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With ChefVille, Zynga Opens Its Doors to Share Tasty Food Values

Not a lot of things have been going right lately for Zynga, the big social game-maker headquartered at 8th and Brannan Streets, after a disappointing quarterly earnings report, a stock price  falling below $3/share, and difficulties connected to its close integration with Facebook.

But a bright spot in the midst of all this was the launch of the latest game in its ‘Ville series, ChefVille, earlier this month. It quickly became the most popular game on Facebook.

More importantly, from my perspective, ChefVille seems like the first Zynga game that fully takes advantage of the company’s own internal culture, in this case around food, in the midst a larger community that, just like Zynga employees, loves good food made from fresh local ingredients.

ChefVille also represents a tighter integration between social gaming and real life, because the rewards of playing include unlocking up to 50 recipes that are emailed to players for use at home.

Zynga’s impressive team of fifteen company chefs, headed up by Executive Chef Matthew Du Trumble, creates all of the recipes used in the game in the process of serving 4,000 meals a day to the company’s employees.

“ChefVille is a restaurant and cooking game,” explains Jonathan Knight, its General Manager. “You earn rewards by cooking and serving dishes to the customers in your restaurant.”

The game’s layout will be familiar to anyone who’s played FarmVille, CastleVille, and so on. There is a “world” where your initial real estate allows you to design and furnish whatever kind of restaurant you want – from something resembling what you might find in the Tuscan countryside, to a ‘50s style diner, to a seafood restaurant along the coast.

Outside of your restaurant, all the required ingredients are waiting to be gathered – everything from sunflowers and onions growing in your garden, to citrus groves, free-range chicken and turkey farms, seafood suppliers, Napa-like vineyards, and farmer's-market-type stands. There are also small-town butchers, bakers, and candy shops nearby.

Players eat in each other’s restaurants, acquire ingredients from one another, make recommendations, and build up other forms of currencies like coins and stars as they advance through the game.

This enables ever-more elaborate culinary experiences and unlock the real-world recipes that bring the game back to their own kitchen tables.

The soundtrack of the game includes realistic cooking sounds like sizzling over the fire–sounds that Du Trumble says “stimulate the senses.”

“The big idea in this game is helping you master the cuisines of the world,” says Knight.

At its core, ChefVille is as if Zynga opened up its doors and invited everyone around over for lunch. After all, Executive Chef Du Trumble and his staff already serve those 4,000 meals a day – 1,000 breakfasts, 2,000 lunches, and 1,000 dinners.

They are buying ingredients locally and seasonally, storing and using them in environmentally sensitive ways, and cooking organic foods wherever possible, very much representative of what might be called “San Francisco Values” as they pertain to food.

“We bring everything in-house that we can,” says Du Trumble. “We have our own butchery, our own bakery, we make our own pickles, make our own ice cream, brew coffee, Kombucha, and our own very good-tasting beers. And soon we’ll have our own herb garden!”

All of the meals Du Trumble and team create for Zynga’s 2,000 local employees are available for use in ChefVille and they form the essence of the game’s content.

“We like the messages the game sends,” adds Du Trumble, “about cooking local, organic food from fresh ingredients, not buying processed food. About how it’s the most natural thing to do – to cook for your family or friends around the dinner table.”

Zynga hosts everyone from pop-up cafes to leading chefs, from Rice Paper Scissors to Alice Waters, at culinary events at its headquarters, offers cooking lessons to its employees, and sponsors food competitions among the product teams. 

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