Zynga's Betting the Farm


Yet critics note that these sorts of custom, deep brand integrations are hard to replicate; there’s still a need for an easy-to-buy ad standard. This fact has led several second-tier social game developers, including Disney’s Playdom and CrowdStar, to implement WildTangent’s BrandBoost platform, which provides users with free virtual goods in exchange for engaging with an ad. WildTangent, which in just a few months has rolled out 25 BrandBoost campaigns ranging from $50,000 to $1 million in price, also recently inked a deal with Digital Chocolate for its game MMA Pro Fighter.

“We hope to work with all the significant players,” said Dave Madden, WildTangent, evp, sales, marketing and business development. So far, Zynga’s not on the list. Some wonder whether giving away too many virtual goods on behalf of brands could prove dangerous to Zynga, which has trained so many gamers to fork over real cash.

In the meantime, advertisers say that Disney—which acquired Playdom for $763 million in July—is still integrating its ad sales teams, while EA, which bought Playfish last year, is moving faster into the gaming ad market. Both companies can claim an advantage over Zynga: recognizable intellectual properties.

“One of the things that really hit me when I got into this business was that everyone has a mafia game, everyone has a pirate game,” said Bill Young, head of ad product for EA. Not everyone has Mickey Mouse or Madden Football.

However, given that Zynga claims seven of the top 10 games on Facebook (one of which is about the mafia, and another about buried treasure), the company is impossible to ignore. “Zynga isn’t the 800-pound gorilla of the category. It’s the 8,000-pound gorilla,” said Michael Cai, an analyst at the research firm Interpret. “And advertisers follow eyeballs.”