Zynga's Mark Pincus: "Amazon Built Shop. We Want to Build Play."

Zynga CEO Mark Pincus outlined the company’s social-gaming ambitions last night in a rare appearance to celebrate the grand opening of the San Francisco company’s offices in Seattle.

The new offices–still void of any computers, desks or chairs–were decked out with red ambient lighting, a DJ was spinning records and guests snacked on a mix of Seattle and San Francisco food. Sourdough and shrimp!

Pincus addressed the 200 or so attendees in front of an exposed brick wall typical of buildings found in the Pioneer Square neighborhood, and he did his best to woo potential engineers with the offer of a great company culture. He also took the liberty of comparing Zynga to one of Seattle’s biggest success stories: Amazon.com.

First was the employee pitch. Like Zynga’s other 1,500 employees in more than 13 offices worldwide, Seattle engineers and product managers will have a lot of autonomy in a corporate culture Pincus likened to a confederation of entrepreneurs who get to act as their own CEO.

Additionally, he compared the company’s ambitions to Amazon’s.

The analogy was easy to make given his proximity to the retail giant, but also because one of Amazon’s first VPs of engineering, Neil Roseman, will be the Zynga VP in charge of building the Seattle office.

However, it was mostly Zynga’s bigger goal that he was referring to.

“Amazon built shop….We want to build play. If we do our jobs right, playing games with your friends will be simple,” he said.

With popular Facebook titles such as FarmVille, CityVille, Zynga Poker and Mafia Wars, Pincus said, roughly 250 million people play Zynga games on a monthly basis. In all, they generate five terabytes of information a day, up from one terabyte a day five months ago. The number of social connections the players have made has soared to eight million from three million in the same time period.

In an interview after his general remarks, Pincus contended that talking about play instead of games changes the social stigma. “If you spent part of your day playing games, people might think you’ve wasted your time. But if you said you spent your day playing, people are envious,” he said, noting of the old saying, “It’s all work and no play. Not, all work and no games.”

The idea goes beyond Amazon’s association with shopping. Google has an association with search, Facebook with share, and YouTube with watch. “[Play is] one of the verbs I’d bet on,” he said.

So, how big is playing?

Pincus estimates that it’s massive.

There will be four billion devices that will be connected to each other through social networks, and half of them will engage in play. “We are very optimistic with where play will go in the future.”

However, as the industry matures, there’s a natural contradiction taking place. The simplicity of Zynga’s games made it easy for a wide audience to play (not just core gamers). But as those players develop and sharpen their gaming skills, Zynga and other social-game makers will be challenged to create more complex quests to keep them entertained. By introducing more difficulty, it will inherently narrow the company’s audience.

“Yes, that’s a challenge,” Pincus said. “But great games are Shakespearean. They should be all things, to all people.”

He argues that one game should be enjoyable for his niece, nephew and himself simultaneously. But that has been the challenge for the game industry. Companies end up catering to the audience that is the most vocal and spends the most money. That’s why the console game business trends toward hardcore gamers.

“It becomes harder and harder,” he said.

However, there are exceptions. Nintendo developed something that no one knew they needed or wanted, and, he said, Apple’s Steve Jobs constantly comes up with products people want, as opposed to giving them what they asked for.

“No one was screaming for the Wii,” he said, but now you see grandmothers Wii bowling with their granddaughters.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work