Zynga, the company that changed how people play online games through runaway hits like "FarmVille" and "Mafia Wars" and that now has more than 200 million users, hopes to fuel its continued growth with what may be its most ambitious game ever -- "CityVille."
The game, which Zynga describes as a cross between "Monopoly and Main Street," is the company's first new game in six months and is the first that includes 3-D renderings. It will also mark the company's first global launch when it becomes simultaneously available in five languages over the next week or so.
"We've been pulling a lot of hours" to complete design of the game, said a bleary-eyed Sean Kelly, general manager of "CityVille," amid Zynga's crowded warren of offices, which the company soon plans to vacate for a more spacious and modern headquarters elsewhere in San Francisco.
With 225 million monthly visitors, Zynga says it has become the world's largest social game developer. Before an audience at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco this week, John Doerr, of venture capital giant Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Fred Wilson, a prominent New York-based venture capitalist with Union Square Ventures, disagreed about a number of things. But they were on the same page in their assessment of Zynga's growth.
Zynga, said Doerr, at this stage in its life is the fastest-growing, most profitable company ever funded by Kleiner, a firm that has backed entrepreneurs in more than 500 ventures, including Google, Sun Microsystems, Netscape and Amazon.com.
"Only one great company has gotten built on top of the Facebook platform, and that's Zynga," Wilson added.
Doerr said that Zynga's dramatic growth helped encourage Kleiner last month to create the $250 million "sFund" to invest in social Internet startups, a fund whose investors include Facebook, Zynga and Amazon.com.
Zynga's explosive development showed that "this friction-free environment where you can have Facebook for distribution allows you to rethink and re-imagine every function, every service, in this new networked economy," Doerr said. "And entrepreneurs are doing just that."
No so long ago, Zynga CEO Mark Pincus was one of those entrepreneurs, transforming gaming by building social games that run as apps on Facebook.
The company hopes "CityVille" will build on the momentum of its latest release, "FrontierVille," which has 28 million monthly users. Zynga even hired a staff architect to help design realistic 3-D versions of streets, parks and city buildings, including realistic views of the kind of brownstone apartment building you might see in New York or Chicago, Kelly said in providing a sneak peek of the new game this week.
"CityVille" features Zynga's largest and most interactive game board, with players clearing "the land" and slowly shaping a city of homes and businesses. Players strive to take on the role of mayor as they host businesses owned by players from other cities -- another Zynga first. Every time players establish another "franchise" location in a city owned by a different player, the headquarters building of that business in their home city automatically grows by a floor.
"It's really about letting the user's imagination run wild," Kelly said of the new game.
>The multilingual capabilities of "CityVille" would allow a player logging onto Facebook in Paris, for example, to play in French with a player in the United States who would see the same game board in English. The new game will initially be available on Facebook and at CityVille.com in English, French, Italian, German and Spanish.
Doerr, meanwhile, said the sFund has already received 600 proposals less than a month after it was launched, and is already prepared to back six of them.
"Take note," Doerr said, predicting a boom in social Internet businesses like Zynga that will be launched on the Facebook platform. "This is a really special moment in time."
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