Even as Facebook has been in news for the $50bn valuation by Goldman Sachs, Zynga has quitely but steadily leading its own growth story. The company behind super success games such as Farmville and Cityville is said to to be valued at $10 bn and has given traditional gaming and entertainment companies a run for their money.
We recently spoke with Shan Kadavil, Country Manager, Zynga India about gaming market dynamics in India, their key priorities, oppportunities for brands for virtual placement and plans for localised content.
Zynga recently set up its largest development centre outside US in Bangalore? What are top 3 priorities for Zynga from its operations in India?
The top 3 priorities for Zynga in India are:
- Strong growth – India has grown much faster than our initial prediction. To get super talent on board is necessary to sustain that growth. Currently we are at 100 people and we expect to more than double the head count before the end of the year. So its our number one priority.
- India’s explosive growth – Second priority is to take advantage of India’s explosive growth when it comes to social media. Just to put it into context, couple years back when we saw the Indian market, it has exceeded all the projections. Currently there are more than 20 million users in India on Facebook and 4.5 million active users playing Zynga games. That’s a huge number.
- Focusing on user love – We believe we as an organisation have had the support as a social gaming company because of fun and social elements behind our games. We will continue to reinforce that and localise it further for the Indian folks. In December we organised a community event where we had a gathering of all of our passionate players. At this event we launched Zynga India’s first fan club in India. Here people can have fun, see early previews of games, provide suggestions and also continue to help us in making great games. They can also network with other gamers from online to offline world. At this event we also got the feedback that credit cards are difficult to use in India and introduced retail cards for the Indian market.
What are the top 3 trends in social gaming in India? How is the Indian market different from the US market?
- Social is becoming mainstream – India has got a more younger crowd than a traditional user base, which is also changing very rapidly. So the penetration of social is now also getting into the more mainstream community. We could see the transition happening, as gaming which is considered a male dominated category, as many women (around 35 years) had come to attend the event we had in December. Also some of them were from other cities as well which showed how passionate they were about gaming. This regained our optimism that the mainstream community is adopting both social and social gaming in India. We know 30% of current base of gamers are women which shows the diversity of gaming in the present scenario.
- Social is becoming an extension of entertainment – During the 1960′s, radio was the mass market entertainment. Later in 1980′s it got replaced by TV and later as time went on, it came interactive TV and other things. We belive social gaming is extension to the entertainment and it is going to be a mass market phenomenon. It would be a substitute to other means of entertainment.
- Responses from smaller towns – In India we see a lot of responses coming from traditional audience from Tier 1 cities which is slowly shifting to Tier 2 cities as well. We have a lot of users for Mafia Wars in Ludhiana, Nagpur etc. which is probably due to the fact that Internet accessibility is going to smaller towns now. So social gaming as a concept is not confined to metro cities only but shifting to smaller towns as well.
I don’t think there is a substantial difference between the Indian and US market when it comes to social gaming. Timing and access are the only differences. US has a much more wider acceptance from an early lifecycle that the gamers are used to. For example, gaming as a phenomenon got inked into people when they were young (approximately 18 years old) and India took a little while to catch up with that. But now what we see is that 41% of online population play games in one form or the other. There are some challenges to the growth here in India in the form of bandwidth issues. On the mobile side, we are eager to see 3G becoming mainstream. From an access standpoint, things would be sorted out as our rapid growth continues. From monetisation point of view, the traditional credit card or PayPal ways of paying are not as popular.
What percentage of the entire gaming market is social gaming?
It’s hard to say that and the answer would differ based on who you ask the question to. We know that social gaming is a new phenomenon which started off in 2007 when Facebook introduced its platform for developers. So the industry itself is extremely new so to put numbers against it is really hard. From 2007 to 2008, the industry grew to about 300 million users. From then on it became half a billion years by 2010. So in 3 years, it amassed half a billion users. Its hard to predict where it would go in the future but everyone from the likes of Apple, Microsoft, Zynga are focusing on this market. Having said that Zynga is currently larger when it comes to online social gaming as compared to its competitors put together. It has over 250 million users playing its games.
How can brands engage with their audience using Zynga? Are there different advertising or marketing options available?
In a short amount of time, Zynga has integrated more than a dozen in game sponsorship and branded virtual goods programs. As our players are most important to Zynga, we are very careful that all marketing programs enhance the game-play and provide the player with additional value. By setting this standard, we have some a great amount of engagement from our players – the Megamind campaign in FarmVille generated 9m+ engagements in 1 day.
Has any brand/organisation in India so far used Zynga for virtual branding or any other means of engagement with their consumers?
At this time, we have not partnered with any Indian brands but could be open to the possibility in the future.
Are you looking at introducing any localised content for the Indian market?
At 4.5 million users, we have one of the largest user bases for Zynga in India. The strategy that has worked for us is to keep the games extremely simple. Thereafter we’ve made available the regional content to these gamers. Example, In Farmville we have elephants, auto rickshaws or we have content that is uniquely Indian such as dishes (kebabs or curries).
Can you share a successful case study of brand engagement using social media (India or abroad)?
Zynga late last year ran a weeklong campaign with Universal Studios in social game Mafia Wars in support of the Blu-ray and DVD release of “Public Enemies.” Zynga also has done FarmVille integrations with the likes of McDonald’s and Farmers Insurance.
- Megamind and FarmVille- Megamind’s” titular antihero launched his own Mega-Farm, a themed landmark within the social game that incorporates the storyline and characters of the film. For 24 hours, users could see special branded content from the film, such as a “Megamind” contraption. Two special items were made available to players who visit the character’s farm — a special Mega-Grow formula that helps to instantly grow crops without wilting plus a collectable decorative item that players can put up in their own farms.
- Green Hornet and Mafia Wars- Mafia wars players were able to collect eight Green Hornet items that included a gas gun, motorcycle, double barrel gun, hood gun, etc. Users who collected all 8 items were given The Black Beauty indestructible car.
- Dr Dre and Mafia wars- Mafia Wars featured a number of Dr. Dre-inspired game experiences including music content and limited edition virtual goods within a “Hustlin’ wit Dre” portion of the game. A stream of the “Kush” music video was available to players within the game. Players were be able to collect Dr. Dre-inspired, limited edition virtual goods such as headphones, a vintage car, and weapons. Within the game players were also be able to watch an exclusive Dr. Dre video message available only within Mafia Wars and become eligible to win signed Beats by Dr. Dre headphones and a signed copy of the CD when it becomes available next year. Players could also purchase the new single via an iTunes link available within the game.
Mobile social networking is the key driver for virtual goods economy in India. Do you see serious competition from the mobile social networks? Any plans to leverage the mobile platform?
We’re already one of the largest players on the mobile. Example, words with friends is a popular title from Zynga. For mobile, our strategy is mainly two fold. First is to extend the presence of established games such as Farmville to the mobile side. Second we would be introducing uniquely mobile content.
What have been the plans to ensure easy payment in India since credit cards, as you mentioned, are difficult to go with?
We’ve tied up with a provider called MOL. MOL is a large provider of payment mechanisms both through retail cards and phone banking. Its available across 5 lakh stores in India and South East Asia. And that’s a big part of our strategy as far as monetisation is concerned.