PetVille Ends Cross-Promotion of Zynga Poker – Is Synchronous Game Play Dead?

With the release of PetVille last week, one of the more notable changes is that Zynga stopped cross-promoting Texas Hold’em Poker, signaling that Zynga is continuing to move away from the synchronous games of its early days and dedicating its resources more fully on asynchronous games.

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I generally think of Zynga going through three game development stages:

Stage One – Turn-based social games

  • Key games: Scramble, PathWords, Word Twist, Sodoku, Attack!
  • These games were fairly popular in the days of Scrabulous, but head-to-head play among friends was often a waiting fiasco: Users came on at different points in the day for a asynchronous session and would have to wait for others in a game to finally log on and take their turn before game play could proceed.

Stage Two – Testing Three Paths: Asynchronous, Synchronous and Sim Games

  • Key games: Mafia Wars, Texas Hold’em and YoVille
  • Mafia Wars created the ability to leverage those short, multiple-times-a-day user sessions and provide a core asynchronous play style that was duplicated in a multitude of titles (Gang Wars, Space Wars, Dragon Wars, Street Rcing, Fashion Wars, Vampire Wars, Special Forces, Dope Wars, Pirates)
  • Texas Hold’em (eventually renamed Zynga Poker) invested heavily in a robust lobby system, allowing users to join other Facebook users not in their network in synchronous play
  • YoVille was also developed in this period (my understanding that this was actually developed externally and purchased by Zynga) providing a valuable learning experience about what worked in sim games.

Stage Three – The Rise of Sim Games and Games as a Service

  • Key games: FarmVille, FishVille, PetVille, Café World, Roller Coaster Kingdom
  • Short game play with appointment gaming mechanisms that are all asynchronous and built for a more broad audience
  • Interestingly, all of these games have origins from other Facebook titles, except Roller Coaster Kingdom, which actually has had the most difficulty in terms of creating growth and a high sticky factor (relative to the hyper growth of the other titles in this stage). In fact, Roller Coaster Kingdom was actually dropped from cross promotion when FishVille launched.

So why drop Texas Hold’em (currently # 11 in DAU)? I thought I’d look at the growth factors of the Stage Two games since the introduction of FarmVille in late June till the beginning of this month (using data through December 6th) to see how this rapidly growing new audience is taking in the older games. In this table, I look at the marginal growth in DAU and MAU since FarmVille’s launch:

GameAdditional DAU% DAU growthAdditional MAU% MAU growthImplied Sticky Factor
Mafia Wars3.30 million94%14.15 million124%21.8
YoVille2.01 million143%11.26 million144%17.9
Texas Hold’em1.83 million67%6.12 million44%29.9

Not surprisingly, YoVille’s similar game play style has afforded it the biggest growth among these games. In comparison, Texas Hold’em has had the smallest increase in DAU and MAU (although to be fair, the poker game had a higher base MAU of 13.8 million compared to 12.2 million for Mafia Wars and 7.8 million for YoVille at the time FarmVille launched) and seemed to benefit the least from the rise of the new sim games.

Dropping Texas Hold’em Poker from cross-promotion toolbars really seems to come down to two key points: demographics and synchronous vs. asynchronous game play. Speaking generally, Poker skews heavily male and is more of a niche (5% of the US plays poker online and players are 74% male between the ages of 26-35 according to industry data). These Stage Three games are much more casual games by nature, which traditionally has a female skew and slightly older audience.