Zynga radically refreshed its product line today with a slew of new games and tweaks to its gaming platform and mobile strategy that it called the biggest in its five-year history.
Something drastic was in order, analysts say, as the social-gaming titan tries to prop up its stock price and retain customers. Most of Zynga's games translate better to larger PC and laptop screens than to mobile devices, and not all can be played on smartphones. The same principle applies to buying virtual goods.
Zynga launched three new versions of its Ville franchise:
•The Ville, a Sims-like game heavy on Facebook updates and in-game messaging from Mark Skaggs, affectionately known within Zynga as "the Godfather of social games" and the brains behind CityVille and FarmVille.
•ChefVille, a next-generation restaurant similar to Zynga's Café World.
•FarmVille 2, the 3-D sequel to Zynga's signature title.
Zynga also introduced a service for players across all devices. And it announced a partnership program for outside developers, including Atari, to make mobile games.
A new multiplayer mode on Zynga.com lets up to four people compete at the same time on Bubble Safari, Zynga's most popular title. More game titles will be added, as will the ability to play across smartphones and Facebook.
The ambitious slate of products reflects high stakes in an estimated $2.5 billion gaming market, says Michael Pachter, gaming analyst at Wedbush Securities. He says Zynga's newer games are more mobile-based, such as Words with Friends and Draw Something.
Social gaming is roughly in the same place as online search in 1999 and e-commerce in 2002: crucial markets on the verge of becoming more ubiquitous, says Zynga CEO Mark Pincus.
"Social gaming, on a daily basis, could be as important as e-mail and text messaging," Pincus said Monday in an interview.
Indeed, 72% of American households play computer or video games, according to Entertainment Software Association.
Yet Zynga lost daily-active users for a couple of its titles in May, says Cowen & Co. analyst Doug Creutz. In a report, he said Hidden Chronicles lost 1.8 million daily-active users, to 3.3 million (35%), and CityVille lost 1.7 million to 4.5 million (27%).
The lone bright spot was Bubble Safari, which picked up 5.7 million daily-active users in its first four weeks, Creutz reported.
Pachter disputed the report, calling monthly-active users a better indicator of a game's popularity.
Zynga's stock has suffered as a result — losing about a third of its value since the company went public in December at $9.50 a share.