One of the most telling statistics I have seen recently is that Zynga.com had 2.8 million MAU (monthly active users) in April, after a March launch. These numbers show that Zynga will not build a viable alternative to Facebook, and if Zynga cannot do it, then nobody can.
I would like to put that MAU number in perspective. According to AppData, Zynga has 15 games on Facebook with more traffic themselves than Zynga.com. Although some may argue most of these games have been around much longer than Zynga.com, it is impossible to make a case that Pioneer Trail or Café World is getting more promotion than Zynga.com. Add to this that the traffic, the 2.8 million uniques, is dispersed over multiple games and also includes visitors just interested in Zynga corporate. For comparison, Zynga has over 269 million MAU on Facebook, or almost 100x what they have on Zynga.com. Looking at these numbers holistically shows that Zynga is far away from making Zynga.com a meaningful revenue stream, and third-party developers need to be careful before they expect too much from this platform.
The other point I would like to make is that it is incredibly difficult to generate large-scale traffic. Zynga is not doing anything wrong; they are just dealing with reality. I have been at multiple companies that tried to create a portal/destination site to disintermediate the platform or channel they were using. In the casual game space, the dream was to not have to sell through Big Fish. In social games, it is to create a social gaming network so you do not have to rely on Facebook. I have repeatedly argued that it is a Quixotic quest destined to failure. The reason that Facebook is worth almost $100 billion is that they do have the users. Everybody is trying to get eyeballs, from advertisers, to small entertainment companies, to utilities, to … It is actually very arrogant for a game company, whose expertise is creating great content, to feel they can also create a world-class platform. Not only is it very rare, it requires a different skillset.
What has separated Facebook game companies—and now social mobile game companies—from MMOs and traditional game companies in valuation, is their ability to leverage the hundreds of millions of players already on the platforms. Do not throw away this benefit and worry about creating a platform as well as great games; the latter is difficult enough.