves to allow third-party game developers to use Zynga’s technology platform and a new “Zynga with Friends” brand for multiplayer social interactions that could help the game company reduce its dependency on Facebook. Oh, and the company announced some new games, too.
There was no announcement, however, of the rumored real-cash gaming deal that would have brought down the house.
A Gaming Platform, Not Just Games
Uncharacteristically, CEO and Founder Mark Pincus began the conference by discussing the Zynga “platform” and infrastructure, rather than the new games that typically lead off similar events. There were a lot of numbers thrown around: number of logins, number of inbox clicks, even the number of bubbles popped in Bubble Safari. The upshot was that while Zynga’s games may be small and simple, the infrastructure behind them is big, scalable and sophisticated.
Why is that important? While the details are still pending, Zynga Chief Engineer Kostadis Roussos announced that Zynga will be opening its application programming interface (API) to third-party developers, giving them access to that infrastructure.
This could have two big impacts on the game industry and Zynga:
1) Depending on pricing, access to Zynga’s platform could lower the cost of entry for new, startup game developers. Ideally, they’ll be able to focus more on game design and less on building a scalable back-end.
2) It will take some of the creative burden off of Zynga. Pincus' developers still have an interest in creating the best possible games, but as a technology provider they can still earn a cut of other hit games. This should provide some earnings stability and reduce the need for expensive, risky acquisitions like OMGPOP, maker of the fast-tanking super-hit, Draw Something.
Zynga even gave out a URL for interested developers.
Zynga With Friends
In its other big news, Zynga is launching its “Zynga with Friends,” a new brand for its multiplayer social initiative. Highlights include:
- Synchronous multiplayer gameplay across device types, first on Bubble Safari, and eventually on all of its games
- Enhanced social features, such as chat and user profiles
- An increased role for Zynga.com as a portal or "social lobby"
Zynga will expand its current pool of development partners and open to third-party developers in the near future. Enabling multiplayer gaming on existing games should be fairly simple , which ties in with Zynga’s new desire to be the facilitator for third-party games.
While Facebook and Zynga will continue to be joined at the hip (for example, Zynga.com will still be serving Facebook ads), these inititaives will help Zynga strike out on its own.
The rest of the conference introduced some new and possibly interesting games, including a 40th Anniversary partnership with Atari, Farmville 2, other new 'Ville games and the new Zynga Elite Slots.
But as the early parts of the conference made clear, the games aren’t really the thing. Zynga is already a data company and it’s trying to become a platform company.
Zynga wants to emulate Amazon (which now makes more money off selling bandwidth, processing and shopping cart services to others than it ever did selling books) and transition to becoming an infrastructure provider, while still building quality games when it makes sense. It's a grand vision that promises increased, stable profits with reduced risk. But a lot still has to happen to make that vision a reality.