By Leena Rao
Zynga (ZYNG) is furthering its presence in China with a new partnership with Chinese internet giant Tencent (OTCPK:TCEHY). As part of the deal, Zynga is launching a beta version of Zynga City, a new localized Chinese version of CityVille. The game will launch in the next few days and features brand-new content and game-play inspired by both traditional and pop culture in China. As reported earlier this year, Zynga City beta will be operated by Tencent on its Pengyou platform and will soon launch on the company’s QZone platform. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed by either company.
Zynga City beta will include brand-new decorations and architecture the Chinese audience can identify and connect with, in-game events and competitions linked to Chinese holidays and news, as well as culturally relevant game mechanics such as the chance for players to send street peddlers to their friend’s cities. Zynga City beta will also feature quest system, which Zynga says will “quench Chinese players’ thirst for rich storytelling within the games they love to play.”
Zynga is actually building off of Tencent’s Open Platform, which is an operating system of sorts. Using this platform, Chinese players will be able to play Zynga City in their own language. As I mentioned above, it’s unclear what the terms of the revenue share are from the partnership.
The game will first be operated by Tencent in a beta version on its Pengyou platform, which is its social network and game platform, with a wider launch on several Tencent platforms including QZone to follow.
This isn’t Zynga’s first localized game in China. The gaming giant actually acquired Chinese game developer XPD Media in May of 2010 and set up a Beijing office. And in August the company launched Zynga’s first internationally localized game, Zynga Texas Poker, in traditional Chinese.
So why CityVille as the next localized game and the initial title in the partnership with Tencent? Andy Tian, general manager of Zynga China, says that because CityVille is Zynga’s largest and most popular game, the localized version of Zynga City was the ideal choice. The Zynga China studio is actually leading the development of Zynga City including its new localized content and game features.
Lin Songtao, general manager of Tencent Open Platform, said in a release:
Zynga has a lot of experience with game development, services and support. We hope that Zynga City will be a success on Tencent Open Platform. In the future, Tencent Open Platform will keep improving the abilities and value on service and support, with the cooperation of more and more successful social game developing companies. We are expecting that more and more international social game developers will bring their popular games to Tencent Open Platform for Chinese Internet users and this will support the rapid growth of the social game market in China, which is good news for all social game developers.
For Zynga, a deal with Tencent is alluring for a number of reasons. First, Tencent has a massive reach in China, with the potential to reach hundreds of millions users. In fact, the Chinese company has just under 400 million active users. Second, the deal spreads Zynga’s dependence off of Facebook as a major platform.
Of course, Zynga has major ambitions when it comes to international growth. In the past few game releases, Zynga has launched international versions of its titles, hoping to appeal to broader audiences, especially on mobile platforms. If this partnership works out, this will be a huge gateway for Zynga into China.
For Tencent, Zynga China is a strategic partnership that could help the Chinese internet giant expand to North America and Europe. Last year, Tencent bought 10% of Digital Sky Technology, which in turn owns significant portions of of Zynga and Facebook. And as my colleague Sarah Lacy wrote recently, Tencent has been trying to enter the U.S. market quietly, acquiring Riot Games in February and dozens of smaller, unreported acquisitions over the last year or so.
As Zynga prepares for a public offering later this year, the company could stand to learn a lot from Tencent, which is one of the largest publicly traded Internet companies on earth.