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Mark Pincus, chief executive of Zynga, runs the most successful social game company on Facebook, with more than 252 million monthly active users for games such as FarmVille.

His company has nearly 800 employees and is worth, by one educated estimate, about $5 billion. So his advice counts when it comes to figuring out what it takes to make a great social game.

At the Inside Social Apps conference in San Francisco, he offered the following tips on what it takes to get consumers to get addicted to a great social game.

1. Hits come from playing a game, investing time by sharing it with friends, and expressing yourself.


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2. Bold beats make hits endure. It may be risky to do something in a game that you haven’t done before, but you have to do something that excites your users. Do it in less than a month and pull back if it doesn’t work. One example is expansion cities in the Mafia Wars, such as adding Moscow to the game where the core game play takes place in New York. Zynga has released a new city pack every quarter. In FarmVille, Zynga has added new functions you could do in the game with buildings.

3. Metrics offer feedback loops that tell you where to double down on your resources as you maintain a game after its launch. It’s also important to kill features that aren’t used in a game to reduce its complexity.

4. Don’t lose sight of user delight.

5. Keep innovating on social return on investment. People want ways to stay engaged with their friends and the interests and causes they want to support. One idea that Zynga pioneered was is social (charitable) virtual goods, such as Sweet Seeds for Haiti, which generated millions of dollars in donations for Haiti earthquake victims. “I don’t think enough of you have copied it,” Pincus said.

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