Facebook gaming titan Zynga is apparently taking a loss of $150 on every new customer it acquires.
The claim comes from Sterne Agee analyst Arvind Bhatia, who in an interview with Benzinga explained that Zynga spent $120 million on marketing in the first nine months of last year.
"Almost all of that is for acquiring customers," he said. "We also know that they had 3.4 million unique players in the September quarter, which is up from three million at the end of December 2010.
"In other words, they added 400,000 additional players and spent $120 million to acquire them."
That equates to $300 spent on each new customer, but Bhatia explained that Zynga keeps hold of new customers for between 12 and 15 months, during which each spends around $150. "That math won't work for very long," he said.
Bhatia believes that, rather than being unique to Zynga, the social gaming market is slowing down. While Zynga's most successful games, FarmVille and CityVille, reached their peak user figures after eight and three months respectively and stayed near that peak for months afterwards, the company's newer titles are peaking within weeks and then fading fast; Mafia Wars 2 being a case in point.
"When Facebook was in rapid growth mode, millions and millions of people were trying these Zynga games just by default, and now it's getting harder," he continued. "Part of it might be Zynga, given that they're the leader. Part of it might be a slowdown overall in social games.
"The really hardcore [players] are, perhaps, finding themselves trying FarmVille, Castle World and CityVille. The newer audiences are trying and finding that this is all the same and leaving."
All of which leaves Zynga more reliant than ever on its 'whales', the tiny proportion of paying users who spend in large numbers and effectively subsidise the millions who never pay.
It also goes some way to explain Zynga's confirmation this week that it had acquired four mobile developers; with growth on Facebook slowing, expanding its reach on smartphones and tablets is a logical move.