Predicting the Zyngapolypse: Using Google searches for cheats to spot shifts in social gaming

As many of you have heard, Google’s search engine data can give advance warning of where a flu epidemic is located. They can track the percentage of the local population who are entering queries related to flu symptoms – once these hit a certain level, there is a high likelihood that a spike in flu cases will be reported through normal channels.

The same also applies to video games. A certain fraction of the players use “player assistance tools” (like a scrabble helper or a list of tips). Demand for these tools is a direct function of player activity and tends to be relatively constant over the life of the game.

Want to see how the demand and usage looks for a video game? Watch the cheaters.

Here’s a monthly chart of the relative demand for cheat tools for several of Zynga’s word games. I took the monthly raw volume of exact match queries from Google Adwords and normalized them as a % of the average volume over the past year. This gave us an easy way to compare shifts across games over time.

As you can see, demand for cheats/help related to these games peaked in the first quarter of 2012 and has been dropping ever since. Some insights:

  • One of the worst drops was in Hanging with Friends; overall demand for cheat tools in September ’12 is down about 85% from the Q4 2011 averages.
  • Words With Friends is doing slightly better – down 45% from the winter peak.
  • Scramble with Friends, their boggle variant, walked into a wall. While it’s fairly hard to build a good boggle cheat (due to the time limit), this product should have seen a longer growth curve. This is actually one of their best word games.
  • DrawSomething, from the OMG POP acquisition, has also been dropping fast.
  • And Farmville continues to decline, to the relief of your fellow Facebook users who are about to barbeque your #$%$# cow. Actually, if you look at Google insights for search, this has been playing out for a while – looks like they peaked in 2010.

The cool thing I like about this data is it measures social influence and public engagement, not just commercial activity. How much do people really care about playing and winning that game?

The same trick works for other games as well. Just use Google’s insights for search tool (free) and ask for <game> cheats / help / tips…

Regarding Zynga, every market has product cycles and this certainly isn’t a full view of Zygna’s current product portfolio. They’ve built new games in areas we don’t track. However, this chart shows a clear trend in online word games: Thank you for playing!

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