Zynga, Lion of the Gaming Jungle, Starts to Roar With Dream Zoo

Earlier this week, we reported that Zynga now has 11.1 million users coming to its mobile games every day — a turn of fortunes considering that the company’s flagship Poker app was being beaten by a troupe of Siberian developers on the iOS grossing charts at the beginning of the year.

Now the company has a new game in its arsenal as it heads toward an expected year-end initial public offering. Zynga is taking the zoo game genre popularized on iOS by Sequoia Capital-backed Pocket Gems and adding its own twist with Dream Zoo. While it doesn’t seem like Zynga is spending aggressively to market the game at the moment because it’s ranked #753 on the top-grossing games charts in the U.S., this will probably change soon.

The core concept of Dream Zoo is the same. Create a zoo and raise animals, while earning enough revenue to collect new exhibits. There are the familiar breeding mechanics where the player can mate two different parent animals to produce a baby.

But there are also many design differences. The breeding mechanic generates many kinds of offspring with different coats and colors as opposed to other zoo games, where breeding two species will produce one specific outcome.

“There’s no limit on the number or kinds of animals you can create,” said Sean Kelly, a general manager at Zynga overseeing the launch of the game.

It’s also the first game where Zynga is using location. Playing the game at certain places will unlock special, in-game content. The animals also aren’t limited to their pens. They can roam around freely so long as they’re on a certain type of terrain (like gazelles have to be on grass, and hippos have to be on ponds).

There’s also additional leveling when players create habitats for their animals. Unlike other zoo games where the habitat is static, Zynga’s Dream Zoo gives players the ability to upgrade their exhibits from 1- to 3-star levels. If a player upgrades their habitats to three-star levels, they can get Champion-level animals which look more sophisticated than regular animals of the same species. Buying decorations can also add earnings bonuses to exhibits.

Dream Zoo also has several mini-games. When feeding animals, players have to tap at the right moments to get bonuses. They can also go on “Safaris” to pick up loot or new animals, but they risk losing all of their winnings if they go adventuring for too long.

There’s a light Facebook integration that lets players invite friends and potentially make them neighbors, but nothing out of the ordinary. The social elements seem more or less standard for a game of the genre, with the ability to visit neighbor’s zoos and post Facebook updates for achievements like breeding a baby.

The game has an earned currency called coins, a premium currency called cash and a social currency of sorts called “Hearts”. Players get “Hearts” by cleaning and feeding animals in friends’ zoos.

The iPhone version of the game is out first with an Android version coming shortly, Kelly said.

Zynga’s overall portfolio of mobile titles has been performing better over the year thanks to the Words With Friends franchise from the Newtoy acquisition and improvements to Zynga Poker. The company has also made a few key hires in the last few months. It lured Linda Kim away from Apple, where she managed games and social networking apps for the iTunes store. That should help Zynga get the inside track on getting featured in the store.