When Zynga announced last month, alongside a bundle of bad news, that it was making a mobile game based on the NFL, the obvious first question was, “How does it compare to Madden?”
Like EA’s uber-popular annual pro football games, which already have a mobile version, the new game would feature the official licensed likenesses of NFL players, Zynga said. And the team making it was led by Mike Taramykin and Jay Shenkman, both eight-year veterans of EA and EA Sports.
Rather than try to compete with EA’s juggernaut, though, NFL Showdown is aimed at the more than 41 million people who play fantasy football. And it’s an interesting window into how Zynga, which has been trying to turn this year into a comeback story, is thinking about its users.
First of all, Shenkman said, “it won’t be SportsVille.” But it is designed to be playable in very short bursts, because the actual gameplay is less about playing football and more about getting ready to play football.
Every 21 days in real time is a 21-week football season in the game, with 17 weeks in the regular season and four in the postseason. The goal is to get to that postseason by mixing and matching the right fantasy team of NFL players just so to beat each day’s rival.
“It is a simulation,” Taramykin said. “A simulation is based on the inputs, and the inputs in this case are the players. How good players are determines the outcome. It seems fairly obvious, but there’s work to do to make sure you’re ready.”
That work includes not just drafting and trading the players, but training them, boosting their energy and confidence and healing injuries. One form of virtual currency, coins, is earned through gameplay or can be purchased with real money, and is then used to buy player boosts or virtual cash to help team managers afford more expensive additions to their rosters.
A clock counts down to the game, which lasts between eight and 10 minutes, but watching it play out is optional; the game happens whether the team managers have time to check in or not, and there’s currently no strategic advantage to doing so. The strategy is all in the buildup to the game.
So, what happens when you don’t open the app for a while? Shenkman said the game incentivizes users to stay on top of their teams, but “there’s no ‘lose forever’ condition.”
“If you disappeared for a month and then came back later, well, your team’s probably going to be injured and some guys are going to have retired that you didn’t know about,” he said. “But you also earned some money [from automatically-played games] and you’ve got the ability to go back to auction and try to pick up some better players.”