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Zynga, makers of Farmville and Mafia Wars now have more than 100 Million users

Is this mean that people are being addicted to virtual world ? Zynga, makers of popular online games like "Farmville" and "Mafia Wars" stats show that. Zynga has announced it has crossed 100 million registered users who play their games. The suprising part is that it just took almost two and half years in reaching this milestone. NewYork Time got a chance to interact with Mark Pincus, Zynga's 44-year-old founder after reaching this milestone.

In a pep talk this month, Pincus told his company's newcomers that he had set out to build an enduring Internet icon, one that was synonymous with fun.

"I thought, it's 2007, and this can't be all that the Internet is meant to be," he said. There has to be more than "a garage sale, a bookstore, a search engine and a portal," he added in a good-natured putdown of the Web giants eBay, Amazon, Google and Yahoo.

It is estimated that the Zynga Game Network, as the company had a successful start-up from Silicon Valley since Twitter and, before that, Facebook. According to the Inside Network, Zynga had earned $835 million in revenue this year.

While Facebook needed four and a half years to reach 100 million users, Zynga crossed that mark after just two and a half years.

For instance, in FarmVille, its most popular game, players tend to virtual farms, planting and harvesting crops, and turning little plots of land into ever more sophisticated or idyllic cyberfarms. Good farmers -- those who don't let crops wither -- earn virtual currency they can use for things like more seed or farm animals and equipment.

But players can also buy those goods with credit cards, PayPal accounts or Facebook's new payment system, called Credits. A pink tractor, a FarmVille favorite, costs about $3.50, and fuel to power it is 60 cents. A Breton horse can be had for $4.40, and four chickens for $5.60. The sums are small, but add up quickly when multiplied by millions of users: Zynga says it has been profitable since shortly after its founding.

The company has ballooned to nearly 1,000 employees, up from 375 a year ago, and now has some 400 job openings. And investors, including Google and the Netscape founder Marc Andreessen, have put about $520 million into the company. Though some of the money was used to buy out early investors and employees, it's still a huge sum in Silicon Valley.

Zynga has been valued at more than $4.5 billion, putting Mr. Pincus, who has retained voting control over the company, on a path to become Silicon Valley's next billionaire. And, not surprisingly, Zynga has caught the attention of people beyond Silicon Valley.

At a recent gathering of media and technology moguls, Jeffrey Katzenberg, the C.E.O. of DreamWorks Animation, was asked what he would do if he were to start his career over. "I said I would like to be Mark Pincus," he recalled in an interview. "He has nailed the next killer app, the next compelling thing that's going to happen" in media.

Pincus says he expects growth to resume with new games like FrontierVille, which a month after its release on June 9 had 20 million players. And Zynga investors say the drop in traffic had little effect on revenue because many players who dropped out didn't buy virtual goods.

Even so, some analysts and investors question Zynga's ability to keep producing hit games in an ever more crowded field. "There are only so many potential customers and only so many categories," says Rick Heitzmann, a managing director of FirstMark Capital, a venture capital firm that has invested in online game companies, though not in Zynga. "And they are burning through categories quickly," he adds, noting that Zynga already had games for pets, farms, restaurants and other subjects.

Zynga games have 211 million players every month, according to, about four times larger than its nearest rival, Electronic Arts. Playdom is third, with 41 million users.

"I have a very high-stress life," says Alena Meeker, 32, a financial analyst at a major brokerage firm in San Francisco. "I love relaxing with the games." Ms. Meeker, who plays several of Zynga's games, says she devotes about an hour a day to them and spends $20 to $40 on virtual goods every week. She says she uses the games to connect with friends, co-workers and family.

Nathan R. Van Sleet, who lives in Oakland and is unemployed, says he plays YoVille, a game in which users create avatars and interact with others in custom-decorated homes, for up to 16 hours a day. Because he is hearing-impaired and doesn't know sign language, online forums of YoVille players have allowed him to connect with various people.

"If it were not for the forums, I would have missed the opportunity to meet these people," Mr. Van Sleet said in an e-mail.

In November, Electronic Arts bought the Zynga rival Playfish for as much as $400 million. But some analysts say that most other traditional gaming companies are falling behind the trend that is taking the industry by storm.

Bloggers seized on those comments as an example of questionable ethics at Zynga after critics said the company was allowing deceptive advertisers into its games. Without being clear, some ads, for instance, signed up players for subscriptions to costly text-messaging services. TechCrunch, the technology blog, called the practice "ScamVille," and some users filed a class-action lawsuit against Zynga. The company has since filed a motion to dismiss the suit, and a hearing is expected in September.

Zynga has since pulled the ads, and Pincus now says he was misunderstood. He says he was trying to convey to would-be entrepreneurs that they needed to earn revenue quickly to gain independence from investors. "I never meant to imply you should do anything unethical," he says.

And he says he recognized that with Zynga's success, he needed to temper his attitude. "As the company has had more exposure and visibility, I have had to realize that more people take what I say seriously," he says. "I've had to grow up."

- NYTimes Inputs

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