Zynga and the Launch of Farmville

By Amir Goldberg, Debra Schifrin
2016 | Case No. SM239 | Length 29 pgs.

In June 2009, the online gaming company Zynga launched the free social game Farmville on Facebook, which set a new record by reaching one million Daily Active Users four days after launch, skyrocketing to 30 million in six months. The case takes an inside look at how Zynga created FarmVille in just six weeks, including the important strategic and technical decisions Zynga made, the sometimes tense team dynamics, and the challenges Zynga’s founder and CEO Mark Pincus faced within Zynga. The company’s experienced game developers had strongly resisted his idea to develop a farm game because farm games performed poorly on traditional game consoles and were considered an inferior gaming category. But Pincus believed they afforded access to new audiences and wanted to seize the strategic opportunity offered by the convergence of advances in technology and the meteoric rise of Facebook. These combined well with Zynga’s advanced data analytics capabilities, which allowed the company to aggressively advance a new business model “Games as a Service,” in which developers continuously added features to make a social game consistently compelling.

Post launch, FarmVille was continually evolving and adding new features. But after a few months, the quality of the code and the ideas for new features were getting worse, more bugs and quality assurance problems arose, and users were complaining that new features were late and the game was getting rote. This case is set in late December 2009 as user numbers started to drop, and Pincus and the FarmVille team tried to figure out how to turn this trend around. Zynga’s leadership team had to figure out how to reinvigorate FarmVille so that it would continue to be the goose that laid the golden eggs.

The case also details the video game industry’s recent history, trends and technology advances. It covers video game development and introduces concepts such as game mechanics and core loops, which are applicable to other gamification contexts.

Learning Objective

The learning objective is to foster strategic thinking about identifying opportunities, understanding competitive advantages, and maximizing the network effect. Students should evaluate how “new” a product needs to be to capture customers, and how leadership and organizational challenges can make or break a new initiative. Students will also learn about the gaming industry and an emergent business model, “Games as a Service,” which is applicable to other games and business categories.
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