Zynga's new Gems With Friends puts spotlight on mobile

The social-game developer releases another game this week, this time from the mobile specialists responsible for Words With Friends.

Donna Tam Staff Writer / News
Donna Tam covers Amazon and other fun stuff for CNET News. She is a San Francisco native who enjoys feasting, merrymaking, checking her Gmail and reading her Kindle.
Donna Tam
3 min read
Screenshot of Gems With Friends on iOS. No Android version, yet. Zynga
Zynga's latest game, Gems With Friends, launches today and it may give some hope for the game-creator's mobile future.

As the series' first arcade-style and first non-word game, Gems -- available in Canada with a worldwide rollout to follow in the coming weeks -- features gemstones of different colors and numbers that can be combined to score points.

"They combine and they create these epic combos," said Paul Bettner, vice president and general manager at Zynga. "It's a thrilling game and very, very addictive."

Zynga is introducing this mobile-only game amid criticism of the company's dependence on its Facebook platform and a failure to make money on mobile. But, Bettner's studio, one of the companies Zynga has acquired, could be the key to Zynga's mobile success.

It's unclear how much revenue comes from the With Friends series. A Zynga spokesperson said the company did not have a breakdown of how many users play With Friends games compared to the rest of Zynga's games. Zynga did disclose that 33 million of the 144 million players on the entire network each day are mobile players.

"Our studio in particular started in a very experimental mode with Words With Friends," Bettner said, referring to the popular game modeled after Scrabble . "We wanted to play these kinds of games on our phones. We couldn't believe they [didn't] exist because the phones seem like the perfect platform."

Zynga's faced a lot of bad press in recent weeks. Accusations of insider trading and of copyright infringement followed a disappointing earnings report.

When asked about Zynga's recent woes, Bettner distinguished his Texas-based studio from its parent company in San Francisco. He said Zynga needs to transition to mobile and the challenges associated with that can be applied to any company that finds itself at a crossroads in the industry. The company is well positioned to make the transition, he said.

Instead of games like its recently released Chefville, which currently can only be played on Facebook, Zynga may need to focus on more games like Gems, which, like its With Friends predecessors, is created specifically for mobile.

Gems seems to follow the blueprint that has helped make the other With Friends games a success -- it's easy to learn, it's easy to play, and it's social.

Each game consists of three rounds with an opponent, and each round lasts two minutes.


While the game may seem familiar -- some may think of another game that features precious stones, PopCap's Bejeweled -- Bettner said the actual design of the game is "unlike anything out there." The new game will initially only be available for iOS devices.

As with other Zynga games, users only have to spend money if they want to purchase bonus features to help increase their scores.

This is key to making money off mobile -- creating an environment where players are happy to part with money for an enhanced experience, Bettner said.

"I'm looking to read the reviews and see how the players are reacting to that. We've released a couple games now where we've had this reaction," he said. "They give it a high star rating and then say 'I wish I could get more coins.' When they say that, we know that we've created something that's joyful and delightful for them."