Zynga chief operating officer Downie describes its new gameplan (interview)

GamesBeat: As far as the state and number of players, do you see a light at the end of the tunnel, where you can turn that loss into stability or even a gain?

Downie: My sense is that in Q4, we saw stability in a number of our core properties. Words with Friends had its biggest quarter on record. Our poker business on mobile grew for the first time in 18 months, quarter over quarter. That coincides with consumer participation growth in those areas. As we work through 2014, we’re predicting sequential growth quarter over quarter, which will be aligned with consumer growth and participation. As we launch new products — we called out a number of them on the call, and there will be more of them going forward through the year – I’m confident and believe that the number of consumers participating in our games will continue to grow too.

zynga smallGamesBeat: Did Clumsy Ninja have a whole pipeline of things coming after it? I know it was very good on downloads. Had it also proven to be a game with a lot of staying power and established monetization to it?

Downie: I’m really impressed with the work that the NaturalMotion guys put into Clumsy Ninja and the performance we’re seeing there. They have aspirations, which I’m confident will be realized, in terms of increased engagement and increased monetization. They have a strong road map for that product. We look forward to working with them and adding our strength into that, as far as breakthrough social features and live game services at scale.

Going forward, I think the prospect of what happens after Clumsy Ninja is a delightful secret. I look forward to talking with you more about that in the future.

GamesBeat: I could see a lot of other characters besides a ninja. I assume that’s an obvious part of the future.

Downie: [Laughs] As I say, it’s a delightful secret. I wish I could talk more about it.

GamesBeat: How is it working at Zynga alongside people like Mark Pincus and Don Mattrick right now? Are you guys taking on particular distinct roles right now?

Downie: Working with Don on a daily basis is great. He’s an elite executive in the gaming business, in the entertainment business. I’m learning from him, candidly, which is a great thing at this point in my career. We share a lot of the day-to-day operation decisions around the company. We talk a lot about future strategies and make decisions there. We both share the belief that Zynga will grow in our ability to reach more and more consumers in gaming daily, and have a delightful impact on their lives through the entertainment we create. That’s what we would like to do.

Mark is around. He leaves the running of the company to Don. I like participating with Mark. He’s a creative visionary, driven by success, highly energized to be supportive around the strategies and the operational decisions that Don and I make on a daily basis. It feels good around here right now.


Above: FarmVille

Image Credit: Zynga

GamesBeat: It sounds like a lot of the gameplan has come together now.

Downie: Don’s been here seven months. I’ve been here coming up on three. We have excellent teams, a really skilled and capable base of employees who are eager to win. It’s about tapping into that and reorganizing, resetting where necessary, taking the hard decisions like the ones we’ve made today, and then driving the accelerative opportunities like the acquisition of NaturalMotion. I don’t think it’s ever done, when you’re making content for people. But I feel good about where we are moving into 2014 and the opportunities ahead for Zynga.

GamesBeat: There was one thing on the call I had a question about with the data centers. I know that Zynga was moving into its own private data centers at one point, when it was still growing very dramatically, and away from using third parties like Amazon to run the data centers. Now I know that the audience has declined. Does that part of the strategy still make sense? Is that something you’re changing in order to save more money on the technology front? Do you still have your private cloud versus a public cloud, and is one more expensive than the other at a certain stage of growth?

Downie: It’s something that we continue to look at. With the different needs of the mobile architecture that we’re using, we’ve been able to drive efficiencies and consolidate our data centers, rather than having multiples, which has led to many of the efficiencies that we talked about today. We continue to look at it. This is something that I’m very close to, and I want to make sure, as we go forward, that we continue to make the right decisions for our game-makers and for our consumers.

Mark Pincus

Above: Mark Pincus with his dog. 

Image Credit: Zynga

GamesBeat: It sounds like an important part of the whole picture. If you can change the technology costs, then you can really change the equation as far as whether you can continue to run games or a certain number of games.

Downie: Our cost structure plays right back into our game life cycle decisions, yes. As a business, it has to. We’re always looking to — there are three things that we always look to do as a leadership team, every day. We look to grow and sustain our core business. We look to create new, wonderful things based on consumer knowledge and trying to be number one in additional categories. And we look to drive efficiencies. Those are the three rules that we build the business around, daily.

GamesBeat: It sounded like you have a more active launch schedule for games in 2014.

Downie: We have an active pipeline for products. We have teams engaged at various stages of the production cycle right now. 75 percent of our games are mobile first. Starting with, like I said, Riches of Olympus, which is in the next two weeks, and then followed up with FarmVille on mobile. We have a good number of shots on goal coming.

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More information:

Zynga Inc. is the world's largest social game developer with more than 232 million monthly active users playing their games which include CityVille, FarmVille, FrontierVille, Words With Friends, Mafia Wars, Zynga Poker, Cafe World, and... read more »

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