In the middle of last year my friend Mark Pincus stopped by my office to tell me what he’d been up to. Facebook apps it turned out, of course. He said, “Fred, by this time next year, everything you invest in will be built on top of Facebook”. I cringed. My beloved world wide web eclipsed by Facebook? How could that be?
Six months later, our firm became an investor in Mark’s company, called Zynga Game Network. Currently all of Zynga’s games run inside social networks, largely Facebook, but also Bebo and several others. And that list of social nets will grow longer in the next few weeks.
So what has changed in the six months since that conversation with Mark? First, we’ve come to understand how powerful the social net is as a platform for building and launching web apps. More importantly, Mark has shown us a model for a sustainable business operating web apps on top of other’s platforms. Zynga has built the largest social game network in the short period of six months. And they’ve moved beyond Facebook to include the entire social web as their ultimate platform.
What is a social game network? It’s a network of online games that you can play with your friends. There have been games on the web since I’ve been on the web in the early 90s. I was an investor in one of the first really successful web-based game networks, called Gamesville, in the late 90s. Gamesville taught me how good of a business web-based games could be. It was highly profitable when we sold it to Lycos in 1999.
But web-based games have never been able to tap into your social network. When you show up to play a game, you either play it by yourself, solitaire being a good example, or with people you don’t know. What if you could decide to play poker after dinner on Tuesday night and instead of heading over to your friend’s house, you simply “poke” your friends on Facebook and play from the comfort of your living room? Zynga Game Network has been offering that exact experience with it’s hugely successful Texas Hold ‘Em game on Facebook where almost 400,000 people play poker on Facebook every day, sometimes over 25,000 at the same time.
Some of Zynga’s other games on Facebook are Triumph, Blackjack, Attack, Scramble, and Diveman. Other games in the Zynga Game Network include Battleship, Texas Hold’Em, Triumph and Stickerz on Bebo, and Texas Hold’Em on Friendster. In total, the games in the Zynga Game Network have been installed over 10 million times and reach almost 700,000 unique game players every day.
Building a game network on top of the social web is a big idea. It starts with great games, both real time like poker and blackjack and turn based like Scramble. But the most important thing is to plug into the apis of the various social networks so that you can easily find out which of your friends are online and ready to play with you. Doing both well is hard and to date, no company other than Zynga Game Network has done that with multiple games on multiple networks. You can log into Texas Hold’em on Bebo and play with your friends who are Facebook. That’s jut a preview of what social gaming will be like in the coming years.
The financing that we provided Zynga, along with our friends Foundry Group, Avalon, Reid Hoffman, Peter Thiel, and several angels, has already allowed Zynga to double the size of its engineering team and to integrate several other social games and social game developers into their network. Building and supporting games across all of the major social net apis is a costly endeavor but one that we all believe will pay off as game players can access their friends wherever they are at that moment in time.
We are excited to be involved in a company that started as a single Facebook app. Mark is absolutely right that there will be many more companies that we’ll invest in going forward that start that way. But more than anything, we are excited to be involved in a company that is bringing your existing friends back into your game playing experiences. It’s about time.