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The speed of Zynga Poker could not be smoother or more efficient

Zynga is leaving its cartoon roots behind with a big redesign of its flagship Zynga Poker, it's top-grossing game, for mobile players today. The design is more realistic, using player photos and a more "immersive" social gameplay. The redesign is a response to customer's demands that makes the game appear to be more realistic and elegant, like a real casino. In doing this redesign on its No. 1 monetizing game, Zynga and its new chief executive Don Mattrick (see our interview) are taking a big risk. But it's all in the name of refreshing a game for the multi billion-dollar mobile era and disrupting itself before somebody else does it - especially since Zynga's has struggled to recapture the success it first found years ago on Facebook.

The actual poker game itself is presented in a straightforward, clear manner. Players can see at a glance the status of the other players, including their bankroll, and may make use of a real-time chat facility to communicate with others. To facilitate speedy play, turn timers are implemented and players are also able to "queue" actions to perform when their turn comes around. Players may also take private notes on other players if they find themselves coming up against the same opponents regularly and start to recognize their strategies, and a detailed statistics function allows the player to evaluate their performance.

When Zynga Poker first started, it was noted that the software did not even get the game of poker right by some poker experts. Well, if they did not get poker right, they sure got social gaming right. With their early alliance with Facebook, Zynga climbed to the top of the gaming charts and forever changed the way the world views games forever. We can see that "15.9m weekly active users" actually translates into only ~100,000 players active at one time. Of course that's still a lot of players. It's more than Poker Stars - both real and play money combined. In fact, it's almost double the entire real money online gaming industry combined. But now lets factor in age and geographical demographics to come up with the number of UK players who potentially could convert to real money players.

Finally, Zynga has seen a massive erosion of its user base, one that has accelerated in recent months. The industry analysis firm App Data estimates that Zynga's Monthly Average Users (MAUs) have now fallen below 127 million, the company's lowest level in four years. And in just a single quarter during 2013, the company lost more than one-quarter of its most loyal daily users. In interviews with current and former Zynga employees, a picture emerges of a firm that underwent an astonishing rise but soon found itself sagging under the weight of over-management, missed opportunities, and the lack of a real long-term vision. Zynga declined to make any executives available for this story, only sending Ars a transcript of the company's most recent earnings call.

Speaking of time, the speed of each round in Zynga Poker couldn't be smoother or more efficient. The game is balanced to have a great pace - nothing ever seems rushed, yet nothing ever goes to slow. Nailing the balance has been tricky for other poker games on Facebook, yet Zynga seems to pull it off flawlessly. Despite all of the other bells and whistles that we've enjoyed there's little that feels as good as the pacing. All around, Zynga Poker is an excellent download for anyone looking to play some online Texas Hold 'Em on the go. In fact, I much prefer playing Zynga Poker on my iPhone or iPad over using the Facebook version. The interface is much cleaner, and the experience that much better. Highly recommended.

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