Zynga is going whale hunting in China.
The social game developer is unveiling its first game in China on Tuesday, an adaptation of the extremely popular CityVille. Zynga had effectively been blocked from China because its games are played through Facebook, which is banned in the country. Zynga City, as the new build-your-own-town game will be called, will be played through the Chinese internet portal Tencent.
Zynga, which is awaiting its Wall Street debut, declined to comment beyond a press release. But Zynga City will be closely watched for clues about whether the Chinese have as voracious an appetite for social games as do Americans, who have propelled the four-year-old companyâs value to as much as $20 billion.
Merely playing the game is not enough. Nearly all Zyngaâs revenue comes from selling virtual goods to players who want to get ahead faster than the normal course of the game might permit. These players, who are a small slice of the tens of millions of Zynga devotees, are called whales in homage to the big-time casino rollers.
CityVille can be played in English, French, Turkish, Italian, Portuguese and other languages, but Zynga is significantly retooling it for Chinese players, going beyond a simple translation. The homey setting designed to evoke a small American town will instead have âdecorations and architecture the Chinese audience can identify and connect with,â the company said in its release, including allowing players to send street peddlers to their friendsâ cities. If the peddlers can scrape up some real money, Zynga might be worth all those billions.