Selling sex in Zynga's FrontierVille (SXSW)

Ronny Kerr · March 14, 2011 · Short URL:

Brian Reynolds, Chief Game Designer at Zynga, talks data, improvisation, and strange sexual innuendo

We already knew that Zynga was a data-obsessed company. Click to buy a crop and Zynga’s watching, click to build a restaurant and Zynga’s watching. The social gaming colossus gathers a petabyte of data daily because it wants to know what’s working for users and what isn’t; it’s certainly one way to attract 250 million people to your games every month.
Here’s one particularly “sexy” example of how Zynga uses all the data it harvests, related by Chief Game Designer Brian Reynolds in a SXSW Interactive panel entitled “The New Frontier of Social Gaming.”
Early in FrontierVille, a Facebook game Zynga launched in June 2010, users go through an exercise in finding and moving sheep. It's a simple task intended to teach people how to play the game and, once the task is completed, the player decides whether to publish theiri accomplishment to the News Feed. If they do, the story publishes with the image pictured here--just an innocent little illustration of a girl frantically happy to have found her sheep, right?
Apparently a lot of people didn’t think it so innocent. Reynolds said he and his team noticed an unusually high number of people sharing the accomplishment with friends, often with a message attached along the lines of “what is she doing to that sheep?!” Naturally, friends clicked through and started playing the game at an even higher frequency than before.
The beauty of it all is that, instead of freaking out about the X-rated “livestock malfunction,” Zynga took the accident as a lesson and started incorporating more sexually suggestive images into their News Feed stories:
"The kids don't notice this stuff at all, but the parents love [it]," said Reynolds. “This doesn't make us viral anymore [because Facebook changed the visibility of app stories] but they still have a very high engagement value.”

Everyone knows sex sells, but who would have been so clever to incorporate innuendo into a social game but Zynga. I have no doubt that its obsession with analytics helps the company regularly uncover effective strategies like this.

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Zynga is the largest social gaming company with 8.5 million daily users and 45 million monthly users.  Zynga’s games are available on Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Hi5, Friendster, Yahoo! and the iPhone, and include Texas Hold’Em Poker, Mafia Wars, YoVille, Vampires, Street Racing, Scramble and Word Twist.  The company is funded by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, IVP, Union Square Ventures, Foundry Group, Avalon Ventures, Pilot Group, Reid Hoffman and Peter Thiel.  Zynga is headquartered at the Chip Factory in San Francisco.  For more information, please visit