Tuesday, January 1, 2013

“PetVille” players weren't ready to say “Auld Lang Syne.” - San Francisco Chronicle (blog)

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg 2011

The loss of a pet can be traumatic, even when it’s a virtual pet.

Players of Zynga’s “PetVille” have lamented Sunday’s shutdown of their favorite Facebook game. The end itself wasn’t news â€" the game was one of a dozen under-performing titles the struggling San Francisco company decided to ax as part of a strategy announced in November to cut costs and reallocate resources.

But this month on Zynga’s online community forums, “PetVille” players seemed to be holding out hope that the company would spare one of its oldest games and save the virtual pets they spent time and money raising.

Non players will only view such games as a waste of time. But Zynga intentionally designed titles like “FarmVille” and “CityVille” as places players could enjoy daily as virtual extensions of themselves and their creativity.

From their online comments, “PetVille” players expressed a particular emotional attachment to the game, and thus a greater sense of abandonment. Many saw their virtual pets as substitutes for companions they, for one reason or another, couldn’t have in real life.

“As a person with who has been plagued by a lot of health issues for most of my life, PetVille was a game that I could play that helped me to forget my health issues for a while, and put a smile on my face every day,” one player wrote. “The game has also helped me to discover my artistic side which helped me develop confidence, and develop wonderful Facebook friendships.”

“It always put a smile on my face during bad times and helped me cope with many stressful days due to illness,” wrote another.

One player said not long after she started playing “PetVille,” her real dog was killed by a “careless driver.”

“I named and modeled my PetVille character after her, Alice. She was like a daughter to me,” the player wrote. “I loved her dearly, and I played this game in her memory. Kind of pretending I could visit her. Please don’t take that away from me, or at least give me a way to still visit.”

Another played the game for two years with her autistic son.

“It was something we could do together, and made us very happy. I wish you “people” could have seen the streams of tears running down both our faces as we played our last session. We even took photographs. … Is the almighty dollar THAT important over the happiness of some very loyal fans?”

But money is the bottom line in any business. Just as a TV network does with shows that have low Nielsen ratings, Zynga made a business decision to euthanize “PetVille,” which according to AppData only had 1 million monthly active users (“FarmVille 2,” by comparison, has 43 million.)

Zynga also executed “Mafia Wars 2,” a sequel mob warfare game that the company spent a lot of time and money developing in 2011 in hopes that it would be the next great hit. The game, like the IPO that soon followed, instead fizzled and now the company is trying to find new momentum in mobile and real-money games. MW2 had even fewer players than “PetVille.”

Zynga offered “a complimentary bonus package” of virtual goods for players of games it was ending to entice them to try other games, including “CastleVille,” or “ChefVille,” or the original “Mafia Wars.”

It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last, that a once-bright tech meteor has quickly turned into a falling star. Palo Alto’s Color Labs, for example, raised $41 million in investment funding before even launching a photo-and video-sharing app of the same name last year. But the buzz around Color just as quickly faded and the company said on its website that it is pulling the app when the New Year starts.

Zynga, which lets employees bring their dogs to work, is still hoping 2013 brings a turn around. But one player questioned why he should ever trust Zynga again:

“If Zynga can callously close PV, they can do the same with those other games. Why would anyone in their right mind want to spend more money on other games, only to have them shut down this way, as well?”

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