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Zynga’s New Game Doesn’t Play as an Investment

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Don’t look now, but Zynga’s (ZNGA) Mountain Goat Mountain is sassy fun. Can the House That Mark Pincus Built actually make money with it?

Mountain Goat Mountain plays a lot like a classic arcade game, which is not surprising giving its origin. The free-to-play mobile game is a rework of Crossy Road, which is itself a reimagining of Frogger for mobile platforms. It also draws its isometric look from Q*Bert, a 1982 arcade classic in which a foul-mouthed little creature hopped around a pyramid of blocks avoiding snakes and other hazards.

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The premise is primally simple. You’re a mountain goat. You want to climb a mountain. You don’t want to fall into rivers, jump off cliffs, or get hit by falling logs and rocks. You need to eat grass along the way, and you can collect coins to spend.

Zynga Finds the Fun

Great games often begin with simple rules, and Mountain Goat Mountain has this down pat. The mountain goes up and up and up, offering a strong sense of progress as you get higher and higher. The obstacles are generated procedurally, providing variety and a sense of mastery as you play. The interface is clean and simple.

Mountain Goat Mountain is a game that invites you to hit “Play” over and over again. If it were an arcade game, it would do a fine job of sucking quarters out of players’ pockets.

In today’s free-to-play environment, though, Mountain Goat Mountain has monetization problems. There is no energy system limiting play, which is popular with players but gives up a reliable stream of revenue.

Instead, Zynga hopes to monetize the app by selling ad impressions and goat themes. There are twenty-two different goats you can play, including goats dressed up as Western sheriffs, samurai, and special operatives in night vision goggles. The game world changes to match the goats, so your sheriff goat can hop around among the cacti on a desert mountain.

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The goat themes are cute, and a few fans will pay to collect them all. But there’s no in-game benefit to playing the different goats. In fact, most of the themed environments are so busy that it’s actually harder to play the game. That makes the goat a novelty that will only appeal to a small group of potential customers.

Mountain Goat Mountain’s financial performance bears out this flaw. The game has barely registered on the top grossing charts tracked by AppAnnie, with a peak at #205 in the Arcade Games category.

The game is player-friendly and may help build up Zynga’s reputation in the long term. But ZNGA is reporting earnings tomorrow, and this is a company that Wall Street wants to see more revenue out of.

Zynga may have finally found the fun, but they haven’t yet demonstrated they can make a fun game that makes money too.

Disclosure: I am a former Zynga employee and a shareholder.

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Copyright 2015 The Roaming Designer