Trouble in Farmville? Zynga shares falter

June 13, 2012 8:35:45 PM PDT
There's trouble in Farmville. Shares of the San Francisco online game maker Zynga fell to their lowest level ever Tuesday and recovered only slightly Wednesday.

GamesBeat editor-in-chief Dan Hsu is playing Zynga's new online game Bubble Safari. There are bubbles, and there's a monkey, as well as requests from shoe's Facebook friends -- who play other Zynga games.

"People are getting a little tired of spamming their friends, seeing these same Facebook wall posts asking for, 'Hey I need this,' or, 'I need this for these games,'" Hsu said.

It's part of Zynga's marketing strategy -- get you to advertise the game to your friends. Not only does it annoy users like Hsu, it also inextricably ties Zynga to Facebook -- a company investors are already wary of.

"Over the last week or so, a lot of it's been Facebook dragging Zynga down with it," CNET Executive Editor Paul Sloan said.

Sloan says the new website is an effort to depend less on Facebook. Investors will care when it starts making money.

"These are public companies now; they can't come out with a product and expect Wall Street to get excited," Sloan said.

But experts say there may be another reason Zynga's numbers are falling. It could be seen firsthand here Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference -- the iPhones and the iPads greatly outnumber the laptops. It seems everything is going mobile. Everything except a lot of Zynga's games.

"Right now if you look at Zynga products on mobile, they're not really the full games, they're not full experiences," Hsu said.

And yet, those iPhone games, like "Words With Friends" and "Draw Something," are the only Zynga games some people have ever played.

"I don't play them on a Web browser at all," user Alex Tsepko said.

Tsepko says his laptop is for doing work. His iPhone is for passing the time.

"I even play in the elevator," Tsepko said.

Users like Tsepko could be why Zynga's desktop games saw an 8 percent drop in users last month, the second drop in a row.

So why aren't they going mobile faster? It comes back to money and annoyance.

"Making money off mobile is a challenge because you have a small screen and if you want to serve ads, you can't serve as many and they're just annoying," Sloan said.

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