Zynga's latest Facebook game, Empires and Allies, is being closely watched. Tech-industry observers see the combat and city-building game as a gambit by the successful social-game developer to expand its offerings beyond the breathtakingly inane set of "'Ville"-style games -- FarmVille, CityVille, FishVille, PetVille, and so on -- that have earned it so much money.
The long-term prospects for that effort aren't yet clear, but this much is: Empires and Allies is off to a strong start. According to Inside Social Games, which tracks the popularity of social games among users, it has attracted 6.9 million daily average users since its launch on June 1, making it "easily one of Zynga's fastest-growing Facebook games to date."
Zynga's previous games tended to follow a simple "compulsion loop" pattern. Gamers plant crops/feed fish/flip burgers, earn some fake money, and repeat -- all while taking time to bombard friends with free advertising in the form of neighborly requests for goods with which to advance in the game.
Empires and Allies, by contrast, includes elements of more heavy-duty strategy games. Players can direct their forces in combat, in addition to organizing metropolises through some of the same gaming mechanics that characterized CityVille. Amer Ajami, the game's executive producer, has described it as "CityVille meets Risk."
While Empires and Allies experienced sluggish growth in its first week, its popularity skyrocketed over the past weekend, according to Inside Social Games. This is a pattern Zynga's other hit games have followed: CityVille, which launched just before Thanksgiving, hit 8.5 million daily average users by Dec. 11.
The key question, of course, is whether fans will stick around or -- following another Zynga pattern -- start sloughing off as they exhaust the game's capacity to entertain them.
And that's a question that won't be answered for a while.
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