CULVER CITY, Calif. — If you can remember going back in time in internet years to 2011, you probably recall all those endless requests on Facebook to help friends build farms and such via the Farmville social game.
The company behind the game, Zynga, got so aggressive in messaging, Facebook changed its algorithm to stop the game spam, and thus, one of the early successes of internet gaming nearly went bust.
Fast forward to 2019, past the massive layoffs and management shuffles, and people continued playing the games. Words with Friends, Farmville, CRS Racing and Zynga Poker kept the company afloat, and now, “the turnaround is complete,” Zynga announced in its recent earnings report.
“We got the company back focused on the franchises,” says Bernard Kim, who is the president of publishing for Zynga, responsible for keeping the games churning. Nowadays, Zynga offers fewer games overall and has reinvested to keep the older titles fresh, It also now has several new games in the wings, including an action game for Snapchat and one based on HBO’s Game of Thrones that’s currently testing in Mexico. The Snap game,Tiny Royale, will be released in May; GOT is expected to launch in June.
Beyond the familiar hits and a less aggressive approach to messaging customers, Zynga also expanded its repertoire by going on a shopping spree. It made nearly $1 billion in acquisitions.
Zynga has two games in the Apple App Store’s top 40, via its acquisition of Gram Games (Merge Dragons!) and Small Giant Games (Empires and Puzzles). Both companies kept their names.
The Snap and GoT games will be released under the Zynga name.
Zynga has a daily active user base of 20 million people, with 100 million visiting monthly. The company makes money from in-app purchases and advertising. Zynga reported revenue of $907 million for 2018, with earnings of $15 million, and predicts it will top $1 billion in 2019. It says it was profitable in 2018.
While Zynga is on the upswing, it hasn’t returned to the glory days of 2011 when the company was valued at $7 billion. Currently it is worth just under $5 billion.
A new edition of Farmville is in the works, says Kim, but he’s mum on details, only to say that it’s being created in Helsinki by a game company Zynga recently acquired.
In an interview, he proudly displays CSR Racing 2, which uses augmented reality, to a reporter, on an iPad Pro. In the game, an animated $5.7 million Bugatti divo car races through the streets, and you can use AR to superimpose an image of the car, for instance, to race through the office. “Now that’s cool, right?” says Kim.
USA TODAY caught up with Kim at the Los Angeles outpost for Zynga, a small, satellite office. As the company was named after founder Mark Pincus’ dog, several dogs, Blue and Miles, run free around the two-story suite in the heart of what’s becoming the new Hollywood.
That would be Culver City, home to Sony Pictures and the locale for the classic MGM movies of the 1930s and 1040s. It is now where Apple and Amazon’s TV streaming operations operate from.
Pincus, the founder, is currently the executive chairman of the board at Zynga, while Frank Gibeau serves as CEO.
Kim, a former longtime Electronic Arts exec who joined Zynga in 2016, says it pays to be a video game fanatic to succeed at the job.
He tells of attending a Rolling Stones concert recently, while looking down at his phone and playing the 1010 game.
“A lot of people made fun of me, including my wife, who posted a photo of me doing it on social media, but that’s me. I like to listen to music and play games. This is how I choose to spend my time. Every minute I get, I try to get into a game experience.”
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