Zynga launches separate social gaming platform, still 'likes' Facebook
Seeking to expand its footprint beyond Facebook, social gaming juggernaut Zynga Inc. on Thursday unveiled a new website that it hopes will draw players deeper into its virtual playground.
Zynga executives took pains to point out that Zynga.com is not an effort to distance itself from Facebook. In fact, the new site, for example, requires players to log in via their Facebook account. And any purchases players make on Zynga.com goes through Facebook's payment system, where Facebook takes a 30% cut of the transactions.
"We wanted it to be as easy and seamless as possible for players," said John Schappert, Zynga's chief operating officer. "We think it's complementary to Facebook."
The site is launching with five titles -- CastleVille, Words With Friends, CityVille, Hidden Chronicles and Zynga Poker. Players on Zynga.com can "friend" other people without having to share their Facebook profile information. Those connections, called "Z Friends," see only one another's game activity and are able to help one another complete their game quests. Most of Zynga's games require players to get assistance in order to progress. Zynga published a short video demo to illustrate how the site would work.
Zynga had telegraphed its move to create its own platform back in October. At the time, the effort was called "Project Z," and the company revealed few details on its plans.
The relationship between Zynga and Facebook is symbiotic -- for now. Though the social network commands an audience of more than 850 million active members, it relied on Zynga for 12% of its revenue last year, according to documents Facebook filed in conjunction with its initial public offering.
And though Zynga gets the bulk of its traffic, and revenue, from players on Facebook, the San Francisco company clearly has ambitions beyond the social network.
"Our goal is to connect the world through play and to eventually have 1 billion people play," Schappert said.
The company currently counts 240 million active monthly players.
Zynga.com is but a piece of a larger strategy to reach players wherever they happen to be, on mobile devices and online -- not just on Facebook. The company recently disclosed in its first publicly reported quarterly earnings that it spent half a billion dollars last year building out its computer infrastructure, which it dubbed the Z Cloud, to support its expansion.
Zynga.com also lets the company publish games created by other developers. Among the list of third-party developers hopping on to the Zynga platform are Mobscience, an independent social game developer in San Diego whose titles include Infamous Anarchy, MagicMall and Seapets, and Row Sham Bow, the Orlando, Fla., developer of Woodland Heroes.
Having a presence outside of Facebook could give Zynga more freedom to pursue initatives such as online gambling without having to navigate through Facebook's approval process. Zynga officials have publicly expressed an interest in online gambling, but acknowledged that it could be quite some time before state and federal regulators and courts sort out the legalities of the business.
-- Alex Pham
Screenshot of a sample Zynga.com profile page courtesy of Zynga Inc.