"I'm pretty bored with all games."
That's the admission Zynga founder and social gaming pioneer Mark Pincus made on Tuesday night when speaking to an informal gathering of young Israeli tech entrepreneurs, reports the Wall Street Journal. It was in response to a specific question asking him what his favorite game was from Yossi Vardi, a long-serving member of the Israeli venture funding community.
Apparently taken aback by Pincus' admission, Vardi gave him the opportunity to retract or rephrase his comment, but Pincus refused to, effectively damning Zynga's recent output. He went on to explain that he had found FarmVille and CityVille to be addictive obsessions, but was looking for something to replace that magic.
Rebeca Rachmany, a commenter on the Wall Street Journal post, suggests that the situation may not have been quite so simple as it was made out in the initial report, however. Rachmany claims that "what Mark said was that he believes new games are going to take new directions, and he is looking forward to some unexpected and exciting new things. He gave examples of how 'television' (Netflix specifically) is innovating and said he expects the same from game companies, including, or perhaps especially, Zynga."
Zynga has never exactly been known for innovation, and has in fact been accused of "cloning" others' games on numerous occasions. Zynga's social network and mobile games tend to be highly polished variations on existing themes rather than truly original works, and the company has found itself in hot water more than once over just how similar these games are. Most notably, there was a high-profile disagreement between Zynga and EA over the remarkable similarities between EA's social spinoff of The Sims, The Sims Social, and Zynga's equivalent, known as The Ville. Both games ultimately failed to resonate with the rather fickle social gaming community, but while they were both up and running, the similarities were immediately obvious.
Zynga has also done a lot to popularize certain commonly seen mechanics, for better or worse. On the positive side, Zynga has been at least partly responsible for the rise in asynchronous multiplayer games -- turn-based games that allow players to take their turn when it's convenient to them rather than sitting around having to wait for their opponent in real time. On the more negative side, however, Zynga has also been responsible for setting in place a lot of the conventions we see in the most obnoxious freemium games today -- play-throttling energy bars, "hard currency" designed to obfuscate exactly how much you're really spending in real money terms, and the necessity to bug people for "help" without actually incorporating any sort of meaningful social interaction or communal play. Zynga also popularized the modern misuse of the word "sim" in the social gaming sector, typically used to refer to a clickfest game like FarmVille or CityVille with no end goal, and that requires nothing in the way of strategy, plus either deep pockets or a lot of patience.
It's likely that Pincus' reference to being "bored with all games" was largely in relation to the mobile and social game markets rather than the industry as a whole, but even so, his comments do something of a disservice to the huge amount of creativity and diversity game-makers display on a daily basis. You only have to look at some of the stuff we saw recently at Eurogamer Expo to see gaming has never been more creative, innovative and exciting; perhaps Pincus should step out of his social gaming bubble for a moment and take a look around?