“Unleashed”: Zynga Unveils 10 New Products, Including Project Z Platform

Zynga is unveiling “brand-spankin’ new play” at a press event today at its brand new headquarters in San Francisco.

Yesterday, it hinted that it will share its plans for leveraging Facebook’s new HTML5 mobile platform, but that there are other surprises to come. The event is titled “Unleashed,” so expect a lot of talk about where the company is headed with mobile in general.

Stay tuned at 10 am PT to hear the latest from the mega-successful social games company, which is currently seeking to raise $1 billion in an initial public offering.

9:57 am: Just showed up, expect the show to kick off any minute.

The press conference is taking place in Zynga’s new headquarters. In the atrium, there’s a big stage set up, and the press gallery is sitting in a bunch of retro chairs. Feels a little bit like an MTV talk show.

Zynga invited my dog, Fletch, to come play at the event, but he doesn’t have a travel budget, so he had to stay home in Seattle.

Pretty fitting that Zynga’s office, a.k.a. “the dog house,” has a hot dog stand. As you may know, the company was named after the dog, Zinga, owned by founder Mark Pincus.

10:10 am: The event may be starting. We are watching an infomercial on how Zynga was able to contribute to Haiti relief after the earthquake.

10:25 am: Ok, while we waited to get things started I was able to go get a Blue Bottle cup of coffee that takes five minutes to drip into the cup. What a perk!

Someone is getting excited. Just heard my first barking dog.

10:35 am: Here we go. There’s a montage of games from Poker to CityVille and Adventure World, Words With Friends and FarmVille. You’ve probably played one of them.

10:37 am: Founder and CEO Mark Pincus has taken the stage.

This is the first media event of any kind we have done in our new building, he says.

He jokes that they are about games, and we should feel comfortable being loud today.

He said they are launching 10 new products today, all of which have been in development for a year. Today we will meet the people and faces behind the innovation.

Pincus: There are 1,700 Zynga employees in this building alone, and at some point they will come out and say hi to us.

Pincus: He wants to know how he can get “you guys” to play games. We are all busy, and how can he get us all to play.

For us, it’s a platform. We aren’t the company that will make the next hit game, we are trying to do something broader than that. We want this experience to make up a platform for play.

10:44 am: Pincus says they spend a lot of time on the “FTUE,” or the “first time user experience.”

We want to give you a five to 15 minute experience that feels like a meal, we don’t try to ask you to change your day. Just like a good show, and I’ve been addicted to “Breaking Bad,” if you do like our games, we hope to give you enough depth for you to invest three, six months or a year.

We are going to show off Zynga Direct, whether on the Web or mobile, we are going to build a whole sandbox around the games and not just in the games. Facebook is here today and we are excited to be their launch partner for their platform announced yesterday. We’ll be showing off three HTML5 games that will be part of that.

When we unveil the pieces of Zynga Direct, we hope that you see that it is the deepest Facebook Connect experience on the Web today.

10:48 am: We are showing you CastleVille today, which is the next Ville game in our franchise. That game has been in development for more than a year, and it has beautiful art. It has new ways to collaborate and get ahead by partnering with other players in the game.

We are going to show you a new casual games category today in the hidden objects genre.

David Ko, Zynga’s chief mobile officer, will be showing a number of mobile titles launching in the next few weeks.

10:51 am: Pincus is now handing over the stage to Cadir Lee, CTO, who is in charge of building out so much of the technology in the back-end.

10:52 am: Lee: The first thing I want to talk about is our gaming engine, which has been built from scratch on Adobe’s Flash 11.

We have our own private cloud called “Z Cloud,” which is focused on being able to play our games all of the time no matter if it’s Christmas Eve. We’ve been known to deploy a 1,000 servers in one week in order to support a new game.

This isn’t the sexy stuff, but Zynga’s cloud and gaming engine technology is key. Often, the company is considered an analytics-driven company, rather than a gaming company. Lee is touching on some of this now.

Lee: We’ve long been known as an analytics company, which shows how our players engage. How do we match people up, so that you can have a social experience with a person across the street or around the world. How do we connect you with the right person at the right time.

Roy Sehgal, VP and GM, is now on stage to unveil a new genre, called “hidden objects.” It’s one that Disney’s Playdom has developed through a game called Gardens of Time.

Zynga says its first game is called Hidden Chronicles.

The concept behind hidden objects is finding clues hidden in a room, sort of like looking for Waldo. They are right in front of you, but difficult to find.

Up until Playdom’s release, critics didn’t believe that the popular PC download category could be made into a social game.

Sehgal: It’s going to be social. It’s going to be extremely easy to learn, but hard to master.

10:58 am: You can play with your friends to see who can find the most hidden objects, or provide hints to your friends.

This game is extremely interactive. No matter how many times you play an individual scene, it will be fresh. I believe it will be one of the most beautiful games you will play.

On the screen, Sehgal is showing various scenes that take place on a train, underwater or in the outdoors. The art is rich and historic-looking.

11:00 am: Now there’s a demo of the new Mafia Wars 2, which just launched yesterday, and is promising to be a much richer experience than the original version that came out three-plus years ago.

Since it’s already out, feel free to check it out on Facebook. No need to read a description here.

11:06 am: Mafia Wars 2 is also now live on Google+, which is the company’s second game on the platform after Poker. Remember, Google has a substantial stake in Zynga.

11:07 am: There’s an update to Zynga’s Poker game next. It was launched in July 2007, and after four years, we are still the largest and most social Poker game.

Zynga is unveiling Zynga Casino, including Zynga Bingo.

Casino games has been identified as one of the leading categories on Facebook with others experiencing lots of success, including DoubleDown Casino.

Zynga Bingo will be launching soon.

11:10 am: Bill Jackson, Creative Director, is now on stage. He’s from the company’s Dallas studios, and he says they developed the latest in the Ville franchise, called CastleVille.

The other Villes in the franchise are FarmVille, FrontierVille, CityVille and now CastleVille.

Jackson: It’s a new level of social, and offers the best of all the Ville games have to offer.

The game has a whole new cast of characters, who look like they are from Shrek, complete with rugged heros and refined ladies who fall in love.

Jackson: CastleVille takes storytelling to a whole new level, and in a personal way. Your journey through the game is different based on who you are.

Zynga is bringing massively mutliplayer role-playing games to the mass market.

CastleVille will have music from an entire orchestra that was recorded in Seattle. Jackson says this is the first time this has been done in a social game, although it is common in console games.

11:18 am: The peanut gallery has been asked to turn around to see all of the Zynga employees — or at least half of them — that have gathered around the balconies of the atrium.

Pincus: We just wanted you to see a few more faces.

Pincus is now introducing John Schappert, who recently joined Zynga as COO from Electronic Arts. He has taken over running all of our games, leaving Pincus to be more entrepreneurial.

11:22 am: Schappert: We are building every kind of play for everyone, everywhere.

We are building on iOS, Facebook, Android, Google+ and Tencent in China.

Helping us deliver on play anytime, anywhere, is David Ko, chief mobile officer.

Ko has an update on Zynga’s mobile plans, which have not been as aggressive as others have been in the space so far.

Ko: We’ve always felt that we need to be the best content creators out there, regardless of what platform.

It’s my pleasure to not talk to you about one or two new games, but five new games launching shortly. It is around Facebook’s HTML5 platform announced yesterday.

The first two are Words With Friends and Poker, and the third is FarmVille. All three games will be available tomorrow.

Another new game is Mafia ShakeDown. You’ll be able to request missions and have the opportunity to be the next “Don.” This game will be coming soon, so stay tuned.

The last game is called DreamZoo, which is Zynga’s first game in the zoo genre.

In a short video, Zynga shows off DreamZoo. You can collect animal varieties and feed and clean your animals.

11:29 am: Schappert is back on stage. He says they have over 60 million daily active users, and they play games over two million minutes everyday.

He is unveiling something called Project Z, which is a Facebook Connect enabled platform. It allows you to play in an environment that’s tailored just for games.

In a sneak peak, a video says players are able to chat, share and form instant communities worldwide.

Schappert: It’s a social gaming playground. You can start a game on Project Z and then continue on Facebook and vice versa. It’s not launching today, but people can start creating a gamer tag starting worldwide today.

11:32 am: Pincus is back on stage to wrap up the presentation:

We really want to build a platform for play. We haven’t changed our vision since starting. We want to be the biggest macro bet on social gaming. We believe in social gaming. We believe that everyone around the world will embrace play, so everything we are doing is an attempt to bring that to life.

We know it’s early and it’s primitive, we know so much of game play and social-ness is early, and over the next few years it’s going to be so much more. It’s going to be mobile. There’s going to be a World of Warcraft feeling, but something you can understand in five minutes.

11:35 am: OK, that’s it folks. Formal presentation is over.

In summary, before today, there were a few niches that Zynga had not yet entered. That left opportunities for competitors to do well on Facebook. With Zynga’s 10 announcements today, including a number of new mobile and social games, the gaps have narrowed significantly.

Zynga has expanded into new genres, like hidden objects and more broadly into casino, and has five new games on mobile. It is also launching its all-new standalone online game network separate from Facebook that goes direct to consumers.

If Zynga was looking for a big bang before its IPO, this might have been it.

Thanks for reading — more coverage and analysis coming shortly.

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— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus