Inside Zynga: Now the Creators of 'CityVille'

PHOTO Zynga will officially announce the launch of its latest game, ?CityVille,? a take on the company?s super popular ?FarmVille? game, on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010.PlayAlyssa Litoff/ABC News
WATCH Social Online Gaming Success

Long gone are the days of games such as Shoots and Ladders and Candyland. Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario are old friends now forgotten. There's a new kid on the block -- Zynga, the social gaming company that is growing at record speed, has changed the way people around the world play games and interact with one another online.

"Nightline" was given exclusive, behind-the-scenes access to the company's headquarters and game studio in San Francisco. In an exclusive interview, CEO and founder Mark Pincus also gave us a first look at Zynga's newest game, "CityVille," a take on the company's super popular "FarmVille" game.

VIDEO: Zyngas CEO Mark Pincus says "virtual goods is a very affordable pastime."Play
Meet the Maker of FarmVille

"Where in FarmVille you're growing crops, in CityVille you're growing neighborhoods," Pincus said. "In FarmVille you're tending to your animals and in CityVille, you're tending to your residents and your people. And in both cases, it's all about playing with your friends."

Watch the full story on "Nightline" tonight at 11:35 p.m. ET

Sean Kelly is the General Manager of CityVille, overseeing the development and execution of the new game.

"The concept is Monopoly meets Main Street. So, we think it's a great idea for users to be able to build a dream city from the ground up. So, they'll be letting their imagination run wild with all the different things you can do in a city," he explained. "We have every kind of restaurant. We've got different kinds of train stations. We have skyscrapers for high finance. We have really an opportunity for people to build whatever kind of city they want."

VIDEO: Diane Sawyer chats wtih Nick Bilton about the success of Facebook and FarmVillePlay

Kelly designed the game to allow users to create cities as diverse and the people creating them.

"So, if you're from a small town in real life, you can build a big, thriving metropolis. If you're from a big city, maybe you can redo it the way that you wish it was. It can have more community gardens or more open air space. We have all different kinds of things that you can use to decorate the game and express yourself," he said.

One of the goals when developing CityVille is to make it Zynga's most social game ever, Kelly added. "We even have more social interactions than we've ever done before around trading goods, sending people trains and all kinds of things that you can do to play with each other to grow your city."

The opportunity to interact with friends doesn't stop there. "In our game, you can even run a business in one of your friends' cities," Kelly said. "By interacting, I'm also actually making progress in the game and looking for ways to increase the number of friends that I can play with."

CityVille will also be Zynga's first game to launch in five different languages -- English, French, Italian, German and Spanish -- as well as the company's first game to use 3D-rendered technology, making CityVille its most complex game to date.

Before Zynga, the 44-year-old said he was a self-described "serial entrepreneur" who was making a career out of searching for a career.

"I joke to my friends, when I started this company that I'm kind of like the 41-year-old pitcher for the Yankees, who's still walking out to the mound, and he looks around, and all his friends are coaches or team owners, or they have car dealerships or something, and he's still doing it, and he's still at it," he said.

Now known for popular games like "Pincus's company has hit a grand slam.

Started in 2007, the CEO said Zynga grew out of what he described as the need for a website that was about having fun.

"I saw a lot of sites that had fulfilled, I think, the original promise of the Web for us, which was that we should get utility, we should save time and save money. I think we were ready for the next generation of the Internet," Pincus said. "If you think of this as turning the Web into one cocktail party, it's giving them something to do together while they're at the party."

And people have flocked to Pincus's party. According to, an independent application traffic tracking service, Zynga has 202 million monthly active users -- 44.5 million of whom play its games on a daily basis.

The company is best known for its game "FarmVille," available on Facebook and as an App for the iPhone and the Android phone systems.

Players manage a virtual farm by planting, growing and harvesting virtual crops and rising virtual livestock to rise through the levels of the game, earning virtual currency called "farm coins" along the way. Players can buy and trade virtual crops and livestock to build up their online farming world.

"Farmville": Full of Fun and Controversy

"A key to social games is that your mother and your nephew and your college friend all find that game accessible to them, and so it has to have rules that one understands. No one has to tell you the rules of farming," Pincus explained. "A lot of social gaming is about self-expression and so 'FarmVille' in a way is like this Etch-A-Sketch that you can come back to everyday and draw a new picture and then visit your friends and see what they did."

Zynga has found a pattern of success in similar games like "FishVille," "PetVille," "FrontierVille," and "CafeWorld" -- all of which center on an action and reward system that encourages players to purchase virtual goods with a credit card in order to move through game levels faster or to purchase special items that are unavailable to non-paying players.

"This is actually one of the cheapest forms of entertainment that the world has ever seen. Our games are free games. You can come play our games and most users play and never spend any money," he said.

But according to Sharepost Inc., an estimated 2 to 3 percent of "FarmVille" users -- 5 to 10 million people -- do use their credit cards to buy virtual goods, a key concept to Zynga's business model.

"For some users who are very engaged ... they're happy to spend money -- less than a Starbucks coffee -- to have a decoration on their game board," Pincus said. "I think that [buying] virtual goods is a very affordable pastime and form of entertainment, much less money than taking your family to a movie. So I'm not surprised that it's grown into a real industry, and I do think you're going to see it continue to grow worldwide. That's how we make money."

There have been reports of people who have become so hooked on "FarmVille," that they've gone into credit card debt or spent their savings to purchase items for their virtual farm. Some have even become violent.

In April, a 12-year-old British boy made headlines after his mother discovered he racked up an astounding $1,300 bill on her credit card with charges from buying items for "FarmVille" on Facebook.

Even more recently, in October, a 22-year-old woman from Jacksonville, Fl. pleaded guilty to shaking her baby to death. She told investigators she became angry when her three-month-old son started crying while she was playing "FarmVille."

Other controversies have surrounded the company, including how Zynga handles its users' privacy.

Reports last year referred to the company as "Scamville" for using third-party offers that some users found misleading, though TechCrunch, the blog that originated those reports later praised Zynga for taking steps to eliminate elements of some questionable third-party ad practices.

"Well, I think that you start to get a lot of criticism as your company is more successful," said Pincus.

Last month, a lawsuit was filed against the company, alleging that it illegally shared the Facebook user data of its customers with advertisers and data brokers.

"At every point, we put the user first. At every point we protect user's information. We've never sold user's information to anybody, and we don't intend to," Pincus said. "In fact, we need to make social games a comfortable place for you to come and play and share with your friends. We have no interest in ever abusing that trust, and we never have and we never will."

Though it's still a private company, Zynga is estimated to be worth around $5.5 billion, according to Sharepost Inc. -- with annual revenue of more than a half billion dollars this year.

Pincus would not discuss the company's finances in specific terms, "I won't confirm or deny the presence of revenues in our company," he said, though adding, "You're in the ballpark."

Zynga's Perks Allow Employees To Bring Dogs To Work

The company is growing incredibly fast, with 1,300 full-time employees, the majority of them based in California. Zynga is already preparing to move into a new headquarters a few miles down the road -- the company's third new building in less than four years.

Like its Silicon Valley predecessors, Zynga prides itself on a work environment filled with special perks meant to create an atmosphere that keeps things playful and rewards employees for hard work.

Pincus named the company after his beloved pet dog. "She became the mascot and the icon of our whole company," he said.

Every day is "bring your dog to work day" at the company, not to mention the fully stocked snack area in each office, weekly happy hour events, monthly poker tournaments with prizes including weekend trips to Vegas or Lamborghini car rentals, haircuts, massages and acupuncture in the appropriately named "Zen Room."

Pincus Says His Company 'Builds the Digital Skyscrapers'

"The whole focus of the company is helping other people have fun. And if we're not having fun, I don't see how we can build games that are going to be fun," said Zynga employee Ken Rudin.

Excited about the announcement of the new game, Pincus said he's lookign forward to what the future might hold.

"I want to make games that my family plays and that you one day will play, and that's really what this is about," he said. "We have the opportunity to build the digital skyscrapers. This is like 1910, and we have a chance to build the services that will matter in people's lives in 20 years and that's really, really a heady experience for so many of us."

ABC News' Lauren Effron contributed to this report