by Paul 'Dr. Pauly' McGuire
I moved to San Francisco, the epicenter of hipster geekdom, and played in a home game with an eclectic gaggle of tech-savvy poker enthusiasts. The weekly gathering epitomized binge-drinking and cardslinging, but unfortunately, the more intoxicated everyone became, the more the action slowed down. A few bored players killed idle time by playing Zynga Poker on their iPhones.
Zynga Poker became the most popular version of online poker played in America, because of its partnership with the social media behemoth, Facebook. Bored housewives, college students, and cubicle slaves, battled it out on the virtual felt through Zynga Poker, a free app readily available on Facebook.
If you’re one of those people who waste way too much time on Facebook, you’ve no doubt stumbled upon Zynga’s collection of games. They include Mafia Wars and FarmVille: both highly addictive, utterly pointless games. Then again, video games are meant to be mindless distractions, otherwise we’d be doing something more productive with our lives, like reading books or working out. In the last couple of years, Zynga Poker, and the Scrabble knock-off, Words with Friends, transformed the peer-to-peer gaming world.
In 2007, Zynga launched their first version of play-money poker. Despite the rudimentary graphics and horrendous skill level from the average player, the game flourished. Four years later, the player base rocketed to over 33 million per month. In 2012, the base is teetering on 40 million monthly users with mobile versions available in 20 different languages, including Chinese.
Facebook denied rumors they were interested in launching a real money gambling site using Zynga Poker. However, Zynga itself is intrigued by the possibility of entering the real-money gaming market—if and when the timing is appropriate with internet gambling legislation at either the Federal or State level.
Zynga recently launched its own website—Zynga.com—in an attempt to create a stand-alone presence, independent of Facebook. They have no desire to sever ties with Facebook, and it would be foolish to do so, but the launch of a website is just the first of many steps that the company must take to become a heavyweight in the online gaming industry.
It’s important to note that at this juncture, Zynga has yet to partner up with a land-based casino, or create or acquire an online poker operator, but the creation of Zynga.com is a step in the right direction.
In the meantime, Zynga Poker’s play-money concept continues to grow, with a heavy stream of new users. It’s hard to compete with a free product that provides hours of endless entertainment, especially with easy access via your mobile device. Even if you go busto, it’s rather easy to acquire more chips. It’s a perfect game to play when you have a few moments to spare while stuck in a weather delay at the airport, or trying to look busy at the end of the work day.
I tried Zynga Poker a couple of times, but it failed to replicate an old-school online poker experience. Plus, the action was torridly slow for a virtual environment, so I never went back. Hardcore online poker addicts scoff at the notion of playing on Zynga Poker—it’s like asking a world-renowned chef to nuke Big Macs at McDonald’s. But amateurs obviously adore Zynga, because millions flock to its tables every single day.
Until online poker legislation passes, I’ll continue to sit on the sideline with home games and brick-and-mortar rooms as my only option to play cards. In the meantime, I’d rather play Words with Friends matches for a few bucks a pop amongst my peers—it’s more intellectually stimulating, and has a whole less variance.
Paul ‘Dr. Pauly’ McGuire is the author of the upcoming book ‘Lost Vegas’. You can read his poker blog, Tao of Poker, over at www.taopoker.com.