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Zynga's Rob Dyer: 1 billion Zynga players is "not pie in the sky"

Zynga adds Konami, Playdemic and Rebellion to its platform and discusses how it's not "undermining" Facebook

Zynga's growth continues at a rapid clip. The social giant announced this week that it's just purchased its new headquarters for $228 million and the company also kicked off its live beta for the new Zynga Platform.

After announcing third-party partners like Mob Science, Row Sham Bow and Sava Transmedia, Zynga today introduced another three partners: Konami Digital Entertainment, Playdemic and Rebellion.

"We're very excited to be working with a company of Zynga's caliber," said Jason Kingsley, CEO and creative director of Rebellion. "Our goal is to bring Rebellion games to a broader audience while learning from Zynga's mastery of the social gaming space. Through the Zynga Platform, we'll release our first-ever social game. We can't wait to show players what we've been working on."

Rob Dyer, head of platform partners at Zynga and former senior vice president of Publisher Relations at Sony Computer Entertainment commented, "From Konami, one of the most esteemed game creators of our time, to the talented teams at Playdemic and Rebellion - we're honored to welcome these new Zynga Platform partners. All three represent some of the best game development talent in the industry. Zynga Platform is about bringing great games to a captive audience that loves to play, and we're dedicated to creating the best destination for social games for players and developers alike."

GamesIndustry International caught up with Dyer earlier this week to get a better understanding of Zynga's new platform, how the company intends to grow the business, and what exactly this means for Zynga's relationship with Facebook.

Gamesindustry.biz Let's start by talking about your leaving Sony for Zynga, getting away from consoles. You're essentially in the same role at Zynga that you were at Sony, dealing with publisher/developer relations?
Rob Dyer

Absolutely. And I think the thing that really intrigued me and got my blood excited and rushing was the opportunity to start a platform, to be there on the ground floor, and put the time into making something really become a reality. That's what excited me.

Gamesindustry.biz Regarding the new Zynga Platform, there are a lot of unanswered questions. The big challenge is getting people on the platform and getting developers on the platform. Most players and most companies would appear to be comfortable with Facebook, and Zynga itself has had a very lucrative relationship with Facebook. Maybe you can explain to me the reasoning behind all of this?
Rob Dyer

Sure. So why would consumers come there? I think the big reason that consumers are going to come there is that they are going to find like-minded folks that are wanting to play games in one location. And there's ease of use; you're still going to be accessing Facebook, you're still going to be able to be social, but what we're providing with Zynga.com is a forum for players to be there in one place and you're not going to have to spam all of your friends in case you want to find somebody who's going to help you on your quest in CastleVille. You're going to actually be there to find people that need help and you're going to join them in that. That's a big deal.

"We poo-poo the idea that Mark Pincus is talking about a billion people playing and being engaged in games. And the fact of the matter is it's a very strong reality."

Rob Dyer

And following off of that, developers see that. They see that opportunity. They are already suffering from the problems of user acquisition that exist on Facebook. It's not an easy problem to surmount and by providing this platform, we are giving people that opportunity to let their games speak above the noise. You're going to be there with a lot of gamers and you're going to be able to get to them very quickly.

Gamesindustry.biz So when you're talking to developers and publishers what is your primary pitch? How do you entice them to sign on from Zynga.com?
Rob Dyer

You mean if my charming personality and strong voice doesn't get that done right away? I'm joking. Listen, the reality is that when you look at Zynga and what they bring with their audience, that opens the door for you right there. You have 240 million people playing their games. That's opportunity. Right there you have the old line, "you had me at hello."

Then you walk into the opportunity to have some access to our analytics. What this company can offer on the analytics side is unparalleled. Then you go down the thing on the whole social network, what we can provide there with people being able to be involved in that network, what we bring to that.

And then finally, on the tech side, it is really difficult to make games on any platform. I can speak lovingly and longingly about how hard it is to make games on PS3 having been there, done that, on both sides of the table. It's not much easier being on the social side, if not even more difficult. And any help people can get so that all they have to focus on is that user experience, they're going to embrace that. So amongst those four messages, if I can't close a deal, then I've got a big problem.

Gamesindustry.biz On the 240 million players point, isn't that largely because of Facebook though? When a developer puts a game on this new Zynga platform what guarantees do they have?
Rob Dyer

Well, right now they don't have any, and we're not just publishing on the Zynga platform, we're publishing on Facebook as well, so I don't want you to get the impression that this is all about Zynga.com; we're going to help people publish on Zynga.com as well as on Facebook. We're an equal opportunity player here on both sides of this. So what promises do I give? I promise that we're going to offer a consistent playing field and give people an opportunity to succeed on their own merits.

Gamesindustry.biz The speculation leading up to the launch of this platform was that this was Zynga's first step away from Facebook, to get away from that heavy reliance on Facebook. There was some thinking that maybe Zynga would look to focus on its own platform. Is that all unfounded speculation then? Or is there some truth that Zynga might want to move away from Facebook one day?
Rob Dyer

No, listen, we have nothing but love and admiration for what Facebook has created. We are a master proponent and I will refer to my good friend Sean Ryan's quote from Facebook about how we view this as growing the gamers on Facebook. This is not something where we're looking at undermining what Facebook's done there. This is a partnership and we're going to continue that partnership.

Gamesindustry.biz Zynga has talked about growing its mobile business, and it would seem like a good move to bring the Zynga Platform to smartphones and tablets. Is that happening?
Rob Dyer

Great question, but honestly not my purview at this point. I don't have anything I could really talk to you about on the mobile side.

Gamesindustry.biz Regarding the economics on the Zynga Platform, Facebook takes a 30% cut, and I'm wondering if Zynga might be taking a smaller cut to get developers on board, similar to how Google+ only took a 5% cut starting out?
Rob Dyer

I appreciate your curiosity, James, but that's just not something that I'm willing to go into. It's between us and the developers on that side and it's... I'm bound by our deals and what we're doing to keep that confidential.

Gamesindustry.biz Ok and is Zynga looking to market its platform with the mainstream? How is word getting out? Would you consider TV advertising or is it just through word of mouth?
Rob Dyer

I don't think you're going to need to do a lot of mainstream media. Look at where we've grown and it's not been there. It's been on social media. It's been on Twitter. It's been on things that we grew our own on and I see that as being exactly the core audience, the core demographic we want to continue to go after. We advertise in force on Facebook and we will continue to do that in order to make sure that we're promoting our network and our platform.

Gamesindustry.biz Are you using GDC this week as a venue to spread the word and have discussions with developers who may join the platform?
Rob Dyer

Absolutely. James, I started out this morning at 11. I'm sitting here arm wrestling with [public relations] about sitting here trying to carve 30 minutes out just to do some prep for a speech later on this week. I can't even find that. I am [filling my schedule] with developers... my email and Linkedin accounts blew up when we made the announcement last week and we already had plenty of stuff lined up. We are not resting this week. It is going to be one after another with people who are showing interest in what we are doing right now, so the long answer to your short question, yeah, we're pretty busy.

Gamesindustry.biz So you're saying that all these developers are excited. What are the most common things you're hearing from them? What's the feedback? What do they want to see from Zynga that they can't get on Facebook?
Rob Dyer

Well, it just goes back to the things I was talking about before. I hate to be repetitive, but there is a very consistent message from the development community - how do I get more user acquisition? Look, Zynga, you guys have all these people playing - how can I tap into that? Help me with my analytics. Most of these developers are small guys and analytics is not their strong suit or something they're going to put a lot of time behind. They're going to get an off the shelf analytics package. They might hire somebody with a bit of experience in using it or they're going to learn it on the trot and it's not going to be very helpful.

"I think you're going to see us participating ad nauseum in making sure that games look great. The players are telling us that. Nobody wants these stick figures."

Rob Dyer

So, [you hear things like] Zynga, how are you going to help me there? How are you going to be able to tap me into your social networks? How are you going to be able to give me the ability to converse with players? And then, finally, what can you do on the tech side? You're going to be able to connect me with these users. The problem is, will my tech handle it all? Am I going to tip over? Am I going to be out of business as I field all this?

So, honestly, James, it really is dependent upon where any one of these developers exists and what they're looking for. And it's not by accident that that's what Mark [Pincus] discussed in his blog post and in his discussions with the media. This is stuff that we've gone back to him with and said, "This is stuff that we need to be able to provide in order to be successful as a platform. If we do this, then we've got something that's going to resonate with developers, which will then resonate with consumers."

Gamesindustry.biz So coming from the traditional games industry where you worked many years...
Rob Dyer

Too many!

Gamesindustry.biz ...you're now knee-deep in the number one social company. What's the experience been like? What did you learn in making the switch? What should we know about?
Rob Dyer

A couple things - one is this industry moves incredibly fast. We joke about Zynga speed internally, but it's not just us. It's across the board with a lot of other companies in the social space. The social space moves so fast compared to the traditional console gaming business. You just don't believe - I can't even begin to give you comparisons to what it's like. I've been here four months now and there are just not enough hours in the day to learn what I've learned in those last four months and at the speed that I've had to learn it. It's been ridiculous. So that's a big one.

And the other thing that I also say is it's really interesting to see what's old is new again. When I came to a company like Zynga or the companies I talk to... the number of people that were previously in console gaming that are now hot commodities or top of the field because they understand what it's like. You've got 10 seconds or 30 seconds to grab somebody's attention and keep them. Well, these are the same guys that did arcade early on, on the quarter drop, so they get this and they understand what it's like. So you've got a Brian Reynolds or a Mark Skaggs - it is freaking unbelievable that what's happened now, that they were the hot property 10 years ago, 15 years ago, and it's all brand new again. And that's exactly what's happened in the space.

Gamesindustry.biz Right, more and more of the console talent is coming over and overall the social games are getting more sophisticated and might look like console games in the future. What are Zynga's feelings on that direction?
Rob Dyer

Bring it on. I think you're going to see us participating ad nauseum in making sure that games look great. I mean, that's what we want. The players are telling us that. Nobody wants these stick figures... They want to see things that excite and delight and those are the types of games we're going to continue to produce. And, look, the reason I'm here, it's not just Zynga doing this. A lot of other companies are doing some really great, cool things and we want to make sure we take advantage of that and get them on our platform.

Gamesindustry.biz Anything to add before we wrap?
Rob Dyer

I just want to reiterate one last thing, James. We poo poo the idea that Mark Pincus is talking about a billion people playing and being engaged in games. And the fact of the matter is it's a very strong reality. He's not out there talking pie in the sky. This can happen. We expect it to happen. I don't think anyone would've expected 240 million people playing Zynga games. Well, we look at a billion as a very doable number when it comes to what we want to do in the social games space and on the Zynga platform.

Gamesindustry.biz That would be impressive. Good luck.
James Brightman avatar

James Brightman


James Brightman has been covering the games industry since 2003 and has been an avid gamer since the days of Atari and Intellivision. He was previously EIC and co-founder of IndustryGamers and spent several years leading GameDaily Biz at AOL prior to that.