Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Zynga's Texas Holdem Poker: Five Reasons Why It Succeeds Despite Conventional Wisdom

Zynga's Texas Holdem Poker has always astonished me, it defies the conventional wisdom that real-time games can't succeed on Facebook. Also, amazing to me is that in less than a year, we've already developed conventional wisdom about games on a brand new platform. But I digress...

So why does Texas Holdem Poker succeed where all other real-time games fail? Here's five reasons.

1. You don't need your friends to have fun. It sounds counterintuitive, but if you need your friends playing with you to have fun, then you need them to be online. Most friends are not available to play games whenever you feel like playing. It's the core problem of real-time games. Online poker, however, is nearly as fun to play against strangers as it is with friends.

2. People normally play online poker with strangers. Not only do you not need your friends to play with you, but you wouldn't even expect to play with friends. People having been playing online poker against strangers for years, it's the rule, rather than the exception.

3. Critical mass. Zynga launched Texas Holdem Poker during the those hazy golden days when Facebook first opened the platform. You know, back when people still responded to invites. The early launch combined with the acumen of Zynga's CEO Mark Pincus allowed Texas Holdem Poker to acquire a massive userbase fast. As a result, there was (and is) always someone to play with, which is the key to have a successful real-time game.

4. It doesn't require direct communication between players. Playing online poker with strangers doesn't require you to directly interact with the other players. It's possible, but not necessary. As a result, people can treat it like a single-player game. And believe me, not everyone likes to interact with people, especially with strangers.

5. It's bottable. Meaning that you can have bots as players without the other players knowing. Bots ensure that there is always someone with whom to play. For the record, I'm not saying Zynga uses bots, especially not now that they've reached critical mass, but it would have helped them in the past had they chose to use them. I want to be clear here because when it comes to online poker, bots are a HUGE no-no, and I don't want to paint Zynga with that brush.

Conclusion: In my mind, Texas Holdem represents the opposite of the design principles that people (including myself) are espousing as necessary to have a successful social game.

You don't need your friends. The social graph is unnecessary. It's real-time. Communication is optional. It's essentially a single player experience.

Further evidence that nobody really know what games are going to work on Facebook. It's still a brave new world, kids.