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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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Alec Meer: A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.
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