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The games powering Zynga's profitability

The games powering Zynga's profitability

Thing are looking good for Zynga after releasing its latest financials.

The firm posted revenues of $209.2 million for Q2 FY17, up 15% year-on-year, turning a profit of $5.1 million - its first since Q3 2015.

"When you’re in a turnaround, never declare victory too early," Zynga CEO Frank Gibeau commented to PocketGamer.biz.

But under his stewardship, and with the company now at the business end of its transition to a mobile-first company, victory doesn't feel too far away.

On the road

The key to this progress has not been a splurge of major new releases, but rather a handful of older titles - its 'forever franchises' - still quietly bringing home the bacon.

Indeed, of particular note in Zynga's financials was Zynga Poker, which generated 21% of the company's mobile game revenues for the quarter.

Launched way back in 2010, it's been a long-term performer for Zynga that's recently enjoyed something of a rejuvenation. It made $35 million in Q1 FY17, its highest in quarterly bookings since 2014.

This coincided with Zynga's renewed focus on live operations for its existing titles, in Zynga Poker's case adding new tournament modes to the game for high-level players.

And while the full extent of Zynga Poker's improving revenues is not represented by the US iPhone top grossing charts, the impressive performance of the ageing game can be seen in the fact that it hasn't dropped out of the top 100 at all in 2017 so far.

Racing ahead

Another major title for Zynga, and the only recent release to establish itself, is the NaturalMotion-developed CSR Racing 2

Sponsorships and partnerships have been pointed to as a significant revenue source for the game, including those involving Lamborghini and Fast & Furious, but it's also held its own on the top grossing charts since its June 2016 launch.

After a year on the market, CSR Racing 2 is still yet to drop out of the top 100 in the US iPhone top grossing charts, rising as high as 22nd in July 2017.

And while the focus has now shifted to its sequel, fans of the original CSR Racing have done enough to sustain the 2012-released game largely within the top 500 on the US iPhone grossing charts.

This is the essence of Zynga's strategy going forward: a belief in its catalogue of titles, no matter their age. 

“Launching a new mobile game into the top 25 is really hard," Frank Gibeau told PocketGamer.biz in May. "Live ops is hard too but if you have a dollar to invest, re-engaging existing players is the place to spend it.”

Just how hard it is to launch a new hit was shown by the canning in soft launch of Zynga's new mobile 4X Mafia Wars title after only three months.

The other side of the same coin is NaturalMotion's Dawn of Titans, which spent 21 months in soft launch before a muted launch.

The game has not been in the top 50 on the US iPhone top grossing charts since its launch month, December 2016, and as of August 8th 2017 sat at 231st.

Slots success

Of course, Zynga's success elsewhere shows that the performance of this relatively young game is not irredeemable, although the strategy genre is somewhat removed from the company's social casino comfort zone.

Case in point is Wizard of Oz Slots, a social slots title that performed particularly well for Zynga in Q2 FY17. Launched back in 2014, it featured mostly within the top 50 on the US iPhone top grossing charts until late 2016.

It has dropped off slightly in 2017 but remains in a strong top 100 position, sitting at 68th as of August 8th 2017.

Add to this games like Words with Friends, which don't particularly impress on top grossing charts but chip in with advertising revenue, and the formula for Zynga's 'forever franchises' is clear.

Zynga really understands its audience with games like Zynga Poker and Wizard of Oz Slots, as well as how to reignite them with new features.

And while Mafia Wars may not have worked out - its cancellation shows just how astutely patient Zynga has become in the mobile market - Facebook golden-age brands like FarmVille remain important to Zynga too.

FarmVille 2: Country Escape launched in 2014 and still often ranks within the top 200 on the US iPhone grossing charts, while follow-up Tropic Escape has stuck around in the top 150 for more than a year after launch.

The real lesson from Dawn of Titans has been to minimise risk, and Zynga's back catalogue has provided ample potential for renewed investment yielding surprising rewards.

Expect more of that, and fewer marquee launches, as Zynga continues its cautious route to victory.

Features Editor

Matt is really bad at playing games, but hopefully a little better at writing about them. He's Features Editor for PocketGamer.biz, and has also written for lesser publications such as IGN, VICE, and Paste Magazine.

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