Despite A Flux Of New Titles, Zynga Still Focusing On Building Out New Features For Existing Games

Social gaming giant Zynga has been churning out new titles over the past four months, including Mafia Wars 2, Adventure World, The Pioneer Trail, Empires & Allies, and Hanging with Friends. And we know that developing new hits is a big part of Zynga’s business model. Zynga reported that profits were down in Q2 of this year because of the lack of any new game launches in the first half of 2011. But of late, the social gaming company has also been focusing its efforts on some of its existing games, such as CityVille.

Of course, Zynga has an incentive to keep CityVille, which launched last year as way for game players to build their dream city from the ground up, and FarmVille, which launched in 2009, are still two of the gaming giant’s more popular games. CityVille has a whopping 74 million monthly active users, and FarmVille has around 35 million monthly active users. But as mentioned above, Zynga also faces the hard fact that new games bringing in more money and new players. There’s clearly a balance that needs to be struck between developing fresh titles as well as rejuvenating existing games. And Zynga is trying to find that balance.

Scott Koenigsberg, Director of Business Strategy for CityVille, tell us that his methodology in developing new features for existing games is based on appealing to the broadest audience as possible. Zynga added Hotel Resorts to gameplay in CityVille earlier this year. In September, CityVille launched Governor’s Run, which gives players the chance to run for the office of governor.

Via the Governor’s Run storyline, players build new structures including concert arenas, universities, and even airports, in a bid to transform their cities into capitals, and gain citizens’ votes to win the election. Players actually compete against Empires & Allies character Captain Krunsch to become governor of their city.

Another way that Zynga has tried to keep CityVille fresh and appealing is through partnerships with celebrities, entertainment titles and artists. Zynga launched a Kung Fu Panda 2-themed version of CityVille earlier this year, and just debuted a new deal with Enrique Iglesias, which allows players to interact with Enrique’s avatar in CityVille, get rewards that showcase Enrique’s lifestyle and hobbies, unlock a preview of Enrique’s upcoming music video.

Zynga also made a similar move with FarmVille—partnering with pop star Lady Gaga to unveil GagaVille, a neighboring, Gaga-inspired farm on FarmVille.

Last week, CityVille announced a partnership with the Collegiate Licensing Company gives players a chance to build branded college-themed items of their favorite school. Players can choose from over five items, including a sign, clock tower, university library, college dormitory and even a sports stadium, and are able to brand each virtual good with logos from 50 colleges across the country – from Alabama to Wisconsin, and West Virginia to Arizona State.

And of course, CityVille launched on Google+ two weeks ago, joining Zynga Poker.

Interestingly, it appears that many of these new features could have helped boost CityVille’s usage over the past week. As of the end of September CityVille’s monthly active users was around 71 million, and over the past week, this has shot up to nearly 75 million. Daily active users have also increased as well.

But sometimes new features added to existing games don’t necessarily hit the mark. In May of this year, Zynga launched Rent Collector, which helped players collect rent from their residences in CityVille. Players could click on a group of residences to collect rent (rather than click on each individually), and the rent collector drives around the player’s city collecting rent, which required gas. Players were disappointed the feature didn’t have an energy saving component and required gasoline, and Zynga had to step in to change the feature. As Koenigsberg tells me, “if the feature isn’t resonating with players, we will take it out of game.”

Zynga says that it tries to make every effort to connect with players to hear feedback when building out new features and changing existing ones. Employees monitor and interact on forums with users, read customer service tickets and Zynga conducts large amounts of surveys and focus groups. In fact for every new feature introduced, Zynga tries to survey users.

In some circumstances, Zynga will actually go as far as conducting Skype chats with players. Koenigsberg says he’s spoken on the phone a number of times with top players to talk through new features and get ideas for new ones.

It should be interesting to see how some of CityVille’s refreshing over the past few months affects Zynga’s revenue. It’s expected that the new game titles, such as Adventure World and Empires & Allies, will help boost the gaming giant’s profits for Q3. What’s also unclear is if Zynga can make these new features sustain growth in engagement with CityVille and other established games.