Slingo CEO: 'Zynga was awesome at finding what was missing' [Interview]

Zynga Slingo in action
Zynga Slingo in action

The old guard of casual gamers remember the name "Slingo" well. Since its online debut on AOL nearly 20 years ago, the slots-meets-bingo game has reached far more than the peak 16 million unique monthly players it enjoyed on AOL. From discs to downloads to smartphones and even real-life slot machines, Slingo was everywhere ... except Facebook.

Of course, Zynga helped make that all better with yesterday's release of Zynga Slingo (with some coddling courtesy of Zynga board member Bing Gordon and a certain game designer's wife). But this wasn't Slingo's first shot at a successful social game. We're told that Slingo had been working on its own version of Slingo for Facebook. But, if you ask Slingo CEO Rich Roberts, the company might be thankful that it waited for Zynga to come along.

"This game has ... gone through a number of iterations. That's because you know it when it's right, and you know it when it's wrong," Roberts admits. "You start seeing things that are the right idea, but the play tests are like, 'It's missing something.' And Zynga was awesome at figuring out what it was missing."

Roberts has a storied history in the games scene, having served the likes of Berkley Systems, Viacom, Hasbro Interactive, Atari, Playfirst and now Slingo over the past 20 years or so. The video game veteran joined Slingo after leaving Playfirst with one mission: to give an already evergreen brand "some pop." But Roberts quickly realized that the scope of a successful Facebook game might be too much for Slingo's surprisingly small team of 20 to handle.


"Coming from Playfirst, where we had done a number of social games [like] Chocolatier and Diner Dash, it's not the same as a casual game, a download game," Roberts tells us. "The amount of metrics needed to actually be successful, the amount of data--you need four 20-person teams if you want to compete in the space."

With that, Slingo licensed the legendary brand to Zynga, and consulted on the game over its development period. And now, the slots-meets-bingo favorite is alive on Facebook, given the Zyngafication. (Which we imagine isn't terribly different from slapping Slingo on a table in a dark tower, pulling a lever and striking it with some good old lightning.) But wasn't Slingo already a social game ... technically?

Slingo CEO Rich Roberts
Slingo CEO Rich Roberts

"[Zynga has] taken the true aspects of what Slingo is--if you really break it down to the basics, Slingo is a match-one game. I don't know if it's fair or not, but Slingo is truly a social game in its birth," Roberts claims. "You were chatting around playing the game. The game was primary, the chatting was secondary, but you were socializing when you were playing. And Slingo can bring a lot of that to the social game arena."

In fact, Slingo plans on bringing those social gaming mechanics to the various Slingo slot machines across the country through IGT. (You know, the casino company that just bought DoubleDown Casino for $500 million?) We're told that, based on an internal survey at Slingo of 25,000 players, 20 percent of online Slingo players went back to real casinos to play the official Slingo slot machines.

Slingo isn't just an online game brand, but a gambling brand, too, according to Roberts. Money-printing Facebook gaming opportunities aside, that's what Slingo is truly excited about: iGaming, or online gambling through games. And now that Zynga has likely taken care of the social side of Slingo, the company can focus on its strengths (and intense interests).

"It keeps us on track of who we are. Our focus has always been on our website. That's where the 20 people here is all built around: building the best website experience," Roberts says. "And we branched out to the best download game experience. We just sat back and said, 'What do we know the best about? Online and gambling.' And what's the peanut butter and chocolate? iGaming."

With the slow progress online gambling has made in the U.S, however, Roberts doesn't expect iGaming to explode until 2013 at least. (If you look at Zynga's recentreleases, you'll notice that the two are likely on the same page.) And in the games world (both creatively and financially), timing is everything. Despite that, Roberts remains confident: "Whether we're late or early, I don't know--we're right."

Have you tried out Zynga Slingo on Facebook yet? Are you an old-time Slingo player, and if so, where have you played the game before? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.