Interview

Zynga in the time of Covid-19

Zynga in the time of Covid-19

Given its mission statement is "Connecting the world through games", global self-isolation has provided Zynga with many opportunities to focus on its core message.

"We've leaned into the mission, for sure," says COO Matt Bromberg.

"One of the unique things about us as an industry is how meaningful the connections people make while playing games are. It’s been nice to have a positive impact."

In this context, Zynga was the prime mover in the #PlayApartTogether public health campaign, which has seen dozens of game companies promoting public health messages from the World Health Organization inside their games.

Bigger, better

More generally, Zynga's titles have seen a rise in activity; both in terms of new players, existing players playing for longer, and the re-engagement of churned players.

"The long term impacts are unclear, but we've seen people coming back to titles they love, reconnecting with the communities within those games, and big franchises have increased disproportionately," Bromberg explains.

In particular, Words With Friends has seen a strong uplift in engagement in North America since March. Zynga is doubling down on this during the remainder of 2020, announcing a tie-up with US singer (and Words With Friends fan) Garth Brooks and Amazon Prime.

Empires & Puzzles, which Zynga acquired buying Finnish developer Small Giant Games in late 2018, also continues to power ahead.

Indeed, such as been the global success of the game in the past year, Zynga posted an unexpectedly large Q1 2020 loss of $104 million, which was $78 million more than it predicted.

The main reason was the additional earnout paid to Small Giant's founders, staff and investors, who received $122 million, and still have two payments to come.

"We thought our acquisition of Small Giant would go well, but it's gone much better than we expected," Bromberg says.

"We're thrilled about the performance."

What’s next?

Yet aside from the impact of the current pandemic, and the outworking of recent M&A activity, the most significant operational decisions Zynga will have to make in 2020 will be how it handles the three games it has in soft launch testing.

Combat Puzzles is a military reskinning of Empires & Puzzles, while Harry Potter: Puzzles & Spells is a polished match-3 game set in the popular wizarding world.

The most interesting, though, is Farmville 3: Animals, which sees Zynga's classic social farming game reimagined through the lens of modern F2P game design.

It's being developed by Zynga Helsinki, which was set up in 2016 by veterans who'd previously worked on EA's SimCity BuildIt.

"All three games are doing well," Bromberg states, explaining Zynga doesn't expect to delay or speed up its release schedule in reaction to conditions arising from Covid-19.

"We're expecting worldwide launches in the second half of 2020," he adds.

"But we're methodical about it, and wait until a game is ready. Certainly we avoid trying to accelerate a game's release."

Conversely, Bromberg says there's not been any significant disruption to development arising from Zynga transitioning its staff to working from home.

"We kind of rolled into it. It was pretty inspiring and I'm really proud of our workflow," he enthuses.

"Now we’re thinking about the optimal mix of home and office for the workplace of the future."


Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at PG.biz which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.

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