Following Fast Growth in 2009, Zynga’s Traffic Steady in 2010

Zynga‘s traffic has been a fascinating trajectory over the last year or so. The company was a relatively normal-sized game developer from when it began working on Facebook’s platform in 2007 to July, 2009. Then, all of a sudden, growth started going up.

Here’s a closer look, using data from our independent AppData app-tracking service. Zynga had 52.6 million monthly active users (MAU) and 9.35 daily active users (DAU) at the end of June. It shot up over the following months, starting with its hit game FarmVille, eventually reaching 239 million MAU and 63.5 million DAU by the end of the year. That’s MAU growth to 3.5 times more than its July starting point, and DAU growth to more than 6 times then, with its year-end number of daily actives actually more than its number of monthly actives it began the growth period with.

Intriguingly, the company’s traffic numbers have stayed relatively flat since then. This suggests that the company decided to call a halt in 2010 to whatever tactics it was using to grow. It has the same number of MAU today as last year, at 239 million. Its DAU has averaged a little higher since then, and is now coming in at around 68.5 million.

We don’t have the so-called “Zynga Playbook,” but we’ve been following social gaming and Facebook’s platform for years, so here’s some of our observations about these growth patterns.

Traffic Changes

Zynga had a fast growth rate from September, 2008, (when we began tracking the company) all the way to July, 2009. The company had 16.9 million MAU at the end of that September, and steadily grew over the course of the fall, reaching 23.9 million MAU by the first day of 2009. By April, it was already vying for the largest developer title on Facebook. From there, it gained around 30 million more users before July.

What Zynga did in late 2008 and early 2009 set it up for its later growth in terms of user base, revenue streams, and knowledge. During this time, the company was refining early hits like Texas Hold’Em Poker and Mafia Wars. The former game made a lot of money and the latter did, too, but it also served as a “public laboratory” for basically any new type of feature that Zynga wanted to try out in other games.

By March of 2009 rumors were beginning to leak out about the company’s revenue. Over the course of that winter, estimates put its revenue run-rate for 2009 at $50 million, then $100 million. (Eventually the rumored numbers climbed much higher, given its later growth, and we estimate the company made well over $200 million by the end of last year.) It was helping to create an entire industry around virtual goods monetization, as we covered in detail at the time.

Even though Zynga had been busy experimenting with traditional games like poker and “X Wars” role-playing games, it had begun branching out. It had bought Facebook simulation game YoVille in July of 2008 — a game that many developers had been noticing, because it was bringing in so many daily active users that it could monetize through virtual goods. The app continued to grow, going from nearly 2 million MAU at the end of September, 2008 to 7.81 million by the end of June. Meanwhile, other simulation games began to get big, too, including ones from Playfish, and Slashkey’s Farm Town, which pioneered virtual farming on Facebook.

Zynga had figured out some other tactics, too. It did things like optimize app communications for the version of the news feed that Facebook introduced that spring. . And it figured out that it could make money on games through advertising them on Facebook.