I have worked for Zynga for 4 years now and I want to share some of the components that make Zynga Games so successful. I know what you may be thinking… there must be some crazy backend deal to get traffic, right? Well – not exactly. Zynga Games are so successful because of 3 core component. They are metric driven, they take in user opinions and they make hard choices.
Let’s look at these and see why these 3 reasons make Zynga Games so successful.
Why are Zynga Games successful – They are Metric Driven
The first and most prominent reason why Zynga Games are so successful has to do with the metrics that are at a games core. There are so many challenges to running a live game on Facebook, or Zynga.com, but one of the primary benefits is near instant feedback. Every action that a user takes can be tracked to understand how the game is performing. This is much more then simply tracking purchases and logins.
Look at a game, every button, every clickable area is in some ways tracked so that analysts can understand how the games are performing. Maybe a button is too small and players are not noticing it. Maybe it is positioned in the wrong spot and thus players don’t think to click on it.
Why are Zynga Games successful – They take in user opinions
One of my favorite activities to do as an Engineer at Zynga is take part in their Voice of the Player events. These are events where anyone in the company can sit in the chair of a Customer Service rep and talk directly to the users. This is especially fruitful to do this with a product that you are in charge of or are working on.
You see things differently when you view then through the users eyes. When you hear of the frustrations they experience you realize where your game or tech has reached various limits and edge cases. Maybe you build solutions around those edge cases or maybe it enables you to approach problems differently.
Why are Zynga Games successful – They make hard choices.
This grand attention to detail mentioned above enables game makes to better understand their own games and their players. Where most game makes fall short however is that they do not make the hard decisions that need to be made. Maybe they feel passionate about how a game mechanic should be setup or they feel like they can’t justify the cost to redo an aspect of a game.
Releasing a game is extremely difficult. It takes only a very short while to get your initial prototype up and running. Heck I have been on teams where the initial game prototype was up and running in a production environment in a week. However the next several months are spent on a grueling testing and refinement process. This often strikes engineers as insulting. They built something and they want to see it released. However if you trust in the opinions of the user data collected and the stats analysis from the play sessions you will start to see your game take a new shape.
Refining a game over and over is a grueling task. Doing so however gives your game the opportunity to scale as you could never have imagined. Changing a core mechanic after release is extremely difficult. Rebalancing a destroyed game economy is not a pleasant experience. It is much more enjoyable to tweak while it is internal and enjoy the good reviews post launch.
I still have a very vivid memory of spending nearly two weeks on a critical feature for one of Zynga’s early games. I was thrilled when it passed QA and watched excitedly as it was released out into the wild. However we very quickly saw through the statistics that the engagement with the feature was not what we wanted. We inquired to our user base for feedback and got interesting perspectives as to why the feature did not blend with the rest of the game. It was an aspect that we did not foresee. What then do we do? Do we revise the feature? Do we kill the feature? Do we ignore our users?
We decided to make the hard decision and yanked the feature entirely from the game. It was there for just about 24 hours before being yanked. At first I was offended and really upset. Later however I saw that this was in fact the right choice. Our users were appreciative of us listening to their feedback and taking the feature out. We had solid data to back up the opinions we gathered. In the end it ended up wasting several weeks of time and was a difficult decision to make. In the long run however it was the right choice and I am glad we did.