It appears something of a bust-up is brewing between Facebook and Zynga; one which could see the company leave Facebook for good.
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The story, as first reported by TechCrunch, goes that Zynga is gearing up to move all its games away from Facebook to a service called Zynga Live. The reason? An attempt to end Zynga’s reliance on Facebook. Zynga is currently vulnerable to any changes Facebook chooses to make to its platform, a fact which makes the company’s astronomical valuations ($5 billion, anyone?) shaky.
Zynga’s need to escape the clutches of Facebook is made all the more urgent by Facebook forcing its own ‘Facebook Credits’ virtual currency on companies like Zynga, and taking a 30% cut of transactions in the process. Additionally, TechCrunch claims that relations between the two companies are getting strained:
“Facebook is trying to get Zynga to agree to a long term deal where Zynga remains primarily on the Facebook platform. During negotiations Facebook has taken some steps to punish Zynga, such as shutting off notifications for Farmville and other games, and Facebook has threatened, say multiple sources, to simply shut some of Zynga’s games down permanently.”
It’s a delicate situation for sure, but will we really see Farmville leave Facebook? That’s down to a balance between two factors; what Zynga needs from a business point of view, and just how much change its users will tolerate.
On one hand, Zynga needs to prove that it’s not beholden to Facebook. It also needs to shake off the 30% cut Facebook is taking from transactions on the platform. In short, it needs to prove it can be a success on its own terms. Therefore, a departure from Facebook is a no brainer for Zynga.
The big question is Will Zynga’s users follow it away from Facebook? This is the gamble for Zynga. Games like Farmville are currently part of the “Facebook experience” for millions of people. In December last year we reported that the game had an astounding 69 million users on Facebook. While the game is addictive enough that some users would follow it wherever goes, is a Farmville away from Facebook really as compelling as one that takes place with within it?
I’d argue that many users enjoy Farmville so much because they can play it inside Facebook, with an IM bar to chat to their friends at the bottom of the screen and easy access to their social news feed and the rest of the bells and whistles that make Facebook such a well-rounded social destination. Farmville is just a fun part of the mix.
It’s a subtle distinction, but I’d argue that many Farmville players are happy to be seen as a “Facebook user with a farm” but wouldn’t want to be a “Facebook user who is also a gamer at Zynga Live”. While Zynga could use the Open Graph protocol to integrate some of the Facebook experience into Zynga Live (as it does already if you play the game at Farmville.com), it’s a still a huge gamble to assume that users will want to make that jump away from Facebook to keep playing.
The pure business case for Zynga to leave Facebook seems huge but when it comes to its users, it really could be “Betting the farm”.