What Zynga's game closures say about the social gaming market

The recent hard times for the social gaming market have been harder on some games than others. Last week, social-gaming mega-publisher Zynga decided to shut down two well-established parts of its catalog. First, the servers for Roller Coaster Kingdom (RCK) were shut off, then Ponzi Inc., a promising game Zynga got as part of a Challenge Games acquisition less than a month ago, went dark for good.

So, what can we learn from the abrupt termination of these two games? Well, one lesson seems to be that the standards for success in social gaming are going to keep increasing -- at least for the big publishers. Despite their declining popularity, both Ponzi Inc. and Roller Coaster Kingdom had a relatively decent number of monthly active users when they were closed -- 221,000 players for Ponzi and 1.2 million players for RCK. That might not seem like much compared against Farmville's industry-leading 62 million monthly players, but it probably doesn't seem like chump change to many struggling social game makers just getting their start.

Obviously Zynga's resources are limited, and devoting resources to a game that attracts "only" one million players a month might not make sense -- especially when those resources could be put towards a more popular game. That said, I can't imagine letting the servers for these games limp along would have been a crushing expense for a company like Zynga. In fact, those costs would probably go down quickly as the player bases continued to shrink (although maybe not quickly enough -- a smaller user base probably eliminates some of the economies of scale that help amortize costs for mega-games).

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