Zynga Constructs CityVille

Social-gaming juggernaut Zynga is set to roll out CityVille its most ambitious (and possibly brand-friendly) game to date.

The new game follows in the footsteps of massively popular titles such as FarmVille and FrontierVille which have clogged up many a Facebook News Feed. In CityVille, players are tasked with building actual cities, aiming to foster virtual economies, establish franchises and eventually become mayor. Like other Zynga titles, users can play CityVille for free or opt to purchase virtual currency to be used in the game with a credit card.

CityVille is Zynga’s first global launch—it’s available in English, German, Italian, Spanish and French—and is being billed by the Silicon Valley–based firm as the company’s most social. For example, players will be able to build businesses and then export them to their friends’ CityVille boards.  

During a demonstration, CityVille gm Sean Kelly used the example of a player creating a generic bakery, and then establishing outposts in several friends’ towns. But it’s easy to imagine brands like Starbucks, McDonald’s or Macy’s inserting themselves into the game, and riding the potential social wave. And a virtual cityscape lends itself to billboard-based advertising and the like—far more than games such as FarmVille.

Zynga hasn’t signed on any sponsors for CityVille at launch, but according to Kelly, “there are definite possibilities. It makes a lot of sense. People like to associate with real world brands.”

Yet Kelly said that restraint, when it comes to advertising, will remain a key Zynga philosophy. Even though just a small percentage of Zynga users pay for virtual goods, the plan is not to plaster the game with ads. “We want to make the best social games,” he said. “To the degree that brands help that, great.”

Zynga doesn’t need brands to fund its games—according to various analyst estimates the company is poised to reel in $500 million in 2010. Yesterday at the Web 2.0 Summit, John Doerr, partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, said “Zynga is the largest, most profitable, rapidly growing company…we’ve ever seen.”

However, Zynga is starting to ramp up its ad efforts. A recent campaign for DreamWorks Animation’s Megamind reached 9 million unique users in FarmVille in one day.

With CityVille, Zynga officials are predicting another hit, given the universal appeal of building cities and towns, which Kelly likened to Monopoly. However, although Zynga has been expanding its distribution—including a recent deal with Yahoo—CityVille will only be available on Facebook.

Zynga’s tremendous success has almost been built entirely on Facebook. However, it will be interesting to see if CityVille can ever approach the viral growth of FarmVille, which was played by more than 54 million people according to the most recent report released by AppData.

Yet FarmVille was reaching more than 80 million users earlier this year, per AppData—until
Facebook began limiting the number of messages Zynga could automatically broadcast to its players’ friends.