Welcome to Zynga's Downward Spiral


There's a fatal flaw to OMGPOP's Pictionary knockoff Draw Something.

There's nothing to stop the other player from scribbling the word that you are supposed to guess. Since the two players of the social gaming app are merely working together to drum up a longer winning streak, the incentive to cheat is greater than the motivation to play by the rules.

Isn't that Zynga's (NAS: ZNGA) dilemma right now?

It's reportedly in talks to acquire OMGPOP in a deal for as much as $200 million.

Why create the next big game when it can buy it out -- the way it did with Words With Friends developer Newtoy last year? If OMGPOP balks, Zynga can just whip up a knockoff of the knockoff. Given Zynga's breadth, brand, and distribution, it can knock off the knockoff with its own knockoff of the knockoff's knockoff.

Are you following me or did I knock you off?

Zynga can try and create an original game, but where's the money in that? Like a game of Draw Something itself, the incentive to cheat is greater than the motivation to play by the rules.

Come unoriginal
"You're not smarter than your competitor," Zynga CEO Mark Pincus reportedly once told an ex-employee. "Just copy what they do, and do it until you get their numbers."

If it was that simple, Zynga wouldn't have a care in the world. It would glue itself to Apple's (NAS: AAPL) App Store or Facebook's usage pages and just snap up developers on the rise. If they refuse, Zynga just codes a wannabe.

It's done this before. It will do it again.

However, what really happens if OMGPOP walks away? Can Zynga really pull off a clone of a game that is more popular than any single Zynga game is at the moment?

It tried to copy the Tiny Tower mobile game with Dream Heights, but that game is only entertaining 220,000 monthly users on Facebook. Compare that to the performance of some of Zynga's larger games, as compiled earlier this week by fellow Fool Evan Niu. Words With Friends is currently Zynga's top game with 8.4 million daily average users, with CityVille clocking in at a close second with 7.9 million virtual city dwellers. Draw Something has them both beat with 13 million daily active users.

Head over to Apple's App Store, and it isn't even close. Draw Something is both the top free and the top paid app across all of the virtual storefront's categories. The hottest Zynga-related app is Boggle rip-off Scramble With Friends on the free side (at No. 14) and Scrabble copycat Words With Friends on the premium side (at No. 7).

No one would blame OMGPOP's founders if it took the $200 million and ran, but does it realize that it's outmuscling a company commanding a roughly $10 billion market cap? Why does it have to settle for less?

Independence is underrated
OMGPOP didn't need Zynga to shoot to the top. It obviously doesn't need it know. Yes, the pressure to cash out on top is huge. No game stays on top forever. Just ask Zynga and its decaying FarmVille homesteads and gunned-down Mafia Wars 2 mobsters.

However, what if it becomes the new Zynga? What if it becomes the company that can use its growing breadth, brand, and distribution to make acquisitions of its own or help some of its more obscure in-house titles bubble up to the top? The Zynga cookbook doesn't contain any secret recipes. Every developer wants to be the next bull terrier bully.

If OMGPOP is still not sure that it can go it alone, what about reaching out to a traditional video game company? Electronic Arts (NAS: EA) has been making some serious inroads in casual gaming, dating back to the 2009 acquisition of Playfish, an upstart founded by ex-Zynga hires. Activision Blizzard (NAS: ATVI) has been slow to come around to the realm of social and casual gaming, but after seeing its World of Warcraft audience consistently shrink over the past year it needs something new to please investors between Diablo and Call of Duty installments. THQ (NAS: THQI) is a mess right now, but isn't DrawSomething a perfect fit for its uDraw console graphics tablet? THQ can't afford the purchase, but OMGPOP can always go public by treating THQ as a convenient shell.

There are options out there, and somebody needs to show Zynga that it can't be calling all of the shots in social gaming. When it was revealed earlier this year that Zynga accounted for 12% of Facebook's revenue -- and most of its non-advertising revenue -- someone should have put an end to this nonsense right then and there.

I called OMGPOP Zynga's biggest nightmare last week, before reports surfaced that a buyout was potentially in the works. Zynga wanting to buy OMGPOP isn't a surprise, but the social gaming leader has to realize that it won't be able to buy every disruptor.

I won't blame OMGPOP for punching out here, but someday an upstart will stand up and expose Zynga.

Is it my turn to scribble a clue on Draw Something? Why draw a naked Zynga when I can just spell it out?

Gnaw something
Even though the next trillion-dollar revolution will be in mobile, it may not involve Zynga. A free special report will get you up to speed.

At the time thisarticle was published Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz calls them as he sees them. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. The Fool owns shares of and has written calls on Activision Blizzard.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Activision Blizzard and Apple.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave also recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple and a synthetic long position in Activision Blizzard. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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