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Highly social games fueled the best quarter in Zynga’s history, the mobile gaming company disclosed Wednesday.
Zynga brought in $616 million in revenue during the fourth quarter of 2020, a 52 percent bump year-over-year. Growth was driven by its portfolio of top titles, known as “forever franchises,” in particular the Scrabble-like multiplayer game Words With Friends. “Twelve years after it released it had its best quarter and year ever, and I think at its core it’s a social experience where people can stay in touch through a word game,” Zynga’s CEO Frank Gibeau tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We have so many anecdotal examples of moms and their daughters or uncles and sons or fathers, all staying in touch [through the game].” He adds that although Zynga’s teams have added new features to keep players engaged, the game fundamentally continues to perform well due to its social factor.
He gives another example of a game that fueled revenue this quarter, the match-3 role-playing title Empires & Puzzles. “It has guilds where there are 50 people that get together and fight against another 50 people,” says Gibeau, adding that there is also a chat function where he has witnessed players discussing the COVID-19 vaccine, among numerous other topics. “Everybody’s talking about all kinds of things,” he says of the chat rooms. “When you’re socially distanced, the next best thing to do is play a game together.”
The San Francisco-based company launched the match-3 puzzle game Harry Potter: Puzzles & Spells in September last year, which Gibeau says has “really struck a chord” with Harry Potter fans, among them a “tremendous number of women.” He explains that the game has clubs where players can compete in tournaments, and again “you see a lot of interaction, a lot of chat.”
Daily active users reached 36 million in the fourth quarter, up 77 percent year-over-year. Monthly active users hit 134 million, up 103 percent year-over-year. The growth was driven by the recent additions of Toon Blast and Toy Blast from Zynga’s acquisition of Turkish developer Peak in June of last year, as well as hyper-casual games from its recent acquisition of Rollic, also based in Turkey.
Hyper-casual games, defined as highly accessible free titles that are easy to pick up and play, account for the majority of top 100 downloaded iPhone games in the U.S. and are expected to be a huge area of growth in the coming years. “It’s been a relatively new category that a lot of people thought was a fad, but really it’s not, it’s a new way of playing games,” says Gibeau. “They’re instantly on, they’re simple concepts with really interesting, fun gameplay mechanics, and they’re driven by advertising.” He adds that many people’s first game played on a mobile device is a hyper-casual game because of the accessibility.
In January, Rollic had the No. 1 and No. 2 games in the market with High Heels — “a hilarious physics game where you try and walk around on crazy shoes,” Gibeau says — and Blob Runner 3D. “They’re very inexpensive to make,” Gibeau says, continuing to reference hyper-casual games. “You put them out there and they just identify with people.” He says that, for Zynga, the genre has “really opened up our audience base” during the fourth quarter and the business in that category will be expanded in 2021 and beyond.
In November, Zynga established a studio in its Texas location to exclusively work on a Star Wars game, which Gibeau says is expected to soft launch in the early summer and drop officially by the end of the year.
“We’ve very humble about the fact that we’re doing well in such a tough year, but the fact that the people who are sheltering in place are playing games and we can can get them to do that has been pretty rewarding,” Gibeau continues.
Two Zynga titles that have already soft launched, Puzzle Combat and FarmVille 3, will roll out worldwide in the first half of the year. Meanwhile, the developer is also at work on games based on Game of Thrones, CityVille and more.
The company, which expects to deliver $2.6 billion in revenue in 2021, will also be exploring cross-platform play across mobile, PC and consoles to further expand its market. “The idea is, like you see with Fortnite or PUBG or Roblox — where, it doesn’t matter what platform you’re on, you’re all playing together in the same game,” says Gibeau. “It will be an important part of our business going forward.”
He adds that the growth of the hyper-casual category, the expansion into international markets and exploration of cross-platform play, gives Zynga “a shot at more than doubling the value of the company” in the next several years.
Zynga was founded in 2007 and is headquartered in the U.S., with office locations in Canada, Ireland, India, Turkey and Finland. The company’s games are played in over 150 countries across social platforms and mobile devices.
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