Dec. 14, 2010 at 2:52 PM ET
You've got to give it to Zynga ... the company has figured out how to make a Facebook game that a lot of people want to play.
The folks that gave the world "FarmVille" and "FrontierVille" launched their latest game — "CityVille" — just 12 days ago and already the virtual city-building game has been played by at least 17 million users worldwide, according to Zynga. Other data analytic outlets have reported 22 million users of the game.
Compare that to "World of Warcraft" — which boasts 12 million players worldwide. (Though, granted, "CityVille" is free to play and "WoW" is so very not).
But that makes "CityVille" Zynga's fastest growing game ever and probably the fastest-growing Facebook game period. And Mark Skaggs, Zynga's VP of Product Development, attributes the game's booming success to a new strategy the company has employed in the last year.
That is, the company that's done more than anyone to popularize social network games, is now taking cues from the traditional gaming world ... and taking its employees as well.
"We've brought in a bunch of people from the traditional game industry, and you're seeing it in the product," Skaggs told me. "We're adding a lot more of the creativity, design, polish and other elements you'd find in a traditional game — you know, games you might play on your PlayStation or PC instead of a Web browser social game."
Skaggs points out that one of the hallmarks of the traditional game industry is not only spending years making a game, but putting a lot of extra polish and tuning into a game during the last three or four months before it's launched.
"With 'CityVille' we were supposed to release it in early November but because of our belief in a quality experience for players, we decided to hold it until after Thanksgiving," he said, pointing out that they took that time to spiff up the game even further.
When it came to delivering a more traditional gaming experience, one of the things Zynga focused on was "CityVille's" look. Skaggs said that, for the first time, they rendered the game's buildings and characters with 3D software as is done in much of the games industry. And indeed, "CityVille" is the best-looking of Zynga's games yet.
"With 'CityVille' there's a massive amount of detail in the buildings and everything else going on in the city," he said.
He also pointed out that the developers spent a lot of time on the underlying city-building simulation that has made "CityVille" Zynga's most sprawling and interactive game to date.
"CityVille" tasks players with planning the layout of a city, balancing the needs of citizens, running restaurants and businesses and, yes, even harvesting crops. Players can also visit their friends' cities. Zynga calls it "Monopoly meets Main Street" — but for those who know gaming, it's more like "SimCity" meets "FarmVille."
No matter how you describe it — "CityVille" is a boom-town success. When Zynga launched "FrontierVille" earlier this year, it reached 1.2 million players in its first week. In "CityVille's" first week, it reached 3.5 million players.
So what's next for Zynga and its growing staff of employees culled from the traditional games industry?
"We've got a slate of new games that are coming through the first half of next year," Skaggs says. "But we can't talk about details yet."
For more on this topic, check out:
Game makers say the future of gaming is social
Casual games growing at a not-so-casual pace
'FrontierVille' players create 650,000 same-sex marriages
Thief takes everything but the cat in Facebook home burglary