“We don’t need to be first to market.”
That’s what Mark Pincus said in a memo to his employees, which the company gave to VentureBeat.
Pincus is essentially admitting what many in the industry already believed — that Zynga was a heavy proponent of the copycat strategy. If Zynga can’t buy a game company, it will turn around and make a similar game in the same genre and throw its weight behind that game to win.
It’s called a “fast-follow” in the industry, and it’s not unusual for companies to scream bloody murder as soon as they see one:
- We’ve heard from a well-placed source that Playdom engineers cried foul when Zynga released Hidden Chronicles, which they said felt similar to Facebook game-of-the-year Gardens of Time.
- NimbleBit lashed out at Zynga for creating a tower building game in a clever infographic — even though it wasn’t necessarily the first tower-building game out there.
- The creators of Bingo Blitz also shot back at Zynga for its recently-released Zynga Bingo (or Zyngo, if you like) game, which they said looks similar to Bingo Blitz.
Fast-follows are common in the industry, but this could be the first time that Pincus has publicly come out and said it is alright to have that kind of a strategy. In many ways, he’s right — Pincus points out that Google wasn’t the first search engine and Apple didn’t make the first MP3 players, but they did them well.
It seems to be working for Zynga, too — it quickly picked up a first-mover advantage and is the top social game developer on Facebook right now by a significant margin, according to AppData.
Here’s a bit from Pincus in an old SF Weekly story:
“I don’t fucking want innovation,” the ex-employee recalls Pincus saying. “You’re not smarter than your competitor. Just copy what they do and do it until you get their numbers.”
And here’s the full memo below. He’s a bit more elegant in his wording this time around:
CONFIDENTIAL. PLEASE DO NOT FORWARD
There’s press today about one of our mobile games, Dream Heights, that just launched in Canada and worldwide soon. As we become the Zynga of Mobile and more broadly, as Zynga grows by further innovating on best of breed social mechanics, we should expect the industry to sit up and take notice of our growing portfolio.
I’m proud of the mobile team’s hard work and the industry has taken notice.
For the first time, according to App Data, Words with Friends is the #1 game on Facebook. Scramble with Friends, within 2 weeks of launching, has topped the App Store rankings in multiply categories including top free, top paid and top grossing. Last week, Apple recognised the team’s work by featuring Zynga’s games on the front of the App Store.
The mobile team is gearing up to launch more play across more genres and platforms. I want to congratulate them for working hard to bring great experiences to players around the world.
Google didn’t create the first search engine. Apple didn’t create the first mp3 player or tablet. And, Facebook didn’t create the first social network. But these companies have evolved products and categories in revolutionary ways. They are all internet treasures because they all have specific and broad missions to change the world.
We don’t need to be first to market. We need to be the best in market. There are genres that we’re going to enter because we know our players are interested in them and because we want and need to be where players are. We evolve genres by making games free, social, accessible and highest quality.
With regard to Dream Heights and the tower genre, it’s important to note that this category has existed since 1994 with games like Sim Tower and was more recently popularised in China with Tower of Babel in 2009 which achieved 15 million DAUs. On iOS there has been Yoot Tower, Tower Up, Tower Town, Tower Blocks and Tiny Tower. Just as our games, mechanics and social innovations have inspired and accelerated the game industry, its 30 year body of work has inspired us too.
And, this has always been the case for our company and the rest of the industry. Zynga Poker, FarmVille, CityVille and Words with Friends, none of these games were the first to market in their category but we made them the most fun and social, and the most popular. Our teams continue to build and improve these games every week which has been an important part of our success model. We run our games as a live service and we continue to iterate, innovate and improve on them to give our players the best possible experience.
As I’ve said, our strategy since the beginning has been to develop the best game – most fun and most social – for every category of play. We are rarely first since most categories in games go back decades, but we aim to be the best.
A few of you have asked how our approach to genres relates to the situation we faced with Vostu. There are rules of engagement in our industry. Companies have to respect each other’s legal and IP ownership rights in the form of copyrights and trademarks. In the case of Vostu, you can see for yourself that Vostu crossed the line and chose to use our copyrighted IP and artwork. That’s different than competing to build the best product or out-innovate us in the City category.
Play in the form of social and mobile gaming has become a mainstream activity, but it has the potential to be so much more. It can be one of the primary ways we connect with other people. It can surpass TV as the most popular and engaging medium of the 21st century. In order to make this vision real, we need to work as a company and an industry to continue innovating, improving and hopefully revolutionizing every major genre of games for social play. Every successful game from developers big and small has pioneered some important new facet of this experience. We are proud of the mechanics we have pioneered that are now industry standards.
Part of what makes our industry cool and dynamic is the idea that small teams can build successful games. But at Zynga we will continue to innovate and expand our possibility space in order to delight our player base too.
Finally, I want to thank everyone who emailed me on this topic. Part of what makes our company special is the open transparent dialog we can all have, and its your passion that is shaping our future.