Zynga Launches Real-Money Poker Product
Roughly two years ago former Zynga Poker General Manager Lo Toney looked the poker world in the eye and said that Zynga, the San Francisco-based social gaming giant, had no plans to offer real-money poker. The poker world didn’t believe Toney (who left Zynga in November 2012) and it had the right of it. Today Zynga launched ZyngaPlusPoker and ZyngaPlusCasino, its first real-money gaming products, in the United Kingdom.
ZyngaPlusPoker is essentially a bwin.party skin. It shares player liquidity with PartyPoker and is powered by Party’s operating platform, software and support. For the moment, only desktop and web versions of the game client are available. In a blog post announcing the launch, Zynga promised that Facebook and mobile versions would be launched later this year.
“Our long term vision is to offer our players the next generation of real money games on multiple platforms in regulated markets worldwide,” wrote Zynga Chief Revenue Officer Barry Cottle. “We take responsible gaming seriously and are proud to partner with bwin.party, an industry leader and a reputable company that is fully licensed by a premier regulatory authority.”
The launch of ZyngaPlusPoker and ZyngaPlusCasino is the culmination of a complete about-face from Zynga’s position two years ago, when Toney told RawVegas.tv that the company had no plans for real-money gaming.
“We are very happy with our existing business model, which is the sale of virtual goods,” Toney said at ZyngaPokerCon in March 2011. “That business model has been very successful for us as a company across all of our games.”
Since then, however, Zynga has suffered declining fortunes in the social gaming market, where it has had difficulty replicating the early successes of its social games like FarmVille. The company’s share price, which rose from an IPO price of $9.50 in December 2011 to a high of $14.69 in March 2012, has been battered by the market all the way down to $3.33.
Zynga made its first forays into real-money gaming by executing a talent acquisition of PokerTableRatings.com in April 2011, just two weeks after the 2011 PokerCon. It partnered with bwin.party in October 2012, fully signaling that the company viewed real-money gaming as a core part of its future.
“At heart, we’re a social gaming company,” Cottle told AllThingsD. “We view real-money gaming as a natural extension of that.”
With the launch of ZyngaPlusPoker limited to the United Kingdom for now, it’s unclear what effect it will have on the existing online poker traffic rankings. The entry probably couldn’t have come at a worse time for Full Tilt Poker, which has struggled to retain players since it re-launched in early November. Two weeks ago, after a long descent that started from the moment the site re-opened its virtual doors, Full Tilt slipped out of 2nd place in the rankings for the first time, falling to 4th place behind PartyPoker and iPoker.
Zynga isn’t planning to limit itself to the United Kingdom forever. The company is likely to roll its products out to other regulated markets in the coming months and years. It also has its eye on the U.S. market. In December 2012 it initiated the pre-application process for an online gaming license in Nevada. A decision on that application isn’t expected until next year.