How Google’s Investment In Zynga Helps

This post is written by Guest Author Byrne Hobart, a marketing consultant at NYC-based Blue Fountain Media. Blue Fountain Media helps clients with website design & development, online marketing, graphic & logo design and more.

A few months ago, it would have been fair to treat Zynga as a partially-owned subsidiary of Facebook. The big question for investors was how much Facebook ‘owned’. Since Facebook was Zynga’s platform—their sole source for new customers, and the only way existing customers worked with them—Facebook could theoretical “tax” Zynga, demand a change in strategy, or even shut it down. Owning shares of Zynga was a bet that Facebook would ignore them, lose to them, or buy them out (a situation analogous to Paypal before its eBay acquisition).

But in the last few months, that situation has changed completely.

It started in May: Zynga had an all-hands meeting in which they prepared to leave Facebook entirely.

Days later, they announced a settlement: Zynga will use Facebook credits, and Facebook will give them free advertising. This may have been one of the best pieces of corporate Jiu Jitsu in history: in a single deal, Zynga turned Facebook from a company that basically owned them into the company that gave them a torrent of cheap new users. That was the prior status quo.

But at the same time, Zynga was pushing those new users into interactions outside of the site:

  • FarmVille is one of the top 20 game Apps in the iTunes store.
  • Zynga’s poker app remains popular.
  • Zynga.com is the most popular game site on the Internet. According to Compete.com, it gets more traffic than gaming stalwarts like AddictingGames.com, Newgrounds.com, Miniclip.com, Pogo.com, and even games.yahoo.com (based on Alexa’s estimate of Yahoo’s subdomain traffic, and Compete’s estimate of Yahoo’s total traffic). It’s also an engaging site, with a high ratio of visits to unique visitors compared to other gaming sites (only Pogo is higher, and by a small margin).
  • Pogo.com is the second most popular game site; Farmville.com is third.
  • Farmville is marketing itself through 7-11.

And now, Google has invested at least $100mm in Zynga, and is preparing to launch “Google Games”. If there’s one company that can bring in more attention than Facebook, it’s Google (for the moment). As TechCrunch points out, that’s not the only benefit: Zynga will also have an opportunity to use Google Checkout instead of Facebook credits. Suddenly, their ultimatum from May got a lot more effective: it’s not a choice between Facebook and nothing, but a choice between two companies that can provide an almost equal amount of traffic.

The likely outcome: Zynga is too valuable a prize for either of them to risk. Zynga will be able to keep negotiating to keep an aggressive cut of the revenue their games generate, and they will be able to keep adding new online and offline partners. And of course, Zynga continues to learn more about user behavior, more quickly than their competitors.

Zynga’s competitive position has completely changed. For potential partners, they are a way to turn a large number of pageviews into 1) revenue, and 2) more pageviews. This makes them part of a tiny minority of web services that can be plugged into a wide variety of sites in order to make them more profitable. And if the other services—Amazon Associates, Google Adsense, and Paypal—are any indication, the result could be extremely profitable for Zynga.

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