Zynga is well-known for its unscrupulous business tactics, such as blatantly copying the successful games of other game studios. Just look at Dream Heights, its shameless attempt at replicating NimbleBit’s Tiny Tower.

What’s less known about the company is that it’s actually run more like a Las Vegas casino than a publishing studio, as Matt Lynley of Business Insider discovered.

When you head off to Vegas and spend thousands of dollars at the Blackjack table or playing craps, in addition to plying you with booze, casinos will often grant you a free room upgrade, or a complimentary buffet dinner in an effort to keep you playing as long as possible. Dropping serious money in the casino instantly turns you into a VIP.

As it turns out, Zynga has the same policy. As I’m sure you know, there are people out there who are willing to drop hundreds and thousands of dollars on their games, from Farmville to Mafia Wars.

And what does that money get those players, aside from an ostentatious, overly cluttered farm filled with baby unicorns or the fiercest Mafia army? As it turns out, if you spend upwards of $10,000 on Zynga’s games, you get a direct line to the company’s CEO, plus special gifts and letters.

Big spenders, also known as “whales” within the company, are targets for Zynga’s top of the line customer care. In fact, there are special representatives that cater to these “whales,” which are ultra important to the company because only 2.4 percent of the 200 million people that play Zynga’s games, both on Facebook and in the App Store, pay for virtual goods.

These people are so critical for business that Zynga makes great strides to transform ordinary customers into “whales,” by exploiting rivalries between two players in order to make one or both of them shell out cash in order to get ahead. As it turns out, some players are so competitive that they will spend huge amounts of money to get ahead in the virtual world.

This strategy has worked so well for the company that even less popular games, like Vampire Wars, have attracted these big spenders. Manipulating customers into spending their savings on virtual goods is a shady practice. What’s next, Zynga, smashing knee caps with a baseball bat when those customers quit ponying up the cash?

Who are those mysterious people that are willing to drop hundreds or thousands of dollars on a Facebook game? Is Bill Gates secretly running the world’s greatest farm? Are Warren Buffet and Larry Ellison duking it out in Mafia Wars? Who has that kind of expendable cash? That’s my question.

Source: Business Insider