Zynga Angers Gamers With Flubbed Street Racer Shutdown - UPDATED

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Zynga Angers Gamers With Flubbed Street Racer Shutdown - UPDATED

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Zynga's decision to pull the plug on its Street Racing social game has blown up in its face, as the company has managed to simultaneously anger, insult and rip off its fan base in one fell swoop.

The social gaming behemoth Zynga is best known for games like FarmVille, FrontierVille, Treasure Isle and Mafia Wars, but it actually has dozens of titles to its credit, including the aforementioned Street Racing. Street Racing's days are numbered, however, as the game is set to come down for good on August 2. But Zynga's unbelievably clumsy handling of the shutdown has fans up in arms.

For one thing, nobody has any idea why the game is being killed. News of the closure came in a brief message posted on the Street Racing forum that said only, "Hey Street Racers - On August 2nd, 2010 Street Racing will be shutting its garage doors and will no longer be open for business. But if you liked Street Racing, try out FrontierVille by Zynga! Get out to the homestead for some fresh air and fun! See ya there partner!"

Which of course leads to the second complaint: The stunningly condescending attitude that gamers who played Street Racer will naturally transition to FrontierVille just because Zynga tells them to. Social basis notwithstanding, could any two games have less to do with each other than Street Racing and FrontierVille?

The final piece of the "screw you trifecta" comes from the fact that, just as in other Zynga games, a lot of Street Racer players sunk a lot of real money into the game to customize and upgrade their online wheels. That money will simply disappear once the game closes; Zynga's invitation to FrontierVille didn't include any offer to bring existing credits along for the ride.

One possible reason for the Street Racing shutdown is its relatively small audience. It hovered around a half-million "monthly active users" for July (although its numbers are now dropping off), which sounds fairly impressive until they're compared to FrontierVille, which draws in almost 22 million MAU. Nonetheless, Zynga's approach to the closure was "fantastically stupid" and "asking for trouble," according to social gaming analyst Nicholas Lovell.

"Telling people to try FrontierVille from Street Racing is telling people to play a game that is completely different in terms of concept and design. A hugely apologetic email would have made more sense," he said.

"The second thing they could have done is offer people credits, where every [dollar] you spend in Street Racing will be used in other games," he added. "But I imagine they didn't want to set that precedent".

UPDATE: Apparently Zynga is okay with setting that precedent after all. The company has released a statement that, while not exactly an apology, at least tosses a bone to unhappy Street Racing fans.

"As of Aug. 2, 2010 Zynga Street Racing will no longer be available. We had previously shared this news in forums, on the Street Racing home page, and also offered our recent paying players a credit for their purchases," the company said. "As an acknowledgment of the inconvenience these changes may have caused, we have offered credits to all players who have made a purchase in the last 90 days. Those players will receive a credit for the exact amount of their purchases, plus an additional 100 units of premium currency, in any of Zynga's nine most popular games. We thank the Street Racing community for their support and hope they enjoy a new Zynga game of their choosing."

It's not clear whether this was the policy right from the start and just hadn't been clearly communicated (there's no indication on the Street Racing Facebook page that credit transfers are available) or if it's a reaction to the wave of negative feedback from gamers, but either way it sounds like a fair deal. It's just a pity it took so much screwing around and animosity to get here.

Source: Develop

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And thats why Zynga sucks...it dosnt care about its customer base. Only money, more and more money

"We're closing down the escapist. But if you liked that, try 4chan!"

Wow. And this at the end of the week when Escapist takes a look at Social gaming in-depth - quite serendipitous I suppose.

And as I posted in one thread about that before - I like the people and the concept of casual games just fine! But I hate the business model built around it, that encourages this sort of behaviour towards its customers.

But ah well...let the buyer beware is all I'll say I s'pose. Annnd cue the anti-Zynga rage in 3...2...1... :)

"social gaming analyst Nicholas Lovell"

How exactly does one qualify to be a social gaming analyst?

A dumb move on two fronts. This will also likely start a word of mouth campaign against Frontierville by about a half million upset people.

That kind of story spreads, and it might get people to really start thinking about what money put into Zynga games actually buys them, and whether it's worth it - and that's the last thing Zynga wants.

Ohhhh yeah, they really screwed with people here.

And that is why Zynga is one of the worst gaming companies around.

Who in their right mind would have ever signed off on that message as the means of informing your player-base that you are shutting down the game they play? That's just... wow. Frontierville. Really. If you loved street racing, you're sure to like a simplified social version of Oregon Trail, yes sirree!

This is one of the stupidest things I've read in ages.

Marmooset:
"We're closing down the escapist. But if you liked that, try 4chan!"

I lol'd.

Yeah, this is quite possibly one of the worst gaming-related PR blunders I've ever seen.

down with zynga! those money hungry bastards!

Nice to see them looking bad. Will it change the opinions of their customers? Likely not, since they don't give a shit about who made what game, so long as the game exists.

Sorry everybody, Modern Warfare 2 is shutting down. Why don't you hop on over to Split/Second! Oh and your map packs are gone, but oh well! DO AS WE SAY OR WE WILL DEFILE YOU!

Go Zynga. Dig yourselves further.

rembrandtqeinstein:
"social gaming analyst Nicholas Lovell"

How exactly does one qualify to be a social gaming analyst?

being on facebook in your sleep

While I sort of understand their anger, the fact is, this was inevitable. Nothing lasts forever. There will be day when even FarmVille will be shut down. And when that day comes, the exact same dilemma about digital 'property' will arise.

So, the question is, if this is the wrong way to shut down such a game, what's the right way?

Jaredin:
And thats why Zynga sucks...it dosnt care about its customer base. Only money, more and more money

I'm not entirely sure Zynga views their players as customers, just commodities. I'd love to see a breakdown of where Zynga gets their money. I know there are people who sink money into their games, but I'd imagine they're a minority? Anyone have any numbers one way or the other?

Stupid Zynga. You need a comma before the word "partner."

Anyway, they are just being the same old, money-focused company that they've always been. This is what you get if you put money into Zynga's games, I suppose.

Question: why would you shut down a fully developed game that can't cost much in the way of bandwidth and is merely another source of income?

So people are upset because a game they payed money for no longer works?

Kay. This happens all the time. I'm not sure I see the problem here.

rembrandtqeinstein:
"social gaming analyst Nicholas Lovell"

How exactly does one qualify to be a social gaming analyst?

I was thinking that myself.
Though I was even more curious as to whether that was supposed to be a job title, and if so, how someone makes a living off of studying what seems like a narrow subject.

Unless of course social gaming refers to all games with social aspects, as opposed to just those on social networking sites.

Credge:
So people are upset because a game they payed money for no longer works?

Kay. This happens all the time. I'm not sure I see the problem here.

That argument worked in the 90s. These days with the advent of micro-transaction gaming and so on, theres a certain level of commitment expected from the company's end.

Ultimately though, Zynga can get away with this quite easily. They're not making enough profit for their tastes from the Stree Racing players so even if none of the players switch to their other games it makes no difference to them. Obviously they lose the existing revenue but compared to their other titles thats like a drop of water in the ocean.

hehe, thats like shutting down Modern Warfare 2's servers, then telling them to try Wii Sports.

Credge:
So people are upset because a game they payed money for no longer works?

Kay. This happens all the time. I'm not sure I see the problem here.

They are upset because they invested money in virtual property in a persistant world. A bit differant than a subscription based game where the company honors the remaining subscription months, but refuses to allow renewals and shuts the game down when they naturally expire.

I'm sure there is some kind of agreement made that Zynga can do this, similar to clauses in some of the lifetime subscriptions for MMORPGs that the subscription still allows the company to take the game down any time it wants and for any reason. Seeing this actually happen in this factor though raises a lot of questions, including the validity of online contracts, which have always been in disupute to some extent. Zynga isn't going out of business, indeed they are still supporting games in the same format and on the same platform, they are simply choosing to shut that one down and screw the people who invested because of their bottom line. It will be interesting to see what happens if this goes to court, while the paperwork is in their favor doubtlessly, that has not always guaranteed a victory.

Also to play Devil's Advocate, while their attitude does blow chips, one routine criticism I hear about Zynga is that all their games are fundementally the same, and play in a very similar fashion. Engine and playstyle wise, Frontierville might amount to what is a conceptual reskin of their Street Racing game. Oh sure, common sense dictates that the storylines involved (such as they are) matter to the player base, however we live in a world of increasing corperate detachement where the people making desicians oftentimes seem not to get things like this, common sense decreasing in proportion to how much they routinely decide based on numbers and statistics. To the guys at the top it might really seem like the same thing. While a unique situation so far, this isn't the first example we've seen of an extremely patronizing attitude by a big business that seems to just not get it.

Of course by the numbers they might just not care. As I've pointed out before there is such a thing as "corperate chic" and being able to abuse your consumers publically and still take their money on a massive scale is a big part of it. I've seen this discussed over the years, and some of the comments made by Bobby Kotick and various Sony execs seem to play into it. It is possible that Zynga is doing this in part to show off to other businesses in hopes of attracting more investors and such due to how solid their base business is. Assuming they increase profits by cutting the expenses involved in running "Street Racing", losing 500k users is no big deal, especially if they can rely on their other game player bases remaining untouched due to addiction and people not caring about what happens elsewhere in the "Zyngaverse". The horrible threat of displease customers talking to their friends and gradually undermining their business also being irrelevent. Basically if I was some dude who was looking for a stable business to invest money in, someone demonstrating they could abuse 500,000 customers with no ill effect to the sheeple running into their arms with cash bags would certainly impress me with the investment lasting for the long term. Especially if they are insulting with how they do it, and nothing happens.

Such are my rambling thoughts on the subject, not nessicarly accurate, but what comes to mind when I look at it.

Credge:
So people are upset because a game they payed money for no longer works?

As far as that goes, I'm kind of inclined to agree. No game lasts forever and that's especially true with microtransaction-based digital content. It's one of the reasons I tend to avoid digital purchases, even if I have to put much greater effort into finding conventional copies. It's mine and it can't be taken away just because somebody decides that it's no longer cost effective.

But the real problem here, I think, is Zynga's attitude. Losing digital content is life in the big city but the whole "go play Frontierville" thing is just a slap in the face, as is the decision to shut down Street Racing without any explanation whatsoever. It displays a remarkable level of contempt toward the customer base that's pretty hard for anyone to miss.

DJPirtu:
While I sort of understand their anger, the fact is, this was inevitable. Nothing lasts forever. There will be day when even FarmVille will be shut down. And when that day comes, the exact same dilemma about digital 'property' will arise.

So, the question is, if this is the wrong way to shut down such a game, what's the right way?

From what I've seen most games work on a subscription basis, where you continue to pay while you play and, hopefully, are getting your money's worth each month. Then there's DLC, but usually you own that and the product so you should be able to play it eternally. Instances where online authentication has been required and servers have been shut down have been widely panned and the more mature gaming industry players are understanding their obligations better now. In the event that Steam stopping serving games I'd hope that they provided access to the games you own to at least back up installers and retain copies.

Zynga are taking bold steps which should be a warning to the digital distribution as a whole. You're paying them and presuming/trusting that they don't simply decide to pull hosting of the product, and any or all of your investment into it.

I hope that companies respond positively to this and it doesn't become the norm.

IIRC, this isn't Zynga's only misstep in the digital age. The big bosses come down as condescending and crass, not really caring about the customers they anger, merely the fact that they get money out of their customers.

I'm now convinced I will never invest money into these games. At the drop of a hat, all of that money would go to a huge faceless corporation that shouldn't be getting so large so fast.

Marmooset:
"We're closing down the escapist. But if you liked that, try 4chan!"

People write words, so it's basically the same, right?

Anyways, this is just stupid. The worst thing is that no one can or will lash out at them; the poor Street Racing folks have no rights towards the things they bought, and nobody else will care enough to help them.

Kwil:
A dumb move on two fronts. This will also likely start a word of mouth campaign against Frontierville by about a half million upset people.

Ya, but the thing about a large majority of social gamers is that they don't tend to care that much nor do they listen. You could stand at a street corner for 2 hours talking about how Zynga did this and stole that or is ripping off those guys, but in the end, a good majority of the people you spoke to will still log into Farmville or Frontierville and keep playing and keep playing.

geek.flip:

Jaredin:
And thats why Zynga sucks...it dosnt care about its customer base. Only money, more and more money

I'm not entirely sure Zynga views their players as customers, just commodities. I'd love to see a breakdown of where Zynga gets their money. I know there are people who sink money into their games, but I'd imagine they're a minority? Anyone have any numbers one way or the other?

I know a lot of the money comes from Russia from friends of Putin (take that how you want), however, I think that is just the starting up investment. The maintaining cost are more then covered by "buy stuff in the advertisements, get points for maintaining your farm/ keeping your wagon supplied/ tricking out your cow/ etc." buisness model gets them LOADS of cash.

People put real money into Facebook games?

Jaredin:
And thats why Zynga sucks...it dosnt care about its customer base. Only money, more and more money

This. That, and the fact they pull in 22 million a month- 99/100 of them only there because they are on Facebook at the same time- has made them incredibly up their own arse.

I think you made a mistake in the title, I see the word 'gamers' there.
Anyway, I find this quite funny. I dunno why, it just is.

Jaredin:
And thats why Zynga sucks...it dosnt care about its customer base. Only money, more and more money

why does that sound familiar to me? sounds like another game company

funksobeefy:
People put real money into Facebook games?

Where do you think half the applications on Facebook make their money? Why do you think so many people make games and applications for it?

HAHAAHAH and those fools will pay for supporting the likes of zynga, as will the rest of you, and pay...and pay...in tiny increments for very little returned joy (merely the convenience of not looking elsewhere for entertainment).

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