One of the issues raised in our September cover story on social-gaming company Zynga
was the long-term viability of a business based on copying and aggressively marketing inane but addictive game concepts. The Facebook
applications that are making Zynga around $500 million a year, by some estimates -- FarmVille
, Mafia Wars
, Cafe World, and so on -- are simple, derivative, and not built to keep people around for a long time.
"These games, it's like pouring water into a bucket with holes in it," former Zynga employee and investor Tom Bollich told us. "You can get a lot of people, but they don't stick around." That observation seems to be confirmed by the recent performance of Zynga's latest release, FrontierVille, which was supposed to be the blockbuster that made up for previous smash hit FarmVille's loss of audience. Gamasutra reports
that FrontierVille has lost 3.3 million users in the last two weeks, a steep decline of close to 10 percent.
This must be a cause for concern with the folks at Zynga. The company has yet to move beyond its popular "Ville" suite of apps, which gamers appear to be tiring of. FarmVille's audience has collapsed by 26 percent from its high of 84 million monthly users, according to the metrics-tracking site appdata.com.
After peaking at about 37 million users, FrontierVille now looks to be headed downhill without coming close to duplicating FarmVille's success. This may go to show, as Bollich said, that the time has come for a new level of sophistication in social games: "You can't make the cheap little viral games like you used to."
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