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Help Me Interview Mark Pincus, CEO/Founder, Zynga

By - September 30, 2011

Tpincus.jpegoday kicks off my annual postings on folks I’ll be in interviewing for the Web 2 Summit. Every year I seek your input, every year you help me get smarter, and I thank you for that.

The Web 2 Summit (to which all readers of this site are invited) kicks off Oct. 17th with Mark Pincus, a fellow I’ve known for over a decade, since his days at Freeloader, Support.com, and Tribe. But Zynga has become his signature success, becoming one of the fastest growing companies of the past decade, and shorthand for “games” across the social web. Zynga filed for a much-anticipated IPO earlier this year, though as with nearly every company in the space, the market seems to have cooled since then. In late August, reports circulated that Zynga was delaying its IPO, but those were never confirmed.

I doubt Mark will answer any questions related to the IPO, given he is still in a quiet period, but there’s plenty more to talk about. Pincus got the Vanity Fair treatment in June, and he’s certainly a classic Valley character.

But I’m more interested in Pincus’ take on the Internet’s strategic landscape – he’s been through bruising negotiations with Facebook over credits, he’s recently taken his games to Google+ and other platforms, and he has his finger on the pulse of some sixty or so million daily game players. If anyone can grok Web 2’s theme of “The Data Frame,” it’s Pincus.

I can and will ask Mark about scaling a startup, managing growth, his personal story, etc. But Searchblog readers certainly know Zynga, and you have questions for Mark and for his company. What might they be?

As an extra incentive, I’ll be picking the best three questions from these series of posts (they will include Pincus, Marc Benioff, Paul Otellini, Dick Costolo, Michael Dell, Dennis Crowley, Mary Meeker, Michael Roth, Steve Ballmer, James Gleick, Vic Gundotra, and Reid Hoffman, among others. The authors of those questions will get complimentary passes to Web 2 – a more than $4000 value. So get to commenting, and thank you!


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9 thoughts on “Help Me Interview Mark Pincus, CEO/Founder, Zynga

  1. Soren Gordhamer says:

    1) You have said: “I want us all to work on products that matter in people’s lives.” And you have argued that your games actually help people be more present for one another. How do you see games like Farmville and Mafia Wars mattering to the world and helping people be more present in their lives?

    Source: http://www.fastcompany.com/1698265/mark-pincus-zynga-farmville-mafia-wars

    2) You once said, “I did every horrible thing in the book to, just to get revenues right away. I mean we gave our users poker chips if they downloaded this zwinky toolbar which was like, I don’t know, I downloaded it once and couldn’t get rid of it.” Do you think you can make up for this and how do you convince people this is no longer the primary motivation of your company?

    Source: http://techcrunch.com/2009/11/06/zynga-scamville-mark-pinkus-faceboo/

    3) Kiva President Premal Shah has said that their greatest competitor is Zynga. They are fighting for people’s attention, which is now so much on virtual games. They want to know how they can get people to care as much about building actual farms that help “real people’ than users currently care about spending time and money building “imaginary” farms and worlds on games that Zynga makes. Do you sometimes wonder whether the hundreds of millions of dollars people spend building imaginary worlds online might be put to better use in the world?

    Source: http://techcrunch.com/2010/10/13/kiva-ceo-on-the-next-5-years-and-why-zynga-is-their-biggest-rival-tctv/

  2. Adam says:

    My question goes something like this (by that, I mean exactly like this):

    Why doesn’t Zynga team up with Linkedin? This would build professional relationships in a fun way (completely understated – Linkedin is dry, but it’s “the one, the only” business network).

    Play random people from within your network. This “playground” can be used as a meeting ground for new business contacts. How do select who you play? You don’t. An algorithm does, based on all kinds of stuff; what’s in your Linkedin profile, your recent Tweets, etc.

    I guess that’s more than what a question to ask though. But, if they made that business deal, they could do A LOT more from there. In my humble opinion.

  3. Tom says:

    Question 1:

    Do you believe less burdensome online transaction systems (especially for the micro-transaction) for virtual and other goods are needed?

    (Considering their recent results this is a somewhat rhetorical question.)

    Question 2:

    Would he like to do something both profitable and beneficial for Zynga’s image?

    If the answers are “Yes” to both questions give him my email address.

    While its development arose with a realization of the necessity and potentials for such a neutral utility in networked political lobbying; enabling a viable, secure and simple one-click micro-transaction has additional potentials… game ‘goodies’ and news/journalism monetization being amongst them.

  4. How would an EA social gaming network affect Zynga’s strategy?

    Context: EA has the big data under the hood to create its own social gaming platform like Facebook. They just a) need to think this way and b) build it.

  5. Aneil says:

    Facebook allowed Zynga to scale. But mobile is fragmented – what is the strategy to dominate mobile games?

  6. Laura says:

    Does Zynga plan to expand through organic growth or through acquisitions? If the latter, has Zynga considered buying Minecraft to capture a younger virtual world gaming audience?

  7. My three questions for Mark Pincus:
    1. Given the rise of gamification and the “social enterprise,” does Zynga have a strategy to pursue these sectors with new products or offerings?
    2. Would Zynga ever consider white labeling their services?
    3. In your opinion, what are some of the best uses of game mechanics by brands right now?

  8. In his book, The Facebook Effect, David Kirkpatrick described how Party Poker paid a flat fee of $300 for each new subscriber and put at least $50 into gambling. Facebook gained $60,000 each month for just 200 new members. (p. 140)Thus being the biggest advertiser in 2005.

    QUESTION: So was it just LUCK that the UIGEA (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act) passed in October 2006 and the “opportunity was created” for Zynga Poker ? or did you lobby to include the act within the Safe Port Act ?

  9. Justin says:

    We know virtual goods have been successful for you. What have you learned about users over the years in terms of their engagement with virtual goods? What % pay $ for goods?

    What other revenue models are you exploring?