Zynga aiming to be the ‘Google of games’

For a company that makes games like Farmville and contributes close to 15% of Facebook’s revenue, Zynga is now aiming to be the ‘Google of games’. “We want to be the gaming company that people cannot live without,” its India head Shan Kadavil told ET at the company’s Bangalore office, its first office outside San Francisco.

However, ever since it went public last year, Zynga has been facing investors’ concerns in the US about its declining usage and long-term growth. Kadavil talks about Zynga’s growth strategies and the changes in Indian gaming industry. Excerpts:

Where is Zynga positioned now?

In July 2007 when Zynga was born, our strategy was to connect the world through social games. If you looked at the e-commerce domain, you had Amazon, if you looked at search, you had Google. These had become brand names and people trusted them. There wasn’t one such space in the gaming industry.

There was an unmet need in gaming and that’s where we want to establish ourselves. Today, 292 million people play our games every month on the web globally – about 65 million everyday. We also have 21 million users from mobile everyday.

The India centre in Bangalore is two years old and it is the only multi-functional center outside the US. Some of our popular games like Mafia Wars and Cityville are run from Zynga’s Bangalore center.

We have teams that take care of the volume of traffic, technology teams that work on data analysis and engineering. Interestingly, we also have a leading Bollywood art director, a cricket commentator, a children’s book author and a fashion designer on board.

Two years down the line, what role would Zynga’s India centre really play?

Almost everything that we do in a particular game happens in India. For instance, in Mafia Wars, from its conceptualisation to the delivery of features happened in Bangalore.

The General Manager for the game is based in India. That is how we operate. So the Bangalore centre is responsible how successful this game is. We are also creating our own IP. As far as Zynga is concerned, we are in the middle of three big shifts. One, social networks are changing the entire business.

Secondly, the app economy has transformed this industry and opened it up to a new level. Third, there is a big shift happening in terms of how you move from advertising-based revenue to virtual currencies in the gaming world. The India team contributes to all three areas from the technology perspective as well as the gaming perspective.

What else is different about running a gaming company? How hard is it to find the right creative talent?

The right talent is really hard to get because this is a very different industry. When we started out, we thought we’ll get enough talent from other gaming companies but that didn’t happen. I think what really helped us was the Bollywood industry.

They use high end technology and have some really creative people. We have found great talent from that industry. We also have a lot of expats working here.

What is happening in India’s gaming industry? How has it evolved over the year?

In India there is a fairly large traction on the mobile side and it is a quite healthy reflection of where this market is headed to. In the past, gaming has always been a niche segment for us. There were few domestic gaming companies and they were mostly developing for some US-based firms.

But that’s changing, thanks to social networks and mobile apps. Mobile is changing the way we operate and think. Zynga itself concentrates a lot on mobile and last year we launched seven games and in Q1 of 2012 about 11 games on mobile.

What are your long-term goals?

We are constantly looking at both organic and inorganic ways to grow. At this point we’re hiring as fast as we can. We are very selective because it is hard to find the appropriate talent in this space.

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