In Zynga's fourth-quarter earnings call, CEO Mark Pincus got a question about how his company is going to recreate the awesome viral effects it used to have on Facebook as players shift to mobile.
That is the question for Zynga.
Pincus first gave measured praise to Facebook. On the Web, Facebook's News Feed offers a great way for a player to tell their friends about a game and recruit them to play. That's because Facebook essentially is the operating system for social games on the Web.
The problem for Zynga is that Facebook can twist the dials on what shows up in the News Feed. Last year, as Facebook turned down the volume on games that users found too spammy, Zynga got hurt bad.
On mobile, there's nothing like Facebook. Pincus called the mobile landscape "fragmented," and it is—between Apple and Android, between tablets and smartphones, and between social networks.
Pincus lamented that it was hard for someone playing Words With Friends to send a request to a friend to play on mobile, and said that Zynga had to develop that system.
A large reason why Zynga renegotiated its exclusive deal with Facebook, giving up some valuable advantages it had over other games makers, was to get more freedom to build such a friend-finding platform outside of Facebook's social universe.
Of course, Zynga has an alternative.
It's called App Center, which is Facebook's system for promoting apps. It already crosses Web and mobile. Facebook users can encounter an app on the website and send a link to their smartphone to install it.
Everything that Pincus talked about Zynga needing is already in place.
The problem with that is that it puts Zynga back at square one—a place of supine dependence on Facebook.
So this is not an easy game for Pincus to play.
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