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How Zynga Is Playing to Win With Wonderland

GodfingerZynga has continued its apparently unending quest to buy every small games studio in existence, with the announcement it’s purchasing British-based outfit Wonderland, which is being rebranded as Zynga Mobile UK.

It’s just the latest in a series of deals for Zynga, which is currently averaging around one buy every month. Wonderland had made a couple of popular iPhone (S aapl) games, including the hit Godfinger. That game, however, isn’t part of this agreement. So why do this deal, and why now?

Mostly, Wonderland offers Zynga a wealth of high-end experience in making “proper” games. Given Zynga’s reliance on gaming mechanics that seem to treat users like hamsters running on a wheel, plenty of people are sniffy about its actual gaming credentials. (Here’s a piece from gaming blog Kotaku asking, ludicrously, “Is Zynga a Video Game Company?”).

Buying Wonderland gives it a lot more muscle in that department: Wonderland’s founders, Matthew Wiggins and Mark Rose, are former employees of Lionhead, the studio set up by legendary Brit game designer Peter Molyneux. Lionhead is behind titles such as Fable and Black & White; other Wonderland employees came with backgrounds at other U.K. development hothouses like Codemasters and Bullfrog.

It also gives Zynga some more mobile knowhow. As the company tries to become less reliant on Facebook and branch out into new platforms, it’s important for it to understand how to get mobile right. Buying the team that developed a mobile smash is a quick way to get there.

The acquisition also gives Zynga a foothold in Britain, which is an important market. Of course, there’s the fact that the U.K. is a high-spending, smartphone-rich nation that loves social networking and games. But it’s also a huge talent pool Zynga can now tap into.

The country is one of the biggest hotbeds of gaming talent in the world — probably only surpassed by America’s West Coast, Japan’s dev scene and Vancouver, British Columbia — but it’s been troubled over the past few years. A number of British studios have shut down over the last couple of years — and from what people are telling me, there are also plenty of dissatisfied workers at the ones which remain. While reports of high-class developers begging for food on street corners in London would be greatly exaggerated, it’s true that there is plenty of talent available right now.

All of which means that this could be a hugely important strategic purchase, if Zynga plays it right.

3 Responses to “How Zynga Is Playing to Win With Wonderland”

  1. The outcry against Zynga comes from the traditional gamer community. They are insular and fearful of losing there precious perch on the gaming Otaku. The fact is there is still room for lots of games and gamer types. Zynga is bringing people INTO THE TENT. Fact is most (not all) Zynga game players don’t consider themselves gamers, have probably never owned a console, nor played a game on one.

    What Zynga has done is disrupted game design in this sense. You’ve got to measure what you are putting in the game. The metrics don’t lead design, they are simply ENHANCING design. Where in the old days you’d put something in because you thought it was cool, now you put a feature in, you see if it works, if it doesn’t you fix or remove it.

    Zynga has hired SO MANY classically (if that is the term) trained game designers that its silly to say they aren’t real games. Of course they are! Sure, they have a skinner box element to them but so does snipping someone from a tower in PvP shooters. The difference is they are measuring the effect of the joy and making money off it.
    It’s fear and not understanding that is pushing the backlash.

    Dear Core-gamers, Zynga isn’t making games for you, they don’t need you, and likely never will. There is room in the pool for everyone.

  2. “plenty of people are sniffy about its actual gaming credentials” – Wait, are you not? Can you compare any of Zynga’s games to anything put out by a Valve, or Bungie, etc?

    The have a few plays in their book that are obvious – rip off other people shamelessly while threatening lawsuits; engage in a variety of scams; buy up small gaming shops with the hope that someone can lend it basic gaming credentials and knowhow.

    What Zynga really is is a massive IPO scam.