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Zynga’s Flaws, Threats, and Potential

Sunday - 6/30/2013, 3:21am  ET

Zynga is supposed to be the world leader in social gaming, but it’s really a world leader in destroying the wealth of its investors. 

Zynga is fighting an uphill battle at the moment, and it's lacking the proper stamina to reach the next base camp, let alone the peak. We’ll take a look at what went wrong, and if there’s a better gaming-related option.

Zynga’s flaws

Zynga recently cut its workforce by 18%. A company that consistently delivers poor numbers should cut costs, and cutting the workforce is often the best way to do that, but there’s a problem. According to anonymous employee reviews on Glassdoor.com, Zynga cuts large groups of people at once.

Apparently, the only people who are relatively safe are those involved with Farmville or poker. Otherwise, Zynga doesn’t care who you are, how much passion you have for the company, or what you’re capable of doing for the company in the future. This, of course, is an example of bad decision making, and ultimately, poor leadership.

Also according to Glassdoor.com, only 53% of employees approve of CEO, Mark Pincus. A common theme in the anonymous Glassdoor employee reviews is that innovation doesn’t exist. If you have an idea or concept, it will never pass through the necessary channels for consideration. And even if you’re near the top, it still probably won’t be considered. That’s because Zynga has a company culture of following, not leading. Take this moment to think about a company that has thrived compared to its peers by following at all times. Don’t strain yourself; you will be sitting there all day .

Unfortunately, several Zynga employees have also complained about a poor company culture, where one department will feel animosity toward another. Two points here:

1. A company with this kind of culture will never thrive.

2. It all starts at the top.

Zynga is all about traffic, and according to Alexa.com, Zynga.com ranks No. 954 in the world for traffic -- down 116 spots over the past three months.

Zynga’s potential

Potential is a bad word when it’s associated with Zynga, because it has led many investors to the financial guillotine. However, there’s no other word to describe what might take place in the future with the return of online real-money poker. Zynga has already setup shop in the United Kingdom with ZyngaPlusPoker and ZyngaPlusCasino, and it plans on expanding throughout Europe.

The ultimate dream is to grow in the United States, where people love to  play poker. Online poker is already legal in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware, and more states are likely to come on board in the near future, especially since many states are desperate for revenue. Zynga has already filed for a license in Nevada.

Being able to tap into this market could be huge for Zynga, but if there’s a ton of money to be made in an industry, then other companies -- much larger companies (like Caesars Entertainment in this case) -- will open their fat wallets and taste the blood of wounded prey on their lips. 

It’s a double-edged sword for Zynga. If online real-money poker fails, then Zynga likely fails. If online real-money poker succeeds, then Zynga’s competition will be fierce.

Current Zynga threats

Zynga might have tricked many Electronic Arts employees to defect, but Electronic Arts looks to be having the last laugh. Both companies know that mobile exposure is essential, yet only Electronic Arts has made a significant splash. It currently offers titles like Bejeweled, Madden, The Sims, Tetris, and much more. Additionally, it plans on adding 15 titles in 2014.

Zynga offers Words With Friends, Draw Something, FarmVille Express, and much more; however, Zynga’s transition to mobile hasn’t been smooth due to late arrival, a lack of innovative titles, and costs.

Electronic Arts is winning the mobile battle, but considering it’s currently trading at 72 times earnings, it would be a high-risk investment.

On another front, International Gaming Technology owns DoubleDown, the largest virtual casino in the world. International Gaming acquired DoubleDown early last year for $500 million. Many investors are still irate about the price paid, stating it was way too high. Some high-priority investors have lobbied for IGT to refocus on designing casino games for casinos. Despite IGT shareholders being dissatisfied, if real-money poker takes off in the United States, then Zynga will have yet another competitor to worry about.

For those of you considering International Gaming as an investment, it has had its ups and downs through the years.  But it’s always been profitable, and it currently yields 2.20%. It could be a better way to play the online real-money gaming boom (if it takes place) than Zynga, but it’s still too early. Further, International Gaming has high leverage and is susceptible to broader market fluctuations, so the stock could suffer.

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