Zynga is creating a new place to play CityVille and its other popular games, but the online social-games giant is not unfriending Facebook.
It plans to transform Zynga.com into a destination for those who want to play its games and connect with other players. The new Zynga.com launches "in a few days," as CEO Mark Pincus says in a blog post on the site. All players will have access to the open beta trial, and the site will host five of the company's top games: CastleVille, Words With Friends, CityVille, Hidden Chronicles and Zynga Poker.
Players can continue their current games on Facebook or Zynga.com interchangeably. But on Zynga.com, players can chat and connect without having "to look at your family photos," as they do when playing on Facebook, says John Schappert, Zynga's chief operating officer. "We think it is going to make the whole social-gaming experience much better. It's quite complementary to Facebook."
This isn't Zynga's first play beyond Facebook. Its games such as Words With Friends are available on iOS and Android devices, and Zynga Poker and CityVille can be played on social network Google+.
The first wave of games that appear on Zynga.com will continue to connect to Facebook and use Facebook credits for spending on virtual goods. Zynga would not comment on future games.
For now, the financial fortunes of Facebook and Zynga, which saw its stock rise nearly 10% to $14.48 a share Thursday, are linked. But eventually, "I think that plan is to drive Facebook members off the platform just so they can do gaming only there (on Zynga.com) and bring in their non-Facebook friends," says Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter.
Analysts estimate that Zynga generates about 90% of its revenue from Facebook games. Meanwhile, Zynga provides about 12% of Facebook's revenue through spending on advertising and money spent on games. (Facebook gets up to 30% of what gamers spend on Zynga Facebook games.)
Because Facebook has rights to games that Zynga has on its site, Facebook had to approve the Zynga.com move, Pachter says. "It's in Facebook's favor to let people get off of the platform and play games without being under the scrutiny of all their non-gaming friends. They will bring in some people who are not on Facebook, and potentially those people will join Facebook."
Zynga's game audience continues to grow, with about 240 million active players each month.
Its Zynga.com initiative includes partnering with developers to host their games on the Zynga platform. In return, developers get access to Zynga's online game technology and data to study player behavior.
"What we are going to allow (developers) to do is just focus on making great games," Schappert says.
Partnering with Zynga reduces the high costs of acquiring players, says Philip Holt, CEO of game company Row Sham Bow. Its Woodland Heroes game will be integrated into Zynga's cross-promotional bar and is headed to Zynga.com soon.
The company's current method of gaining players by buying Facebook ads, "costs me money for every user we acquire," he says. With Zynga, "I can gain access to hundreds of millions of users. I could never create an audience that large on my own."
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