Zynga is a social network game developer with an especially big presence on Facebook thanks to various games like Farmville, Mafia Wars, and the very popular Zynga Poker game. I guess they're involved with MySpace and other networking sites, too, but Facebook is obviously the one most know about and use these days.
I don’t really do Facebook, but I do have an iPhone, and since hearing about the PokerCon I did download the Zynga Poker app and goofed around on it a little. Both fun and functional, and while chatting with friends and ordering virtual mixed drinks on the little iPhone screen is a little awkward, I can certainly see how the game has attracted many -- reportedly 38 million -- who play it (mostly on Facebook and MySpace).
Sounded like the first day of the event was taken up with some seminar-like “training” sessions (by “Zynga Poker University”) led by Annie Duke, with some meals and mixers filling out the schedule. The second and final day included more meals and parties as well as 500-player poker tournament for attendees that cost $125 to enter and featured a $100,000 prize pool. (Here is the full schedule.)
My impression from reading through various reports on the event was that it appeared -- like the game itself -- to be kind of a social networking opportunity allowing media, Zynga reps, and a number of poker pros to connect. Seemed like a genuinely fun time for a number of people there, too.
Some of my friends and colleagues were there. Pokerati Dan was at PokerCon, providing audio, video, and textual reports. Michele Lewis also posted frequently about happenings at the Palms. F-Train stopped in and has offered “Some Quick Thoughts” on what he saw as well.
B.J. Nemeth, who has recently begun a nifty site called “Sport of Poker” where he’s collecting a lot of his photography, Jess & B.J. vids, and opining on all things poker, was there, too, and has written up a very interesting opinion piece about the significance of Zynga and the event.
In his piece, Nemeth addresses speculation about Zynga’s possible online-poker-related intentions in the U.S., specifically the idea that should some sort of federal law ever be passed allowing for the licensing and regulating of online poker in America, Zynga has positioned itself to swoop in and instantly become a major player in the newly-created market.
Nemeth expresses doubts about that possibility -- doubts reinforced by some of his interactions with Zynga people last weekend. But he adds an interesting point, too, about the demographic of players he saw enjoying themselves at Zynga PokerCon -- many older, and a lot more women than one typically finds at the tables in your average poker room, live tourney, or getting most of the attention in the online poker world.
In other words, the event seemed to highlight for Nemeth something potentially very significant about poker’s current status in American culture -- namely, that poker is popular not just among young men in their late teens or early 20s, but across a much wider range of players than we perhaps realize from inside the little world shaped by the sites we play on, the WSOP and other tours, the forums we frequent, and so forth.
It’s a revelation I’ve also had over the last couple of months while teaching this “Poker in American Film and Culture” class. There I’ve had the chance to “talk poker” with a different group of people with whom I usually do so, and to talk about poker differently, too, as we together try to assess its significance and place in the U.S. today.
Fact is, poker’s significance to American culture is a lot broader and more varied than a lot of us might realize, something the PokerCon appears to have helped demonstrate.