AllthingsD reports that Zynga lays off an additional 520 people, shuttering their New York and LA offices.
I really don’t think this is anything people didn’t expect. Zynga has had nothing but problems since their IPO, seeing huge fall offs in sales. More than that, they shuttered their New York offices and their LA offices. It’s a total workforce reduction of 18%, which is huge. I hope all those affected by the layoff find work quickly. It’s a shame that this is a trend we are seeing more and more often in the gaming world, and I’m really hoping it doesn’t become the norm.
Now for the slightly more rough and gruff side of things — within the gamingsphere, this really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Zynga rocketed to stardom on the back of it’s first game, Farmville. Adopting that model, they applied the same principles of “social play” (aka – bugging the hell out of everyone on your Facebook feed) to rope other people into the game. Then once in-game, things took progressively longer and longer to complete. Meaning you could play the game for maybe 5-10 minutes before waiting for an additional 20 hours to be able to do anything else. Unless, of course, you wanted to pay. This model has become known as the “impatience tax.” You pay to speed things up. Zynga’s model of making time the central resource and mechanic in their games has been picked up by hundreds of other developers, to the point that the impatient tax is essentially par for the course in mobile and Facebook games.
The problem with this, in my opinion, is that it ultimately creates shallow, non-sticky gaming experiences. I’ve gone into this before on a different topic, but the principle is the same. The gameplay in the majority of these games is ‘tap to collect X,’ which isn’t particularly engaging or deep gameplay mechanics. The amount of time you have to wait between each opportunity to collect increases the longer you play the game. When you get to the upper levels, it is virtually impossible to play without spending money (the impatience tax). Knowing that most gamers won’t actually cough up any money for these experiences and simply stop playing at this point, the business model here relies primarily on what they call the “whales.” The less 1% of the player base that spends thousands (yes thousands) of dollars on the game. They spend so much money themselves, that even removing those gamers who spend minimal amounts (the $1 dollar here or there people), the game would still be profitable.
In my mind, this game design and monetization scheme are both remarkably short sighted and up until recently (even till 6months ago), were focused less on finding and keeping players in their game, but rather more milking a small number of players for all their worth and then walking away. Based on this gameplay model and monetization model, it doesn’t surprise me that Zynga is having such significant problem now. The Facebook gaming that was, was a bubble and faddish. Zynga is scrambling now to figure out how to get gamers to play their games again.
My my, how the mighty fall 🙂