Loser: Zynga has endured a terrible year. Its post-flotation experience has been a deflating experience as the company has failed to meet almost every expectation

It feels strange to call Zynga a loser. It had seemed a winner for so long. It was Zynga’s numbers that convinced the whole online gambling industry that social gaming was not a fad. Actually, that’s not true. It was the numbers coming out of Playtika and DoubleDown Interactive that convinced the online gambling world that social gaming was not a fad.

Zynga’s share price started the year at $9.45. By the end of 2012 it had slumped nearly 75 per cent to just $2.38. It had also started the painful process of letting staff go. Real money gambling looks more like a desperate attempt to boost revenues and share price than a meaningful attempt to get into the business.

Zynga is what old timers would call a video games company. Right up until it announced a $404m loss to the market in February of this year, it had denied any interest in gambling whatsoever. When we approached the company for an interview it reacted as if our approach was a personal affront. We almost felt moved to apologise for our presumption that a company involved in poker might want to talk about gambling. It also declined the opportunity to talk this time round.

The day before that announcement, Zynga poker boss Laurence Toney and his lawyer flew to Dublin to meet executives from Full Tilt Poker. At the time, Full Tilt was under indictment and up for sale. The meeting was ostensibly to find out whether Zynga wanted to buy Full Tilt.

But the meeting didn’t last long. Toney didn’t seem particularly interested in the business and didn’t follow up the meeting with any contact whatsoever. The very next day, following the revelation of a $404m loss, Zynga admitted online gambling was “very interesting” to the company. Full Tilt’s representatives felt they had been used as a justification for that interest should it be needed. Zynga’s shares duly rose 21 per cent.

At the end of H1 CEO Mark Pincus went one step further, promising to launch real money gaming in the first half of 2013. However, the trick wouldn’t work twice. The dismal results that Pincus also had to announce overshadowed the gambling news and shares sunk 35 per cent to just a third of their float price.

As the second half of the year kicked off executives started to leave what began to look like a sinking ship. COO John Schappert departed followed closely by chief creative officer Mike Verdu, chief marketing and revenue officer Jeff Karp and poker chief Toney.

When the Q3 results were announced they were accompanied by news of nearly 150 redundancies. They were also accompanied by news of a deal with bwin.party to move into real money gaming. For real.

The deal will be a fascinating experiment. Unfortunately, Zynga’s real money gaming operation will go nowhere near Facebook. Whether Zynga can sell real money gaming to its existing users is the billion dollar question. It is doubtful or they would be doing it already at PartyCasino. The most likely real money success might be in the Farmville slots that are being developed for the venture. They could well be something that slots players will really love.

Similarly Scientific Games subsidiary MDI Entertainment signed a deal with Zynga that gives MDI exclusive worldwide rights to provide lotteries with the ability to feature FarmVille, CityVille, Zynga Poker, Zynga Bingo, Zynga Slingo, Words with Friends and Draw Something in their instant and virtual lottery games.

Both deals have potential and any company with 275m monthly users (if not paying customers) is likely to be alright in the long run. But in 2012, Zynga had a miserable time.

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