Sterne Agee's Arvind Bhatia has highlighted some disturbing figures in Zynga's finances.
“[Zynga has] given us the sales in marketing dollars for the first nine months – $120 million. Almost all of that is for acquiring customers," the analyst told Bezinga.
"We also know that they had 3.4 million unique payers in the September quarter, which is up from 3 million at the end of December 2010. In other words, they added 400,000 additional payers and they spent $120 million to acquire them.”
According to these figures, the company spends $300 to acquire every user - and it doesn't pay off.
"We know that, on average, these people are spending about $150 or so," Bhatia said, indicating a loss of $150 on each customer. "That's our math; that's not what the company says."
The analyst isn't keen on demonising Zynga, noting a market for its rapid-fire release strategy, but warned of a general slowdown in social gaming - and beyond.
"It's getting harder and harder. I think companies are going to have to give more and more stuff away for free, not the other way around. We're even seeing games like World of Warcraft [incur] subscriber losses after seven years. They've had to give levels for free.
“I don't think it's just Zynga. But Zynga clearly has tried many games, and they're finding that the interest level isn't necessarily going up. We've seen many games launch and then fade within a few weeks.
“When Facebook was in rapid growth mode, millions and millions of new people were trying these Zynga games just by default, and now it's getting harder.
“I think on Facebook we've seen other companies' games come under pressure. Part of it might be Zynga, given that they're the leader. Part of it might be a slowdown overall in social games. Part of it might just be Facebook itself. Facebook's growth rate would have slowed down given the law of large numbers.”
Zynga went public in December with the largest tech IPO since Google, but stock has performed poorly in the interim.