Zynga: "The game industry is not art, it's a craft"

FarmVille firm argues metrics more important than creativity

Zynga Beijing general manager Andy Tian has claimed that metrics and player research are more important to social games than creative decisions.

Speaking at GDC China over the weekend (as attended by Gamasutra), the head of the FarmVille maker's Chinese headquarters argued that "We are not developing 'cool' features - we know we're developing relevant features. We want to make sure that a lot of people think something is fun, but we also want to achieve commercial success, not something the development team thinks is cool.

"The game industry is not art, it's a craft." He continued, "So we need the user support. We need to know what the users really like and we have to know what is the root cause for declines in performance. A good designer asks metrics good questions."

This had led to Zynga abandoning further plans for boss fights in its Facebook hit Mafia Wars. "We spent a lot of time putting [that] in, including writing stories, writing tests... But it doesn't drive any metrics, and we spent a lot of effort on that.

"We kept it in the game but we can't do much with it. The efforts did not increase our reach, retention, nor revenue. No matter how good we do it, it doesn't help our business."

Because of such discoveries, he felt that "the biggest part of game development is after launch. In May 2009, the features of FarmVille were really elementary, but the total number of features has grown 10 times by today. Every week we will push to update our content."

The resultant growth in users meant that "the team is getting bigger and bigger.. There is no shortcut for this. You need to constantly invest."

Tian also argued that Zynga shouldn't necessarily be perceived as a games company. "Zynga, along with Amazon and Google, we're all web-based companies. We consider ourselves a web-based company."

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Latest comments (24)

James Knight QA Manager/Game Design 11 years ago
Can't see the wood for the trees.
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Stuart Miller Studying Computer Games Technology BSc (Hons), University of Abertay Dundee11 years ago
And yet another industry has had it's soul sucked out. Give Zynga 5 years and they'll invent the automated games assembly line.
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Kingman Cheng Illustrator and Animator 11 years ago
Way to suck the soul out of gaming..
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Show all comments (24)
Christopher McCraken CEO/Production Director, Double Cluepon Software11 years ago
In other news, the company that ported the Tamogatchi to the web, and has never performed any innovation shares an opinion about the game industry.

Harlan Ellison once quipped that, you don't have the right to an opinion, you have the right to an informed opinion. Anything less than that is a fart in a wind tunnel. So, while someone turns on the fan, let me just say that while metrics and analytics are incredibly helpful, and necessary for a game company, they are the core of Zynga's business model which is based on simple carrot/stick type of interactions. Zynga is hardly in a position to speak for what games are, or are not. They have not really created any games. They have ported, they have recycled, and they have re-skinned.

Listening to Zynga pontificate on what games are or are not is like listening to Roger Ebert on the same subject. As neither of them actually create anything in this medium, they really have no basis for an informed opinion on the matter.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Christopher McCraken on 6th December 2010 3:30pm

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Wojciech Mroczek Brand Development Manager, Klabater11 years ago
There's a reason the best craftsmen are being called artists. Not the mediocre ones, of course. Only the very best. And - obviously - not all people working in the games industry can be the best. The best are few in numbers by definition. So - while it's painful to admit - you have to give it o Zynga - there's much truth in their statement.

The industry as a whole does not produce great games. The art of doing that is in hands of the gifted few.

It's quite nice of Zynga in fact to admit that they have no higher aspirations. Bottom feeder's self awareness, I call it.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Wojciech Mroczek on 6th December 2010 3:57pm

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Christopher McCraken CEO/Production Director, Double Cluepon Software11 years ago
Wojciech: you bring up a fair point, to be sure. One I had not really thought of. That said, I would say my gripe with Zynga has more to do with the fact that it seems here they are holding up their metric & marketing business model as somehow relevant to game design. It's not. It's relevant only to making money. They don't design games, they design carrot and stick applications designed to hit the sweet spot of addiction.

As it says, they are not interested in "cool" features. They are interested in maximizing their commercial possibilities. Which is fine and all. But in this case, you're more of a casino operator, and not really a game company. My point is: Anyone who thinks Zynga has a legitimate soapbox on which to state what is and what aint in terms of whether games are art or not...should not allow Zynga to beguile them.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game11 years ago
Not ALL games are art, no one here will argue that Zynga games are art. Not all music or all films, all photos or even all painted pictures are art. Zynga may be a production line souless hit factory, but that doesn't mean Limbo, or portal or heavy rain, or halo arn't made with the same depth of expression as other art forms.
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Will Anderson Editor-in-Chief 11 years ago
Bobby Kotick has an evil twin brother it seems.
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Tons of artistic effort go into making games, along with creativity and passion for the craft. Everyone who devotes their inspired efforts deserves to be recognized as an artist in their field. It's terribly difficult to say whether a game constitutes art itself because games are largely mechanical and procedural. Certainly there are things inside of a game that we can isolate as art, and design itself can be thought of as an artistic form.

Should we elevate games to ritual status? Something akin to forms in martial arts? These things seem to be more "disciplines" than "leisure". This is where i believe the root of the "art in games" argument lies.

Most people insist that their games are fun and enjoyable. With the introduction of "aesthetics" comes a slew of analytical concepts that are considered not fun by people who just want to blow off some steam. Art in games has to be mindful to its audience not lay it on thick since it is so subjective and political.

A game that I would risk calling "artistic" is Deus Ex largely because of what it did to my consciousness. I ended up making choices in it that I didn't expect. The cumulative effect that a game has on a mind, that's truly where art in games lie.
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Christopher Bowen Owner, Gaming Bus 11 years ago
It's important for everyone to remember that Zynga got popular by stealing their competitors games (both Mafia Wars and Farmville are directly copied off of other games) and marketing the shit out of them. Of course there's no art to this! There's no art whatsoever to Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V! But it's making them money because stupid people are falling for it.

That's OK. Once this fad dies down, Zynga will go down with it.
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Bryce Hunter Producer, DHX Media Ltd.11 years ago
Andrew: Agreed.

I think that the biggest issue I take with the article is the fact that he's making a blanket statement. It should read more along the lines of "Zynga's games are not art, they are crafted". Even that is all well and fine but you can't forward the industry with reactionary game design.
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Private Industry 11 years ago
I`m not the least worried when Zynga is talking about art and games, since there is nothing artful in FarmVille or Mafia Wars. If I want to play turn based games there are the artful Civ games on my PC. :)

Sure ThatGameCompany had in mind commercial success when they made Flower and not just wanted to do something without getting any kind of money out of it.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Private on 6th December 2010 7:54pm

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Timothy Webb Technical Designer, Avatar Reality Inc.11 years ago
Everyone who just read that article and hated it, go back and reread it except at the point where he said "The game industry is not art, it's a craft", replace that with "Our games are not are, they are craft." Suddenly the article is completely lucid and I'm sure most of us could then agree with it.
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Michael Hall Studying Computer Games Design (Story Development), University of East London11 years ago
I do agree that metrics and player research should take priority however you should never ignore Art. Dressing up a game is what most AAA games these days do and to great effect. I've been in a shop before now next to a kid that said "Wow, that looks cool, I want it..." HE then convinced his mum to purchase it simple because it looked cool. I'm not saying it's the be all end all but it does play a massive factor in the game as well as extremely organised research.
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Bryan Bennett General Manager, Kabam11 years ago
All successful game companies exist for the purpose of making money. No company has the mission statement to "be cool". That said, spending resources on art and giving players the ability to see, interact with, and unlock cool stuff is something I prioritize very high. Personally, I'm completely fine with green-lighting a feature that adds to the coolness of a game without directly impacting revenue. That said though, I am ultimately graded on how much money my game makes. Game developers, designers, and artists may pretend it's not the case but it all comes down to the almighty dollar.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Bryan Bennett on 6th December 2010 10:30pm

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Jeffrey Kesselman CTO, Nphos11 years ago
Zynga is not a game company. Its a marketing company.
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Jason Chen Localization Manager, Gamania Digital Entertainment11 years ago
yeah I would have to agree ANDY!!
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Stephen Moore Animator, Different Methods11 years ago
Agree with Andrew 100%

When Zynga produce a real game, I will listen to their 2c worth.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany11 years ago
I guess Zinga does not use things like scripts, conept art and sountracks then... do thez even know about other thing that making monez out of facebook.

Sorry, I generally don't say this; but anything that money farming company called Zinga says I automatically catalog it as "doubtful" the least (if not directly a lie).
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Jordan Woodward Level Designer, Rebellion Developments11 years ago
If there was ever a buzzkill in the games industry...

They are a pretty successful company though, can't take that away from them.
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Kevin Cameron Concept Artist/Illustrator 11 years ago
You know, he also said this:

"We want to make sure that a lot of people think something is fun, but we also want to achieve commercial success, not something the development team thinks is cool."

Maybe I'm projecting, but that seems like saying "our first obligation is to the customer and making them happy, not in making something that entertains ourselves and our notion of 'art'." Which I think *is* another kind of art - crafting a game that may not be "fun" or feel artistic to make, but the end product delivers an experience that is memorable and impactful to its audience. An artistic craft. A craft of art.
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David Vink Freelance 11 years ago
What is art?
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Baris Koc Software Engineer 11 years ago
mainstream anything and it is a murder
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Jeffrey Kesselman CTO, Nphos11 years ago

Art is a Window Washer
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