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Game Design Secrets by Wagner James Au

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Identifying Facebook’s Big Three in Games and Three of Its Rising Stars

For a better understanding of how diverse the market for Facebook games is, here’s a look at three of the industry’s top developer/publishers, along with three successful mid-tier developers.

Zynga

The undisputed market leader of Facebook gaming now counts about 247 million monthly active users of its titles, which include the SimCity-like game CityVille and the strategy game CastleVille. Although many of its top titles were developed in-house, a number of its hits were first developed by smaller studios the company acquired. (Or, as it’s sometimes called in Silicon Valley, “acq-hired.”) In 2011 alone, Zynga bought several mobile developers—including Wonderland Software, DNA Games, Astro Ape Studios, and Five Mobile—strongly suggesting the company plans to design and develop more cross-platform games like its hits Words With Friends and Texas Hold ‘Em. This direction was confirmed in March with the purchase of OMGPOP, developer of the come-from-nowhere cross-platform hit Draw Something, for $180 million.

Mobile game designers, take note.

The flip side of acquisition: Zynga is also known for designing games that very strongly resemble the hits of competitors, and in 2012, two smaller developers, NimbleBit, creator of Tiny Tower, and Buffalo Studios, creator of BINGO Blitz, accused Zynga of copying their games. Zynga defends itself by claiming they are merely improving on games, but for many indie designers, ...

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