Zynga has turned the gaming business upside down. By doing some upside down thinking. In many ways they have taken the same disruptive approach as Nintendo did with Wii. In many ways they both succeeded through anti or reverse innovation.
The established console guys and the games developers got caught up by the seductive tech complexity spiral of making things ever bigger, ever more powerful, and yes expensive. Hell games we're costing more than movies to make. And longer. Well this was inevitable, so they said, the better to exploit the power of the innovative hardware.
However popular, however successful, gaming failed to really cross over into the mainstream. Not least as the games were so damn tough to play. No one likes to be made to feel like an idiot and that's just what happened. The technology - soft and hard - just got too complicare and so disconnected with many people.
Enter the concept of Social Gaming. Wii didn't dumb down technology, they innovated by simplifying it. The innovative smarts was the stripping away of complexity in order to get to the fun quicker. If not anti innovation, then under innovation or reverse innovation. (Or any kinda catch phrase innovation that I could spin out into a management book and sell in airports.)
And in so doing they brought the mainstream into gaming.
As with Wii so with Zynga. Zynga did not see themselves as being in the packaged goods market, selling expensive boxed software through blockbuster releases followed by a franchising exploitation model of sequels. Zynga's reference point was the TV soap. A simple, consistent and low cost formula pipped into your home that could be consumed for free. With regular, often weekly, additions of new elements to keep what they call the 'fiction', fresh, alive and addictive.
Zynga's games - like FarmVille - live within the most social platform of them all, Facebook. By their own admission their games do not aspire to the form of art. No gaming Oscars, BAFTAs or Emmies for them. They aspire to fun. And a huge part of the fun is that it is free to play. In a similar fashion to TV that is notionally free to watch.
The result is that as Facebook exploded so did players of Zynga games. To the tune of 60 million unique players a day. Which, of course, is more than TV soaps get. And guess what the advertising dollars are and will continue to follow the audience; that is away from day time TV and into Zynga. Zynga declined to tell us anything about their upcoming IPO as they are in a quiet period. However, they said no with big smiles all over their faces.
Here's the insight we walked away from Zynga with. Innovation is not about advances in technology per se. Innovation is about advances in insight. Innovation is not about science, it is about people. And this offers hope to agencies. We can play in the future only if we remain to be seen by clients at hard wired into consumers' hopes, fears and dreams. If we remain the richest place to find business making insights. If we do that then maybe we can innovate with the best of them.