Game maker Zynga has given up trying to build data centers cheaper than the public cloud can provide them, and is moving its portfolio - including such creations as Farmville - back to Amazon Web Services (AWS). 

Zynga, which has been in steady decline for some years, believed it could cut its costs by building and running its own data centers, but CEO Mark Pincus admitted in a conference call last week that it was giving up that struggle. The company was successful on desktop-based Facebook, with social games that readers’ friends may have played, like Farmville, Mafia Wars, and Zynga Poker. It failed to transfer well to mobile devices, however, and is having to cut its costs.

Farmville 2
Farmville 2 – Zynga

On the server farm

“There’s a lot of places that are not strategic for us to have scale and we think not appropriate like running our own data centers,” said Pincus. “We’re going to let Amazon do that.”

It’s an embarassing climb down. Zynga started out on its own IT equipment, but needed Amazon when it couldn’t cope with demand for Farmville - and then tried and failed to do without it.

When Farmville launched as a Facebook game in 2009, it grew rapidly. within six weeks, it had 10 million users, and after five months there were 25 million people using it - and annoying all their friends with invitations to join the (so-called) fun.

Amazon allowed Zynga to expand by putting its infrastructure onto its Elastic Compute Cloud, but in 2011 Zynga decided it could do better with its own tailor-made data centers.  

The company floated on the stock market, and promised that it would spend up to $150 million on infrastructure.

But it never quite left Amazon, using a hybrid cloud structure it called “zCloud”, that used various technologies including the CloudStack platform, XenServer and the KVM hypervisor to shift loads between the two environments. In early 2011, 80 percent of its users were on Amazon, but by the end of 2011 this had changed to 20 percent. 

Now, realization has dawned that the data centers aren’t delivering what they promised. Co-founder Mark Pincus returned as CEO in April 2015, replacing Don Mattrick, promising that cost-cutting and better games would get it back on track. 

The admission that it is closing its own data centers down is one which Amazon will no doubt capitalize on, luring other customers to follow Zynga’s example.