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    Just in case you haven't stumbled across this yet . . .



More Than Games, a Net to Snare Social Networkers

By BRAD STONE
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/15/technology/15facebook.html...
Published: January 15, 2008

FRIENDSHIP means being able to sink each other’s battleships.

That is the thinking of Mark Pincus, a well-known Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has built several Internet start-ups, including Support.com and the early social network Tribe.net. On Tuesday, Mr. Pincus is pulling the wraps off the Zynga Game Network, a company devoted to developing online games that work on the pages of popular sites like Facebook and MySpace.

Zynga, which has 27 employees, has spent the last few months quietly reinventing card games like poker and blackjack and classic games like Risk, Boggle and Battleship. Users of social networks can add the games to their profile pages and play with their friends online.

The games, particularly Zynga’s version of Texas hold ’em poker, have already amassed hundreds of thousands of regular users. The company and others like it share a belief that Internet ventures can be created on the backs of the rapidly growing social networks. Last year, these networks invited entrepreneurs to take advantage of their big crowds of users and to keep the revenue they generate from advertising.

Whether this approach can generate big profits over the long term is not clear, but plenty of people are giving it a try. More than 7,000 applications have been introduced on Facebook since the company opened to outside programmers in May, and more than 80 percent of its users have added at least one application. Seasoned companies and small start-ups alike are rapidly developing add-ons for Facebook and other sites, including MySpace, which has promised to open its service to developers early this year.



Zynga is also tapping into the current enthusiasm for so-called casual games, which have a short learning curve and generally appeal to people who have never heard of games like Halo and spend limited amounts of time playing games.

“People already love to play casual games,” said Fred Wilson, a partner at the venture capital firm Union Square Ventures, which led a $10 million round of financing in Zynga. “But when you take a casual game and stick it inside a social network, it becomes way more exciting. This is like pouring gasoline on fire.”

Mr. Pincus is yet another seasoned entrepreneur who is putting great stock in Mark Zuckerberg, the 23-year-old founder of Facebook, and his conception of the “social graph.” The idea is that applications like games are even more appealing, and spread more quickly through networks, if friends, family and colleagues can share the experiences.

“I’m not a game fanatic,” said Mr. Pincus, 41. “But I represent the market I want to go after. I generally don’t have time for games, but it could be a really nice way to connect, for example, with my niece.”

The company is based in a former potato chip factory in the Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. Mr. Pincus — who founded Support.com, which went public in 2000 and is now called SupportSoft, and who sold some of Tribe.net’s assets to Cisco Systems last year — bought the building to house his new venture. He is also an early investor in Facebook.

Other investors in Zynga include high-profile Silicon Valley figures like Peter Thiel, a Facebook investor and board member; Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn; and Robert W. Pittman, the former chief operating officer of America Online.

None of Zynga’s games are particularly rare. For example, there are scores of versions of Texas hold ’em on the Internet, and when Zynga introduced its version in July there were already several others on Facebook. But the company develops its games with the interactive features of Facebook in mind. For example, users can invite their friends to play, or see who is already playing and join them in the middle of the game.

Zynga has some aggressive plans to stitch together its various properties. Beginning this week, when users join one of its games, they will have access to a universal lobby where they can chat and interact with other users who are playing other Zynga games on other social networks.

The company hopes to one day solicit traditional advertisers, but for now it makes money by selling ads to the creators of other applications who want to pull in more users. Zynga charges an advertiser 50 cents every time one a Zynga player installs the advertiser’s application. It offers players incentives to do so; for example, blackjack players can get extra chips by clicking on a link.

Mr. Pincus says that players click on 50,000 such links each day, although many lead to other Zynga games. He says the company is already breaking even and has not yet tapped its venture capital.



Zynga now has a dozen games and is rolling out four to eight new ones a month. All of them trail behind the popularity of Scrabulous, a Scrabble clone that is one of the most popular games on Facebook, with nearly half a million active users.

But in at least one respect, Zynga does not want to copy Scrabulous. Last week, the Web site of Fortune magazine reported that the two brothers in India who created the game had received a legal notice from Hasbro, the toy company that owns the Scrabble brand. Hasbro did not return a request for comment, and Rajat Agarwalla, one of the brothers who created Scrabulous, said his lawyer had advised him not to comment on the matter.

Mr. Pincus said he has been careful to avoid trademark problems. Zynga dubs its version of Risk “Attack,” and its version of Boggle is called “Scramble.” Mr. Pincus said the company would be interested in licensing game trademarks or working with traditional game makers.

Evan Wilson, a senior research analyst at Pacific Crest Securities, said the online game industry was rife with copycats, which does not generally pose a legal problem if the knockoffs have different names and altered mechanics.

Mr. Wilson thinks that if companies like Zynga prove successful, game giants like Electronic Arts, which owns the digital license for Hasbro games, will move quickly to enter the arena.

Mr. Pincus is counting on that. He believes his company’s valuable real estate, at the top of the lists of “most popular applications” on sites like Facebook, could become an essential asset.

Other game makers “will be faced with an opportunity to launch a game in the directory next to 1,300 other games and hope it gets found, or to launch a game with us,” he said.
 
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Liz Rizzo
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It's not a bad concept for that segment of gaming. I feel like the look of the site is kinda cheapy. And "Zynga" suffers from the Dr. Seuss naming jumble discussed in this NYT column:
http://www.nytimes.com/indexes/2007/12/06/technology/circuit...

Am I the only one with social networking fatigue? I honestly haven't joined Facebook simply because the thought of one more online profile just drags me down. Let's see... I belong to Friendster, MySpace, Ravely, BGG, BlogHer - So apparently I've hit the wall at 5.

Is anyone interested in Zynga? For me, the only truly interesting game there is poker - and what's poker without $$$?

UPDATE: Oh, and LinkedIn. And Flickr. And YouTube. Although at that point we're moving away from full-on social networking. But still! Too many online profiles!
 
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$10 million in funding...

trumped by http://www.metaplace.com/
 
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lizriz wrote:

Am I the only one with social networking fatigue?


That was my initial reaction. I'm so sick of "Social Networking". 99% of it is worthless noise.
 
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Jay Adan
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Doesn't this place qualify as a social networking site?
 
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Well I been watchin' while you been coughin, I've been drinking life while you've been nauseous, and so I drink to health while you kill yourself and I got just one thing that I can offer... Go on and save yourself and take it out on me
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Sure, this place is a social networking site. But I think this place is really more of an over-glorified message board than anything else. If this is a social networking site, than any site on which you have a profile could be considered as much. You definately have to agree that BGG is very very very different from Facebook and MySpace. And thank God for that.
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Jay Adan
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stormseeker75 wrote:
Sure, this place is a social networking site. But I think this place is really more of an over-glorified message board than anything else. If this is a social networking site, than any site on which you have a profile could be considered as much. You definately have to agree that BGG is very very very different from Facebook and MySpace. And thank God for that.


Yeah, it's more like Flickr. That is, a site focused on a particular interest where people come to share that interest and discuss it.
 
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Liz Rizzo
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JayAdan wrote:
stormseeker75 wrote:
Sure, this place is a social networking site. But I think this place is really more of an over-glorified message board than anything else. If this is a social networking site, than any site on which you have a profile could be considered as much. You definately have to agree that BGG is very very very different from Facebook and MySpace. And thank God for that.


Yeah, it's more like Flickr. That is, a site focused on a particular interest where people come to share that interest and discuss it.


I see the point here, but I believe that overall social networking is transforming into social networking + tools. MySpace has the bands thing, and I've heard Facebook has various online tools. BGG and Ravelry (I know, I keep bringing up a site that's not open to see, it annoys me, too.) are social networking sites, built around a hobby, incorporating powerful online tools into the social aspects.

Flickr and YouTube, on the other hand, are more tool, less social.

But it is social networking.

Zynga (hate that name the more I say it) seems like Friendster plus "casual" games. I suspect (and it would seem proven by the response they've already gotten) that there's an online market for it.
 
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    I'm pretty sure Zynga is designed to plug into the existing Social Networks, not stand on its own.

    What I find remarkable is the number of people that place vast quantities of personal information onto these sites. I have two kinds of friends -- those that ask why I haven't joined all these social sites and those that send me panicked emails that someone can reverse-lookup my phone number on Google.

             Sag.
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stormseeker75 wrote:
Sure, this place is a social networking site. But I think this place is really more of an over-glorified message board than anything else. If this is a social networking site, than any site on which you have a profile could be considered as much. You definately have to agree that BGG is very very very different from Facebook and MySpace. And thank God for that.


Yeah, what's great about BGG is they fully support the illusion (for those of us who still cling to it) that this is not a social networking site. Hey I'm posting for posterity! We got valuable information here!
 
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lizriz wrote:

Zynga (hate that name the more I say it) seems like Friendster plus "casual" games. I suspect (and it would seem proven by the response they've already gotten) that there's an online market for it.


It's just casual games. They don't have a site, they already provide some games for Facebook. It looks like their expanding to include MySpace.

And there is clearly a market for it. One of the recent articles about Scrabulous (a Scrabble clone) mentioned that they make $25k per month on Facebook for that game alone.
 
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