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Zynga Needs A Cash Cow - Buys A Peacock

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Zynga Needs A Cash Cow - Buys A Peacock

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Zynga Needs A Cash Cow - Buys A Peacock

Don Mattrick, Zynga’s new CEO, clearly wants to show he is the opposite of his predecessor. The previous guy spent $200 M buying OMGPOP, the creator of a faddish drawing game that took the world by storm and then went out of fashion in a matter of weeks. Mattrick is a former Microsoft guy and he is a serious man. So he just spent $500 M buying NaturalMotion, a company with truly impressive graphics expertise and physics modeling skills that stunned the app industry when “Clumsy Ninja” debuted last November.

But here is the problem: even though “Clumsy Ninja” featured amazing graphics and a really cool control system, the game was only a middling performer. It rocketed to Number One on US iPhone download chart, but dropped out of Top 10 in two weeks. Even more ominously, it was out of Top 50 iPhone sales chart in three weeks. The game designers were so in love with creating a glitzy, glamorous surface the they forgot to fill it with addictive mechanics and an effective monetization strategy.

And this is not the only narcissistic peacock in NaturalMotion’s stable. “CSR Classics” also looks fantastic – and has shown a worrisome, steady revenue erosion ever since its debut week.

Of course, Zynga was foolish to buy OMGPOP, a vendor with a flash-in-the-pan fad app. But at least “Draw Something” was a real moneymaker at the peak of its popularity. NaturalMotion has betrayed no ability to seduce players to actually pay for in-game features. This, of course, is the core weakness that Zynga shares. Much like Electronic Arts, Zynga has never cracked the code of either creating a true download blockbuster like “Angry Birds” or a revenue machine like “Candy Crush Saga”.

Ironically, just this month the US consumers have demonstrated how little they care about advanced graphics when a game is truly addictive. “Flappy Bird”, an infuriatingly difficult and amazingly rudimentary app by a small Vietnamese shop called Dong Nguyen has dominated the iPhone download chart in January. “Super Ball Juggling”, another lo-fi smash by  the same vendor just hit Number Three. The amazing thing about “Flappy Bird” is not only that its graphics are from mid-Eighties – it also features an exceptionally simple core mechanism and no change in complexity or game design as the player progresses. What it does offer in spades is character and hypnotic immersion that stems from truly daring approach to game making. “Flappy Bird” makes you work hard for even scoring two points. It took me three hours to score ten points – and I felt a rush of elation when I saw the badly rendered bronze medallion finally pop up on the screen as a reward. “Clumsy Ninja” offers dozens of rewards to the player from the very start, drowning you in coins and clothes and weapons and devices. You sink into this horn of plenty and soon grow bored and listless.

The crude little Vietnamese game is outperforming anything that the fancy programming wizards of NaturalMotion have ever produced. This is what makes the app market such a magical and weird place. A plain, tiny sparrow can outperform a magnificent peacock.

And that means that spending half a billion to buy a pretty, vacuous bird can be a dangerous game indeed. Zynga can use the graphics prowess of NaturalMotion in dozens of new games – but it still has not shown it employs anyone with a sense of how to retain players or how to make them spend. At the same time that the Scandinavian gurus of King, Mojang, Kiloo, Rovio and Supercell are cranking out games that have generated billions of downloads or unprecedented revenue generation power, Zynga continues treading water. Today, the weaker of the two games of Supercell remains the Number 5 grosser on US iPhone and iPad charts – 19 months after it debuted. NaturalMotion can only keep a game in Top 10 revenue chart for two weeks.

This is something Zynga should be now pondering.

Source: Forbes


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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/31" rel="author">Forbes</a>
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