On The Couch With The Harvard MBA Running Zynga

Founder and CEO Mark Pincus discusses the early years of gaming firm Zynga and his post-IPO strategy in this revealing interview

Reuters technology correspondent Matt Cowan has done a fascinating interview with Mark Pincus, the Harvard MBA who is founder and CEO of Zynga, the firm behind social games like FarmVille and CityVille.

As of April 2012, Zynga's games have over 292 million monthly active users, and its mission is "Connecting the world through games". In the first quarter of 2012, 15% of Facebook’s revenues came from advertising or payments tied to Zynga games. Cowan caught up with Pincus at the firm’s headquarters in San Francisco for an in-depth discussion about how the firm got started and where it’s headed.

Pincus, 46, describes the evening in March 2008 when the Zynga team went live with a paid-for package in their first hit game, Texas Hold’em Poker, now called Zynga Poker. They offered the opportunity to buy chips for higher stake tables, previously only accessible if players spent a month or so working their way up to them. Over 100 of the first package, priced at US$5, sold within a few seconds.

Pincus asked his Chief Technology Officer to increase the price to $20, and then $50, and then $100 and people kept buying! Pincus and his team had already figured out that they could make money out of social games – 90 per cent of Zynga’s revenues come from games played on Facebook – but the amount people were willing to spend evidently surprised them.

Here's one of the videos. Check out Matt Cowan's blog on Reuters Media File for his other interviews with Mark Pincus!

{{video:embed url="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzmIRLvatfY"}}

Pincus holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Before he became an entrepreneur, he worked in venture capital and financial services for six years, including a stint in Hong Kong. He completed his MBA in 1993 and launched his first start-up, Freeloader, Inc., in 1995, managing to sell it for $38 million within seven months. Two more start-ups followed, in business software and social networking, before he founded Zynga in 2007.

Looking to the future, Pincus tells Cowan that firms like Zynga, Facebook, Google and Amazon are metaphorically “skyscrapers of the internet” which will still be around in 100 years. He also touches on Zynga’s strategy for gaming via the TV, and expansion into Asia: Pincus is confident Zynga can be the number one social gaming brand in the world without cracking China and India, though the firm is expanding rapidly in both countries.

Cowan also asks about Zynga’s $180 million purchase of gaming firm OMGPOP in March, which was widely criticised, and its share price, which has halved from $10 to $4.83 since the firm’s IPO in December 2011. As expected, Pincus says that he can focus both on Zynga’s vision, which includes providing an experience that “gets through to our moms and people… who don’t have time for games,” as well as metrics that Wall Street cares about such as daily active users of games and the percentage of users who spend money.

Over the long run, says Pincus, social games that bring people together are the ones that people will play “for a year and not just for a weekend.”

Photo credit: Joi Ito

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