By Gerry Shih
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Online game publisher Zynga Inc relaunched its website on Thursday, allowing users to play its games without first signing on to Facebook, a significant step toward establishing its independence from Facebook Inc.
The relaunch of Zynga.com is the latest step in the slow dissolution of a special partnership that once bound two of the most influential players in the social Internet industry.
Tim Catlin, general manager of Zynga.com, told Reuters he believed Zynga's players wanted to create unique player names that were not tied to their Facebook accounts, which displays their real names.
"You had to use your Facebook account to play previously, but this is going to change going forward," said Catlin, who added that existing players will still be able to log in with their Facebook accounts.
New players, however, will be able to easily sign up without using Facebook credentials - long a hallmark of many Zynga games.
"We've been able to greatly streamline that process," Catlin said of the new Zynga.com website, which has been in the works for the past year.
Founded in 2007, Zynga achieved a searing growth rate in its early years by exclusively tapping Facebook's network to gain new users while offering games directly within Facebook.com web pages.
For several years the companies enjoyed a lucrative and symbiotic relationship, with Zynga deriving close to 90 percent of its revenues from Facebook games, while Facebook received roughly 15 percent of its income in the form of fees from Zynga.
But Zynga's competitive advantage on the world's largest social network gradually shrank as other publishers entered the market, and the company's leadership has been faulted for not diversifying away from Facebook's platform earlier.
Last year, Facebook and Zynga announced that they agreed to amend a longstanding deal that had given Zynga special privileges on the Facebook platform.
Rather than relying on Facebook's communications features, Zynga has focused on building out features of its own such as its "social stream," a bar that is displayed within games to connect players to each other.
Zynga shares were up less than 1 percent at $3.38 after hours.
(This story was fixed to correct name of Zynga general manager to Tim instead of Tom in third paragraph and to say Zynga and Facebook amended deal instead of that deal had expired in 10th paragraph )
(Reporting By Gerry Shih; Editing by David Gregorio)