Massively Casual

Massively Casual
The Man Who Would be Zynga

Russ Pitts | 27 Jul 2010 12:42
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Reynolds sold his company to publisher THQ in 2008, hoping to utilize the larger company's resources to make a successful Wii game, or console RPG. Sadly, they didn't get the chance. In 2009, THQ re-gifted Big Huge Games to 38 Studios, the company that MLB pitcher Curt Schilling built. Reynolds took advantage of the opportunity to become a free agent, shipping out to Zynga, a company he describes as "well organized chaos."

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"It's very fast-moving," he says. "There's an emphasis on getting right on top of any kind of problem right away. Much more important that you grab the problem and solve it than if you 'filled out all the right paperwork first.' Folks from more traditional companies might find it kind of chaotic, but it's ... really well suited for the kind of game design I do."

Reynolds expresses a touch of discontent describing the current state of game design, a discontent shared by many of his fellow design veterans, like industry legend Warren Spector, whose latest game is in many ways a return to a simple era of game design, when every molecule of every environment didn't need to be rendered to exacting specifications.

" A lot of my last 20 years has felt like the 'total amount of game design' needed for any particular AAA game has stayed fairly constant, maybe grown just a tad, but the 'total amount of time' needed for a game has gone drastically upwards," says Reynolds. "Games can take 3-4 years to make, and there are huge periods where there isn't much useful game design ... as opposed to talking yourself in circles in meetings or documents. So suddenly being back in a space where we can start throwing real gameplay together in a month or so, and have it ready for release in much less than a year, that's fantastic!"

He says that, for him, the lure of social network games was the fun he had playing them himself. The appeal was immediate, as was his fascination with the games themselves and the opportunities they represented.

"By early 2009 I was starting to think 'hey I could make a better one of these,' which is usually the first step down the road to trying a new genre," he says. "It's a [kind of] game where most of the fun comes from playing with your real friends who are also on the platform. That's really the special nuclear bomb of this kind of gaming ... with social network games your real friends are all in one place, and you can play games with them as you keep up with them. That's where the magic comes from."

Magic - and money. Zynga games are money magnets, encouraging players to spend hard cash as they play, or participate in advertisers' "opportunities" like taking surveys or signing up for free memberships. Advertiser partners pay Zynga good money for the opportunity to be placed in front of the eyeballs of the millions of players obsessively watering their gardens in FarmVille or "pushing buttons" on their friends in Mafia Wars.

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