Zynga Inc (NASDAQ:ZNGA) is making a big bet that the natural movement technology of its recent $527 million acquisition NaturalMotion, a gaming software firm that has worked with New Line Cinema, WingNut Films and gamemaker Rockstar, will breathe life into its weakening gaming franchise.
This new simulation technology allows virtual game characters to have fully natural-looking movements, including responding to physical events in their virtual world such as being bumped or slipping and falling on a slick surface. It has been hailed by many as another step forward in creating a more fully immersive virtual reality.
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Zynga’s recent woes
Zynga Inc (NASDAQ:ZNGA) has faced a series of serious issues over the last year or so. The company was forced to revise its profitable relationship with its partner Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) in mid-2013, and also closed down a number of games in the second half of the year. Zynga’s revenues have declined about 30% over the last few quarters (despite a major corporate reorganization and a number of layoffs), and the number of active monthly gamers decreased from just over 300 million in September 2012 to below 150 million in September 2013.
New simulation technology
NaturalMotion CEO and cofounder Torsten Reil is very excited about the potential of this new simulation technology. He sat down with MIT Technology Review for an interview a couple of weeks before the buyout by Zynga Inc (NASDAQ:ZNGA). He claims this new simulation technology together with the processing power of modern mobile devices means we will soon see gaming with richer, more immersive experiences and more engaging characters than the current animated, cartoon-style two-dimensional games. “Our characters can react differently every time, and even display emergent behaviors,” says Reil.
A NaturalMotion simulated character responds to a variety of stimuli based on gravity and the character’s physique, instead of just playing back a preprogrammed motion. The character might stumble and fall when throwing a punch causes it to lose balance. “This technology creates a really rich, believable experience,” according to Reil. He believes that the next generation of mobile game characters will be as physically and emotionally “real” as those seen in Pixar movies today.