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June 28, 2017

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Zynga attempts revival with 'FarmVille 2'

SAN FRANCISCO-- Not long ago, online games company Zynga looked on pace to unseat much bigger, well-established rivals as it rode the popularity of "FarmVille," the clicking game of virtual cows and real money.

But the iPad came along, and more people bought smartphones. People weren't playing Zynga's games on Facebook and computers as much as they used to. Zynga's revenue growth slowed down, and its stock price fell sharply, even as it released dozens of new games.

Now, the out-of-luck game maker is turning to a "FarmVille" sequel for a revival.

A lot is riding on "FarmVille 2," which Zynga Inc. released on Wednesday.

It's a total makeover for the simplistic, addictive, but oft-derided online diversion. It now has lush 3-D graphics instead of the old two-dimensional figures.

The game itself has added another dimension, too. Players can now interact with cute cartoon animals instead of simply "harvesting" them with endless clicks to obtain coins, as in the original "FarmVille." There's more collaboration among farmers than competition, something Zynga said its players have asked for. Instead of getting players to complete chores, it tries to lull them into an old-timey comfort zone.

"You are trying to bring an old family farm back into glory," explains Wright Bagwell, director of design at "FarmVille 2."

Rather than make it frantic and stressful like many of today's shooter video games, the creators are hoping to evoke relaxation and nostalgia. The soundtrack consists almost solely of nature sounds.

"FarmVille" became a household name when it launched in 2009 and helped propel Zynga to the forefront of Facebook game makers. But investors are now questioning the company's long-term viability. Its stock is down some 70 percent since its December initial public offering.

"People often refer to Zynga as the 'FarmVille company.' This will be a key test to them," Baird analyst Colin Sebastian said. "They need another breakout hit."

But a lot has changed since 2009. The first iPad didn't launch until 2010, and smartphones were not as ubiquitous as they are today. In 2011, the first year the Pew Internet & American Life Project started tracking such data, 35 percent of Americans owned a smartphone. That has gone up to 46 percent.

Zynga faces some of the same challenges in the mobile world as Facebook, where most people play Zynga's games.

Computers reigned when both companies were created, but people are now migrating to smartphones and tablet computers in droves. While Zynga has some popular mobile games, it makes most of its money through Facebook Inc.'s website. Zynga has yet to prove it can reap the same revenue from iPhone and Android games.

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