Most developers on Facebook have many ups and downs, with an emphasis on the downs over the last 12 months or so as Facebook has cut back on viral channels. Zynga stands out not just for dwarfing the rest of the market, but because it has managed to keep traffic so high for so long.
A look back at the past few years in AppData provides a quick explanation of Zynga’s story, that will get the attention of investors trying to decide how to value it when it reportedly files to go public later this year.
The Data Timeline
At the end of 2008, Zynga was in a pretty good position. It had figured out how to monetize through virtual goods in its first hit, Texas Hold’Em Poker. It was in the process of launching Mafia Wars and a long line of other text-based role-playing games on Facebook, MySpace and other social networks. It was on its way to dominating that category through copying the competition, then using a careful combination of aggressive viral tactics, gradual but consistently improving game quality, back-end scaling expertise to handle the incoming traffic at the right times, and everything else that would eventually become the so-called “Zynga Playbook.”
It had 23.9 million monthly active users.
(Note that you can access the full data history for Zynga and its games, in our AppData Pro tracking service.)
Almost all of its growth since then came in 2009. It moved into the simulation category with the launch of FarmVille in June of that year, with the tailwind of Facebook’s spammily-designed Twitter style of news feed pushing the game far and wide across the social network. It also had capitalized on Facebook’s increasingly sophisticated advertising tool to cheaply and effectively reach users before most other developers (or other advertisers) were. Well-timed investments into all parts of the company, including fast hiring of experienced leaders in gaming, and in business and technical fields in other parts of Silicon Valley — a story that the company hasn’t talked about much yet.