Zynga Revamps FarmVille, Words With Friends for Mobile

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Online game maker Zynga (NASDAQ:ZNGA) announced on Monday that it plans to release mobile-only versions of its popular games FarmVille, Zynga Poker, and Words With Friends.

According to Zynga, the new versions of the games will reflect user feedback the company has received. “We listened closely to all of your feedback over the years and leveraged your insights to create new experiences that honor the games you’ve come to love, yet deliver the fresh unique features and gameplay you’ve been asking for,” Zynga chief operating officer Clive Downie said in a letter addressed to the players of Zynga games and posted on the company’s blog.

Zynga first rose to popularity with the popular FarmVille Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) game and underwent an IPO in 2011. Since that time, the company has failed to replicate its original success despite the popularity of FarmVille, Words With Friends, and Poker. Zynga remained wed to Facebook for too long instead of creating stand-alone mobile apps and has faced a difficult gaming landscape.

While many consumers have shifted focus from more expensive traditional games and gaming systems toward free-to-play mobile games, that arena is a difficult one in which to maintain success. People typically play mobile games in small chunks of time, they are reluctant to spend money on the games while also being quickly frustrated with advertising, and they don’t have much loyalty toward one particular developer.

With these mobile apps, Zynga is attempting to appeal to possible users outside the realm of Facebook and make improvements based on user feedback. FarmVille 2: Country Escape will allow users to transfer goods obtained in the game between web and mobile apps, give users more precise control over whether or not they want to socialize within the game or play alone, and has the option for offline play for the first time. The new Zynga Poker will be fine-tuned to learn about a player’s skill level as they play and place them at a poker table specifically matched to their skills and preferences. As for Words With Friends, Zynga granted users’ number one request that a dictionary function be added to the game along with an overhaul of the old interface.

These improvements come in the wake of rival company King Digital Entertainment’s announcement that it is planning to file for a $500 million IPO. King is the maker of the popular Candy Crush Saga, which has essentially usurped FarmVille as the most popular mobile game of the moment. Candy Crush has been highly successful and its popularity has boosted King’s earnings from $28 million in 2012 to $825 million last year. But the big question potential investors are asking is how King plans to sustain its growth in the competitive and quickly changing market. Zynga’s own IPO wasn’t exactly successful and shares are still trading at less than half the company’s IPO price.

Zynga’s new CEO Don Mattrick is attempting to change all that and is in the midst of engineering a complete overhaul of the company. That restructuring appears to be paying off, as Zynga’s fourth-quarter results reported last week showed better-than-expected annual bookings, a smaller annual loss, and a further “cost-reduction plan” that will see the company’s workforce drop by 15 percent, or 314 employees. Zynga also announced the acquisition of NaturalMotion, a rival game developer that has already seen success with some of its titles.

Zynga said the mobile app versions of the three games will be available soon in certain markets and everywhere in the coming months. Facing increased competition from the soon-to-be-public King, Zynga needs the mobile apps to boost consumer interest in its offerings. The company seems confident about those prospects, having issued bullish guidance for 2014, but a revamped mobile app may not be enough to get people interested in FarmVille again.

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