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Zynga herding its users like sheep from game to game: data

September 27, 2011

Social games company Zynga is adept at converting its current players to its new games, just as smoothly as some of the top video game franchises like Call of Duty, according to a new 21-page report by the game tracking service and social network Raptr.

The report takes into account more than 3 million Zynga players who use Raptr’s game tracking applications.

“If Zynga were to release a new game tomorrow, our data reveals that 90 percent of users of that new game will come from an old game,” said Dennis Fong, Raptr’s co-founder.

While 90 percent is such a high conversation rate any company might strive to that target, it also means that Zynga could cannibalize its users if it doesn’t find new players.

“A 90 percent average means that only 10 percent of its users are new,” Fong said. “Zynga has its pool of players, which is admittedly very large and they are basically just herding them around from game to game. Where is their growth going to come from? That’s a big question mark.”

The report is full of nuggets that could give potential investors in Zynga’s IPO a better picture of how people are playing social games. It shows that Zynga players play up to 8 sessions a day and that those sessions are 5 minutes long. Gamers are playing  hardcore games on consoles and PCs like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft for longer periods of time, but for fewer sessions.

This data released on Tuesday does not come from a stodgy research firm or an analyst: Fong is an industry insider who became an entrepreneur after a career as professional video game player, He  sold one of his first video game companies, Xfire, to Viacom  in 2006, before founding Raptr, which raised $27 million in VC funding from a group including Accel Partners.

Zynga is also not exactly the biggest threat to the traditional video game industry that still relies on young males to buy $60 games on discs, the report shows.

A surprising number of console players are also hitting Facebook for Zynga games. More than 20 percent of Warcraft players and 12 percent of Call of Duty players have played a Zynga title.  Meanwhile, the percentage of Xbox players that have played a Zynga game increased 30 percent in 2011, a 50 percent bump from a year before.

The top 2 percent of loyal players, which include the company’s “whales” or its biggest spenders, play Zynga games for 120 minutes a day. This is a long play period, Fong says, because Zynga’s games are designed to be played for 5 minute long sessions. To prolong game play and increase their energy supply, these loyal users have to either buy virtual items or spam their friends–all actions that benefit the company.

The report shows Zynga’s dominance in social games but Fong says the company “has a pretty big fight on their hands,” with games like Electronic Arts’ The Sims Social quickly herding its own user base of tens of millions of players.

As the number of gamers on Facebook reaches a plateau, he said Zynga is trying hard to expand its mobile games and looking at developing games that cater to a more traditional gamer audience.

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