Hours after Zynga paid ~$200 million for social gaming startup OMGPOP, we sat down with CEO Dan Porter to find out more about the decision. He was joined by Zynga’s chief mobile exec David Ko.While Zynga is technically buying OMGPOP, the reality is that it’s buying “Draw Something,” a six-week old game that already has 35 million users, and generates $250,000 in revenue on a daily basis.
That game caught Zynga’s eye, and it won a small bidding war with Electronic Arts and Disney to close the deal, according to a few sources familiar with the deal.
But Zynga has its own publishing platform — one that will let it run games other developers make and generate revenue for Zynga off those games.
Why would it want to purchase OMGPOP?
We asked, and here’s what we found out:
- OMGPOP —now Zynga New York — is entirely focused on mobile. Porter will take over Zynga’s mobile operations in New York. There’s still one more Facebook game coming out, but after that, it’s all mobile.
- Zynga appears to be open to further acquisitions. It has its own publishing platform now that Zynga.com has launched, but Ko didn’t shoot down the idea that Zynga would acquire teams that were a natural fit for Zynga in the future.
- New York was a big factor in Draw Something succeeding. Like Foursquare, there was a bit of a viral element in seeing the game in action on the street that helped it spread. At one point early in its life cycle, it was a trending topic in Brooklyn.
- It’s still not clear if Draw Something will be a franchise. Zynga isn’t changing it to “Draw With Friends,” but it’s pretty clear that it’s a huge success.
- Zynga expects to be hands off when working with its New York office. When your batter is knocking balls out of the park, you don’t mess with his stance, after all.
Here’s a full transcript of the interview:BUSINESS INSIDER: So OMGPOP will be the mobile front for Zynga in New York. Are you guys still going to make Facebook games?
DAN PORTER: Our focus is going to be mobile. We’re working on one Facebook game which will come out soon, but we’re going to stay focused on mobile.
BI: What was it like when the talks started?
PORTER: This social kind of game space is not so giant, so almost everybody in the space knows each other. My whole inbox is filled with congratulations. Everybody knows everybody else.
All the companies talk to each other all the time to figure stuff out. As I talked to David Ko, Mark Pincus and others, it became clear that these guys actually played the game and totally got the game. They got that it was about making an amazing product, rather than a business. For us, we really wanted an opportunity to do things that were creative and we became convinced that partnering with Zynga was a good opportunity.
DAVID KO: We won’t go into how it all came together. But this is a team that’s really proven themselves. We played the game, it was super fun, super social, and you could express yourself in many ways. It just fit with our mission of connecting the world through games.
BI: When did the talks start ramping up?
KO: One thing we found was we were playing this game early, and we were really drawn to it. Our employees were drawn to it too. We’ve been watching them for a while. They’re a really talented group, not only from an engineering perspective but from the creative side. The popularity of Draw Something is obviously something that’s special, but also if you look at just the team Dan has created around himself, that’s really special.
BI: Were you guys originally looking for just a partnership? Or were the talks always about an acquisition?
KO: I wouldn’t look at it like a partnership. We just had a tremendous amount of respect for these guys.
BI: How hands-on are you guys going to be with Zynga Mobile in New York?
KO: They built this incredible game that’s captivated and captured millions. We’re in a place where we want to support that. He’s got a really robust lineup of features they want to do and we want to figure out how to best support them. For us, it’s how we continue to support this incredibly talented team.
BI: Do you guys think of Draw Something as a franchise-level game? Could it be more than one game?
PORTER: I think the honest answer is there’s so much left to do on this game. I think about that question every day but I don’t know what the answer is. We haven’t fully built the game to do everything we want. Each time we add stuff to the game, like when we add chat, it gives us a real sense of what people are digging and what people are not digging in the game. For example, people really want a gallery and want to see other people’s drawings and want to favourite them, and it sounds really cool but we have to build it and people have to understand how to use it.
BI: Zynga just announced the Zynga platform. Does this mean OMGPOP is the last acquisition, or are you guys still open to acquiring other companies and teams?
KO: What you’re seeing is, we want to build the best social and fun games out there on the marketplace. For mobile in particular, we’ve launched 15 of our own games that are super social and super fun across different platforms. We want to continue that.
BI: How much room is there to grow in the New York office? Are you guys hiring additional staff now?
PORTER: The honest answer is the game has grown so fast that we’re trying to do everything possible to support the game. Ask me in like two months.
In all honesty, the game is like a train and we’re behind it and sprinting as it grows, but I do think it would be awesome to make New York a much bigger part of the game community. The other Zynga suitors in New York are all the best other game communities.
There was a point about five or 10 years ago that there was a community out here, but it hasn’t had as much mobile and social. Yet it’s the city where everyone is walking around and you see peoples’ phones all the time. On the creative side, it’s off the charts as a place to get new folks. No matter what we do with the other Zynga folks, we can create a lot of excitement.
BI: Is this a watershed moment for NY gaming companies and startups?
PORTER: The game is, for sure. On a game basis us and maybe two other games were a big deal. On a company basis, I think it’s important too. I think it would be arrogant to say it was a watershed, but I think it’s important. I mean, look at Brad (Hargreaves, co-founder of General Assembly) — he runs the New York Gaming Meetup. But it’s all dudes. It’s like, one dude who said, “I made a card game.” Or one dude who said, “I made whatever.” But there are no companies. It’s hard for one dude to get one scale. Dudes don’t scale.
The way the company started off, we always thought we were an internet company as opposed to a games company. It’s not just about games, games are just a means to an end. It’s just another form of connecting people and communicating — you can communicate in text, email, in Words With Friends. It’s the same with our games. What you’re seeing is a bigger picture of what games could be as opposed to a bunch of hardcore dudes building games about killing orcs and stuff.
BI: How did it feel to finally get your Angry Birds-level hit?
PORTER: It felt awesome. It felt drawsome. When you wake up in the morning and you open your phone and your game is number one paid, free and top-grossing and everyone who works for you said “they were playing it in the restaurant, my yoga teacher was playing it,” that’s amazing.
That’s what I was saying about New York. You see people using your product all the time, that’s the Foursquare effect. You have this huge density of people. You also see a huge number of different types of people playing it. I live in Brooklyn, for example, and I see all different types of people — every age, every race, every ethnicity, playing this game. To me, it felt like it was super massive. It was pretty boss.
BI: Was the launch in New York a big factor in its success?
PORTER: There were a bunch of places, but at one point when we were just getting some traction on Twitter, we were a trending topic in Brooklyn. So it must have been me, my wife and my kids playing, but I live in Brooklyn and was like, “what’s up.” Put on some B.I.G. and let it grow.
BI: Does Zynga feel pretty comfortable about its cash position, in terms of acquisitions after this?
KO: We’re in a quiet period, so we can’t comment on that.
BI: All right, then, what happens next?
PORTER: Tomorrow morning I wake up, we have floor planning, talk about the features going in the game and everyone shares their ideas and we start working on the game.
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