Rob Dyer is having his coming out party today. He joined social gaming giant Zynga in October as head of partner publishing, and now he finally gets to tell the world what he’s been doing. Dyer is the man who must convince external game developers to publish their games on Zynga’s newly announced platform for social gaming. Games published on the platform will run on both Zynga.com and Facebook, enabling smaller game developers to reach Zynga’s audience of 246 million monthly active users.
Dyer’s new job is exactly the same thing he was doing as senior vice president of third-party relations for Sony Computer Entertainment America. In that capacity, he promoted console games and scoffed at social games early on. But now he’s a convert to the power of the fast-spreading social game business.
Developers can tap Zynga’s ability to cross-promote games across its network. They can also use Zynga’s technology for hosting games on its zCloud data center infrastructure, which has been custom-built to run games as fast as possible. Today, Zynga is revealing more partners for its third-party platform. Here’s a transcript of our interview at the Game Developers Conference this week.
GamesBeat: What has been the reaction to your news?
Rob Dyer: The announcement has clearly awoken the world right now, and I think everybody’s been very interested and intrigued about what’s going on. I’m pleased with that response.
GB: What’s your approach going to be for rolling out partners?
RD: We’re really looking for games that engage and retain. Our preference would obviously be games that aren’t necessarily in the genres that Zynga already has, but it’s not something that we’re saying no to. You’re going to see a couple partners that we’re announcing on Thursday that will have games and you’re going to say, “Wow, they really match up to what Zynga’s already doing.” But they have high retention, high engagement, and early on that’s really what we’re looking for. My preference would be categories like hardcore strategy and role-playing games and fighting games and shooters and sports, that we don’t do. But they’re not always the easiest to find.
GB: And are they coming from small companies or big ones?
GB: Is there a logic to doing either one first? Like maybe you want to get undiscovered games, not games that are already out there.
RD: We have both. If you look at the partners we have announced already — MobScience, Row Sham Bow, and Sava Transmedia — MobScience’s game, brand new, hasn’t been seen yet. Row Sham Bow’s game is out there already, Woodland Heroes (pictured right), and then we’ve got Sava, a wily, crafty veteran from EA in Alain Tascan, who’s got some new stuff that they’re doing. So yeah, we’re excited about new, undiscovered stuff that we think can be big breakout hits. At the same time, we want to work with people that have games that are there already that we think we can help energize, introduce to another big group, and blow it up.
GB: So how is your job different at Zynga now, compared to Sony?
RD: Oh, it’s so different. The biggest challenge has been being on the ground floor, starting something. I kind of feel the way Bernie Stolar must have felt back at Sony when he was starting third-party. He was one of the first guys, he was the original third-party head, setting up what the PRCs were going to be; how are you going to have submissions, what are you going to do to get people excited about being on your platform, walking around evangelizing? Talking about Bernie, I was at Crystal Dynamics, and he was out trying to get people excited about this thing called PlayStation. Well, now I’m walking around, figuring out internally, what we are going to do with PRCs, how are we going to handle submissions? And then walking around saying, “You know, you really should be excited about what we’re doing for this cool platform called ZDC.” It’s very different from where I was.
GB: I guess you have to prove certain things to third parties as well.
RD: Well, I think one of the things you want to make sure you’re doing is being consistent and providing a consistent playing field for everybody. You want to make sure that people believe what you’re doing, that everybody’s following those rules and everything’s being handled consistently. That’s, to me, really important here.
GB: How do you make the pitch, as far as what you can do for them?
RD: It’s funny, the pitch really makes itself, when they look at what we bring to the table. I look at it in four categories. First is, we have this huge audience, 246 million monthlies. That gets me in the door right away. That’s the “I’ve got you at hello” line. The next is, we are going to be able to provide a level of analytics that, while some of you might be able to do it, a lot of you don’t. And that’s something we’re really good at; that’s one of the basic tenets of this company, and it’s something that we’re going to be able to provide to help you get better. The third is the whole social network and what we can do to engage and bring people together in playing games. A lot of this is with the Zynga.com site. And the fourth piece, that I think is the the most important, is a whole piece on tech. How much time people spend building out a backbone for their games, it’s staggering. And I think that what we are going to be providing in very short order is game-changing when it comes to game development. And again, if people use this tech, there’s no, “Well, you have to come work on our platform.” That’s not the case. We firmly believe that by doing this, it’s going to make better games, it’s going to make people want to play, and it’s one of the great things about this whole initiative that we’ve put together.
GB: Is the tech going to be able to run pretty much any kind of game?
RD: From what I’ve seen to date, I believe that is the case.
GB: When they’ve described zCloud, the Zynga executives have said, “It’s not a sedan, like Amazon offers, it’s more like a Ferrari for what we do.” And I wonder if that Ferrari, though, is what everybody wants?
RD: Right. On the synchronous side, Poker is probably our biggest example of a synchronous game. But the sedan-to-Ferrari analogy is that Z-Cloud, our backbone, since we own it, we can tune it to whatever the need is. I’ve always said that one size doesn’t fit all, especially when it comes to game development, but I know that what we’ve tried to do is take the pieces where one size can fit all, particularly on the hosting side, and make that happen.
GB: I’m starting to see some demos that people are showing of very different, 3D graphics-heavy games, and it seems like that’s going to put a different kind of burden on the network, if those games get really popular. Kixeye showed off an example yesterday. If those games are really enabled to run at 30 frames per second or better, it’s going to be a very different kind of platform.
RD: Right. Then you’re talking console-quality games all of a sudden, on a browser, which nobody really thought was … well, which the browser was never really expected to do. And now all of a sudden, voila, you’re playing Street Fighter.
GB: So I guess those capabilities that have been shown off in the Zynga demos on Zynga.com … all those same capabilities carry over to anybody else’s game?
RD: That’s right.
GB: Social stream types of things.
RD: Yes, yes. One thing that you may remember is that throughout 2011, we spent a lot of time with zCloud and our infrastructure architecting it, so that studios can dive on in. External studios. The work that we’ve done there was the proving ground for us, as far as being able to turn that outside.
GB: How many of these companies will you start with, and what do you think it’s going to turn into?
RD: We have a handful. I don’t have an exact number, because literally, it’s been back and forth trying to close stuff today. Once we get to that point, what we want to do is have a manageable group of games that we can spend time on, and then over time … it’s as big as a universe can be. There’s no limit. We’re not suggesting that a hundred games are going to get us to a billion players. What we’re saying is, we want to provide something that’s going to give a billion players a reason to come and play on Zynga.com.
GB: Is it all about Zynga.com, or are you putting them on Facebook too?
RD: No, we’re publishing on Facebook as well. Absolutely. And by all means, I want to make that very clear, we are a publisher for Facebook and for Zynga.com.
GB: Is it same-day publishing, then?
RD: Yes. That would be the optimum. But if we’re ready to go and we have some games that have the Zbar, payments and things in place, they’re already up and running today, we will get those going prior to Zynga.com. But our hope is that we’re going to be able to cinch that up and get that to where they are day and date.
GB: Alex St. John announced Magi.com. He has his own site where he’s giving interesting terms, like the developer keeps 100 percent of the money up to a certain number of users, 25,000. So there’s interesting business models that could be applied here. Are you guys doing anything interesting there?
RD: We’re not really talking about the business terms. That’s something that’s between us and the publisher, and from that side, I want to maintain the confidentiality that we’ve got in place there. But Alex is a ground-breaker. I’ve known him for years and he’s always going to do something interesting, you can count on that.
GB: What, actually, will you do to get the games noticed? Is there a certain standard?
RD: I think the big thing’s just getting them on our network for play. You’re going to get noticed. When we have 67 million DAU yesterday, we’re going to have 240 million monthlies … By being able to turn that on, with the power of our zBar on the top, you’re going to have something that’s…
GB: So you’re rotating through this banner?
RD: Through a lot of things. Whether it’s through that, through ad impressions, what have you, there’s a number of tools in our tool chest that will help us to make sure that somebody’s going to get noticed.
GB: Personally, how did you get sold on Zynga?
RD: One of the things that, first of all, excites me about this, is being on the ground floor. Being able to build something from square one. It offers a lot of challenges, but it’s eminently satisfying when you see something like this come to fruition. And then two, I’m a big believer in the dynamic of social, and what I’m seeing on the old-time consoles, they’re not social. As much as you might have your friends list that you can go play Call of Duty with on XBL, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be having a social experience. I embrace what this business is. Look, I was a complete nay-sayer when it first came out, having been in the console business my entire life, for damn near 20 years. “Yeah, it’s a fad, it’s gonna go away.” Well, shame on me, I was wrong, clearly wrong.
What I’m seeing is the other side, now. They’re not embracing the social piece, and I think that’s going to be a huge. I’ve heard you talk about it, I’ve heard [analyst Michael] Pachter talk about it. Those are some of the big issues. I was at the A-List thing when Michael’s giving his keynote about Wii U’s dead. They’re not going to have a network. They’re not going to have a social experience. He’s already saying it’s DOA. It’s one of those situations where you look at it and say, I hope it’s not true, because I love Nintendo. But at the same time, if he’s seeing it that way, and he’s probably got a lot more insight into it than I do, it just sums it up.
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[Photo credit: Dean Takahashi]