Death to Zynga, Long Live the Browser!
By Jonathan Doyle (Ardua), OnRPG Journalist
It wasn't too long ago that in business casual easy browser games meant Insert Word Here Ville.
It wasn't all that long ago that in the popular consciousness the choices were either cute farming or town making games or "proper" games.
However this is all on a person’s timescale. Two years? That's not all that long. In the wide and varied world of online games, that's an epoch.
Two years has brought us from Flavour of The Month Ville filling our social networks with spam to a company taking a serious tumble.
"Death to Zynga!", people cry. Long live the browser.
Everyone has had that friend. That friend who, despite everything, insisted on playing thelatest offering from whichever "social gaming" company had managed to snag their eye. You know what followed after that. Posts for miscellaneous items. Posts for more energy. Posts because a random animal was found or born or some damned thing. Why? Well the easiest answer is this. Because it was easy. There's a time investment in every game sure but when the game itself was designed to either get you to pay or come back in an hour when you could do more, people could rationalize the time spent. Crafting the ideal farm or 50's monster movie city just didn't demand as much time as getting on a leveling treadmill in an MMO. Little rewards and little goals helped form hooks that would sink into that one friend and keep them playing.
Obviously it was successful if we really all did have that one friend. I know I had several and that was even with blocking every such application as it appeared on my horizon. It was so successful that when Zynga went for an IPO shares were up around $10 each. More recently? $2.29 (source)
It doesn't take a business degree to see that things aren't going the way of the cutesy casual game company. Especially when it seems that they keep losing executives every other week.
Read The Label
Brighter minds than mine with letters after their names will be able to tell you why the original meteoric predictions for both Facebook and Zynga fell short of reality. Very short in some cases.
My personal theory? It wasn't a change in Facebook’s environment that spelled trouble for Zynga. Neither was it a lack of business acumen. They have money and talent. Nor, finally, was it the fact that they were focused on browsers. By all means these things do have a bearing, quite a large bearing sometimes. You can't really claim to be a "social" games company if you aren't working your way onto phone handsets as well as into social networks. Just buying up what is the current darling app doesn't mean success.
My theory is quite simple. The cute games, the little apps, the Ville Ville Villes... they trained their users too well. What was once rationalized as "oh it's just a few minutes here and there" became hours tweaking the perfect farm or city. Once you're already investing the time... why settle for something limited?
Zynga and other companies just like it labeled themselves as social games companies but ...a company still needs to make money. The methods that they used to make that money, getting people to pay so they could play more now, only encouraged people to play more. Now.
After that well... enter a new contender.
In the Browser Corner
I've looked over shoulders to watch people play and even played a browser game or two myself. They were simple little things. That's not a slight against them, it's certainly more game than I can make myself. At the same time, in playing with monsters and mayhem through Facebook, I have seen what browsers nowadays can do. OnRPG has made mention of Project Theralon before. Running through Facebook and on a perfectly regular computer, I watched foes being slain and dragons being called. My eyes have been opened to the possibility.
Of course big browser games are hardly new. If you like sci-fi title, in particular Battlestar Galactica, where do you go to play an online version? You don't like what Star Wars or Star Trek brings to the table with their AAA MMO client and the gigabytes of data that entails? You open a new tab in your browser, find your way to Bigpoint and start frakking up Cylons.
Bigpoint itself is now boasting 300 million registered users. Not exactly small numbers. Other companies are going the browser route and finding receptive audiences not just waiting but clamoring for more. City of Steam seems to have flourished lately and all you need is an internet browser and unity to experience that world.
It's a fact of technology, as we go forward, it improves. Phones can do more today than they could five or ten years ago. Browsers can too.
It's also down to the people. Why would you settle for games that all but punish you for not paying for items just so you can get that crop in for a shiny star? Why settle for games and environments that despite being touted as social... are about as social as a bulletin board. Sure people are using them and sure messages pass back and forth, but they're usually demands and supplies. The technology is here nowfor browser games to not just create MMOs but to have games that on their own merits can stand up alongside their bigger cousins in the AAA scene.
Will they always be on par? Of course not. Technology, as we said, marches ever onwards. I've had to upgrade my computer a few times for newer MMOs as they have come along. Not everyone can afford to, not everyone wants to.
Everyone though has a browser.
That's a hell of a market, and as business has shown, it's nowhere near tapped properly yet.