Zynga co-founder and godfather of metrics-based game development Eric Schiermeyer quietly slipped out of the company, is working on a new startup, and today announced he’s become an investor and advisor to Bee Cave Games, makers of play-money gambling Facebook game Blackjack Casino. Bee Cave Games CEO Erik Bethke tells me Schiermeyer’s advisor role is a weekly commitment and his investment is part of a forthcoming funding round in the low millions.
Previously, Schiermeyer was a CTO of Myspace, and at Zynga he was VP of Product. Bee Cave Games won’t be his full-time gig as he tells me he’s advising some other companies, and is in the early stages of building a new company. A former Zynga employee gave me this candid look into working with Schiermeyer:
“He was known as the most aggressive man at Zynga. He ran the product management organization. They were the numbers guys, the one behind metrics. He’s the one who made numbers God in the product management cultures. That’s where he was the most aggressive, always trying to push the numbers, push the numbers.”
That strategy of tweaking every bit of a game’s design to increase growth, retention, engagement, and monetization is arguably what made Zynga so financially succesful in its early years. It may have also eventually contributed to low morale, fleeing talent, and the inability of Zynga to produce any hit games recently.
Our source says, “His reputation was for being a bit abrasive and hard to work with, but he was absolutely successful. He got results. He was the driving force behind Zynga’s growth.”
Schiermeyer will bring serious business experience to his board advising and investment spot with the young company, which was was founded in 2012 and has only raised $1.4 million before now. Why did he pick the startup? He tells me “I think BCG is posed to take all the lessons they learned from pioneering the social games space into the casino world. I’ve looked at all the top grossing casino apps on IOS and they remind me of the old school online gambling downloadables. Certainly while I was still at Zynga we were eating traditional gaming companies lunch in the online side of the business. I think BCG could do something similar.”
Schiermeyer left Zynga in July 2011. Since the public offering at the end of that year, the gaming giant’s share price has rallied from its year’s low of $2.10 in November up to $2.78 now, but has been on a jagged decline since March. Zynga recently fired hundreds of employees, closed several offices, and earlier this month shuttered the Draw Something studio OMGPOP it bought for $200 million just a year prior.
The plan has been for Zynga to reemerge as a leaner, mobile-focused gaming company. But it’s not that simple. The big gaming business is based on home runs that pay for development of a slew of titles, and Zynga hasn’t been able to find one. Many hopes now rely on its plans for real-money gambling games.
Bee Cave CEO Bethke, who formerly worked with Schiermeyer at Zynga on Mafia Wars, told me factors that have led to Zynga’s fall include “tremendous amount of talent turnover. I think they’re struggling. It needs direction, it needs a strategy. If you look over at King they’re making hits. If you look at the Facebook ecosystem everyone else is making 60% more this year than last year. Despite Zynga’s decline, Facebook’s [gaming] ecosystem is still up.”
That bodes well for Bee Cave, whose only game right now is on the Facebook platform. The company claims that Blackjack Casino is “now the #2 fastest growing casino game on Facebook trending charts”, though AppData puts it below 50,000 daily users. Bethke tells me that later this summer it plans to port the game to iOS, Android, and 14 other languages, and it’s building some new titles. While Bee Cave games let users bet fake money, Schiermeyer’s ruthless efficiency could help the studio churn out real dollars.