Farmvillians: SF Weekly's Zynga hatchet piece


28 Responses to “Farmvillians: SF Weekly's Zynga hatchet piece”

  1. Xenu says:

    Pincus is a self-centered scumbag. He sets up companies that make a quick buck but are doomed to long-term failure, then heads out the door with a wad of cash ASAP. He has no interesting in innovating, yet alone building good products.

    But this sort of scam is easy to get away with in the game industry, where the market is easily 95% crap.

  2. Zadaz says:

    I know people who work at Zynga. They vouch for everything in this article, it’s very much not very happy-funtime.

    I keep trying to get them to quit, but they have Stockholm Syndrome or something keeping them there.

    In Game Development I used to have the choice between great pay and great work. Now it’s no choice, it’s a grind for crap wages no mater what.

    I finally got out of the business this year after 12 years experience. It’s worse than the dot-com crap ever was.

  3. TooGoodToCheck says:

    Without any personal knowledge, I suspect that the culture may vary somewhat at different Zynga offices. The Zynga office in Baltimore picked up several good people from Big Huge Games, none of whom would work at a place that’s remotely as bad as what this article and the comments here describe.

    The world of game dev is an interesting one. There are definitely bad places to work, but there are good ones also. And even within a single company (and I’m thinking here specifically of EA) there are teams that have their shit together and don’t work insane overtime on a regular basis, and there are others that have serious problems.

    I’ve been developing video games for five years now, and I’m still really happy with it.

  4. Thenonymous says:

    Urg. Mark Pincus is listed as one of the judges in the USDA’s Apps for Healthy Kids competition. That means he will be helping to pick the best work from the submissions of dozens of small game developers. Hopefully he won’t treat it as a shopping trip for new ideas.

  5. bcsizemo says:

    Shovelware, haven’t heard that in years….

    Hell if it wasn’t for Facebook Zynga wouldn’t be were they are today. When you have a captive audience that does all the promotion for you what’s not to exploit?

    How I wish games were still 60-75 dollars…then maybe there would be something I’d like to play. I do like a few games that are newer, but shit if you’ve played one FPS you kind of played 50-75% of them.

    I’d pay top dollar if someone brought back Star Control or Descent. Or if Sony would port Wipeout back to the PC…*sigh*.

  6. Anonymous says:

    “I don’t fucking want innovation. You’re not smarter than your competitor. Just copy what they do and do it until you get their numbers.”
    LMAO this is precisely the attitude that my former employer took toward his biz. “Hey, we don’t care if it’s defective by design. We don’t have a problem photoshopping the product photos so customers don’t see the imprinted logos. We don’t have a problem with anything!!!!!!1″
    No point going for credibility when there’s a profit to be made in the short term, right? I mean this business can sustain itself indefinitely, can’t it? Right?

  7. medvedim says:

    I interviewed at Zynga semi-recently (this summer). Things seemed to be going pretty well technically during the interview process, but when they dropped the bomb that their average work weeks were 60-110 hours that was the deal breaker. Naturally they claimed that quarterly this or that percentage bonuses would make up for it, but I’m sorry, if you want double or triple time you’d better be paying 2-3x base not “median plus eh”.

    After I mentioned to my friends in the SF and games communities that I’d talked to Zynga and walked, every single one of them told me I dodged a bullet. Even the cab driver taking me back to the hotel said he made a lot of money ferrying people away from that office who were too tired to drive; i.e. people are routinely working so many hours that they’re a hazard to themselves and others when behind the wheel.

  8. I Like Cake says:

    As for whether Zynga is the future of game development, As I understand it, social networking games are pretty much a no-go.

    I was out for drinks with a Flash game developer last week, and he said that, of the top ten social networking games companies, numbers eight through ten are floundering. They don’t really have a product; all they have is a constantly expanding, self-fuelling marketing empire. You can build a company on that, but not an industry.

    At the same time, we’ve got a whole slew of indies now producing really amazing work, much of it very cheap for consumers and readily available, and games are finally making headway into academia in a serious way. Game dev may wind up splintering a little, but I think the future is bright and we will be all the better for it.

    Addendum: obviously I hate Zynga with the burning fury of a thousand suns and all, and it sucks if you’re into making social games and they’ve basically crushed the life out of it. Also, indie is really, really tough financially thanks to these thieves, but as far as an industry or an art movement or whatever else you want to call it, chin up; there are still people out there making the world a better place.

  9. adamnvillani says:

    Yeah, there are plenty of industries out there where you can do reasonably interesting work under much better conditions and keep to a 40-hour work week, or at least something close to it. There’s no reason to work yourself into the grave.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Yeah, there are plenty of industries out there where you can do reasonably interesting work under much better conditions and keep to a 40-hour work week, or at least something close to it. There’s no reason to work yourself into the grave.”

      Reasonably interesting? What does that mean exactly?

      I can say that I’m a bookbinder. That’s “reasonably” interesting. So, isn’t a scuba instructor (crap pay but you get a tan), or a police man (potential to get shot at). Hell, a garbage man is reasonable interesting if you have the right mindset.

      The job I do, I work on games that millions of people play all around the world. Millions. It can make more of a cultural splash that 90% of any other type of media out there: movies, books, magazines, TV, anything.

      I haven’t owned a suit in a decade. I work in flip-flops and shorts 8 months of the year. I don’t need to talk to surly customers. I try to push and innovate the medium. If you’re in crunch you have you can come in a little later and if the company’s smart, free dinners and down time after.

      EVERYONE is working themselves into an early grave (if you’re lucky to have a job that is). Why do you think we have a health epidemic? This is America!

      • adamnvillani says:

        Well, obviously you’re happy with your job. Great! So am I. So is my wife. Neither one of us is a programmer. I’m a city planner, she’s a pharmaceutical economist.

        But from the sound of it, a lot of programmers are unhappy with their jobs because of the stressful conditions, long hours, and lack of respect. And yet, fatalistically, they accept it and rationalize it with a “well, this is what you HAVE to do.” They don’t, at least not permanently. For a time, perhaps. And this is not a good time for anybody to be looking for a job (especially not in my field — I know a lot of people out of work, and there for the grace of God go I).

        But the point is that not all jobs are like that. As you point out, not even all programming jobs are like that. Maybe you have to take a job like that because it’s all that’s available. But if you hate your job, for any reason, you owe it to yourself to look for a way out.

        I can’t guarantee happiness; no one can. But if you’re reasonably skilled in America, you should not accept a lifelong career of misery. Everybody has to put up with crap from time to time. Many people lack skills or education, live in poor countries, or are saddled with debts or (especially in the US) medical expenses. I am not opposed to the social safety net, and I realize that many are in situations beyond their control.

        But if you have skills, and you hate your job, you’re wasting your life if you just assume that nothing else is better. It will take work to find it, and it will take some luck. But my point is that you should not fool yourself into thinking you can not do better.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I actually worked in the computer-game industry for a few years, and even I don’t care about this. This is like listening to a magical cable-news channel devoted to gossip and shit-talk among a bunch of catfish busy eating each other at the bottom of a mud pit.

    If this is currently the kind of business you work in, for fuck’s sake GET OUT. Go sit on a beach. Money is not God.

    • Garmt says:

      If this is currently the kind of business you work in, for fuck’s sake GET OUT. Go sit on a beach. Money is not God.

      Agreed to the power of ten. It’s one of the great mysteries of the world why they/we don’t. Really, why? Please, someone, answer this for me – why do we cling to our misery? Even if you DO have four kids and a pet to feed and pay tuition for, it’s NOT WORTH it.

      I used to ask myself the question “why am I not living on a tropical island right now?” (after a friend of mine moved there, away from his job as consultant, to work as a kitesurfing instructor). Turns out the answer is “because I like a career”; well, ok, but then at least get a career that you like (which I did, with less money and more work but bottom-line more fun).

      • Anonymous says:

        “Really, why? Please, someone, answer this for me – why do we cling to our misery? Even if you DO have four kids and a pet to feed and pay tuition for, it’s NOT WORTH it.”

        What else are we supposed to do, eh? Teach game art? F-that. Crap pay (if you can find something), no respect unless you’re in a top art school which has insane competition.

        Another industry? What? Movies? You go into crunch and then are fired at the end of the project! The artists there want to come into OUR industry for the stability.

        CG in Commercials? The deadlines are insane, pay’s once again crap, and you are constantly getting yelled at (know this from friends of mine) and then laid off.

        Off industry? In this economy? What is that exactly with my decade long skill set that is so specific to the industry with a family to support? Hallmark cards? Web design? Working as a corporate drone in some nameless insurance company? Go blue collar with my pasty weak ass and work as a plumber?

        You tell me. :)

  11. Rob Beschizza says:

    I’ve seen a degree of despair and resignation among game developer acquaintances. They seem appalled by Zynga and the sudden explosion of ‘free to play, pay to play on’ shovelware in their industry, but feel they need to accommodate themselves to it, because it’s the future.

    It’s sad and bizarre and I can think of few worse places to work (as far as comfortable, first-world office work goes) than as a corporate game developer.

    • bob d says:

      Yeah, it’s sad, the industry has gone from guys in their garages pulling cola-fueled all-nighters trying to get a game out, to this sort of industrial assembly line (often still full of now mandatory caffeine-fueled all-nighters). Somehow the terrible working conditions and poor wages were made up for by “making something cool.” Now we don’t even have that.
      That Zynga is the future of game development is the fault of the game industry itself, however. They’ve been making more and more expensive games (now topping out at $100million) for a niche audience that hasn’t grown much. So when faced with two (false dichotomy) options: spend $100M on a game that might never make its money back, or spend $50K on a game that makes $250million a year, you can guess which way the development money goes. I’m an unemployed game developer and most of the jobs right now are for Facebook games, which is really depressing. On the bright side, I expect most of those companies to fail spectacularly in the next couple of years, as players tire of the formula used by most of the games.

    • JohnnyOC says:

      “It’s sad and bizarre and I can think of few worse places to work (as far as comfortable, first-world office work goes) than as a corporate game developer.”

      I work for one of them and yes, the hours now are insane for months on end, but will soon let up…and I get paid pretty well (if the game does well, I get paid very, very, well..)

      You know what’s worse that a first-party corporate developer?

      A third party developer than has less that 70 people. Since there are less people, you wear multiple hats, carry twice amount of stress, have no job security, and more likely than not will flame out. You have more creativity but honestly I don’t think it’s worth it.

      You know what’s worse than that, though? A friend of mine who has an Asian business start-up and is CEO. That kind of business.

      Competitors who would easily say crap to your clients and undercut you, or call the police and say that you are doing something illegal to trip you up and keep you out of the “high season” while it winds through the justice system, or hire away staff who then would steal your confidential data.

      That’s a nasty business..

      12 hours a day, year in, year out, until you either:

      1) Make enough to sell the business
      2) Go to the hospital for exhaustion or nervous breakdown
      3) Go broke

      I’m still glad I’m a game dev after hearing that..

  12. KWillets says:

    I work at Zynga, and before this I didn’t have much gaming exposure, but in my limited experience this kind of slagging is just part of the industry. Zynga isn’t perfect by any means, but it does appear to be able to move on and learn from its mistakes.

    But I must confess I actually enjoy the idea that hundreds of game experts think we employ a bunkerload of behavioral psychologists, mind control experts, and Sith Lords.

  13. narrowstreetsLA says:

    In my darkest, most cynical moods, companies like Zynga make me never want to do anything creative ever again. But then I realize most companies are like this, and my tiny little killer instinct deludes myself into believing I am capable of great things.

  14. W. James Au says:

    I know some Zynga folks who don’t fit the above descriptions. Also, as the article itself notes, Zynga’s rising game is FrontierVille, which is actually pretty good and innovative, relative to the giant mass market that social games has created. (It was designed by Bryan Reynolds, who’s done a bunch of classic “gamer games”: Say what you will about how Zynga built it’s insanely giant playerbase, but unlike anyone else before them, they’ve turned gaming into an actual mass market phenomenon, in terms of eyeballs on par with TV and movies. And that means a giant market for more and more innovative games.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Judging by the pink-lipped “kool-aid” employees (who look to be mostly under 25) wandering around gormlessly at 17th and Rhode Island into the food trough zynga’s set up for them, I imagine they’re pretty much like every other games company – a soul-less, high-pressure, eat ‘em up and spit ‘em out software operation.

    If you’re under 25 and single in SF that’s probably a whole learning experience and maybe even possibly “fun” (i.e. you might get laid) and will potentially look good on your resume even if it permanently scars you both physically and mentally.

    It is fun to spot the older geeks though. They’re the ones in shorts and sandals (sometimes with socks, ack!) sporting a healthy baby beer belly and walking really slowly, because they know the “man” can’t fire them. W00T! for the Surly IT Geeks!

    • Anonymous says:

      It is fun to spot the older geeks though. They’re the ones in shorts and sandals (sometimes with socks, ack!) sporting a healthy baby beer belly and walking really slowly, because they know the “man” can’t fire them. W00T! for the Surly IT Geeks!

      I don’t wear shorts; nobody wants to see my skinny, scarred, pasty-white chicken legs. And those socks are hand-knitted, my friend! You should try ‘em with a pair of Birkies or leather-strap Tevas – good for all climates and conditions.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I work for a app monetization company that has been in this industry since 2007, and the content in that story sounds 100% accurate. Time after time, I see a hot new game pop up, and 2 months later, you can expect to see Zynga swoop in.

    Farmtown -> Farmville
    Pet Society -> Petville
    Mob Wars -> Mafia Wars
    Restaurant City -> Cafe World

  17. Drew from Zhrodague says:

    Gems like the quoted speech above are pretty common among dotcom executives. Remember As long as the checks clear, right?

  18. Anonymous says:

    The tourism industry in China and Taiwan has the same problem.

    I used to work part-time in a tourism company, that sells packaged tours to Japan to frontline operators in China, it says it boasts 70% of the market in the mainland(about 700 monthly from what I’ve noticed during the peak season but I have never seen the other numbers) and what I did was absolutely demoralizing and terrible.

    I was told to make travel itinaries, among other things, and the way I was told to make them was –
    A: Go to a Taiwan Tour Operator’s Site
    B: Find their itineries for that season
    C: Copy every frigging thing we find useful and change it into their company’s format.
    D: Profit!

    I confronted my supervisor about this and she basically shrugged and said, “So what? Every other company’s doing it, everyone copies it from someone else.” And that’s true, I’ve seen similiar itineries in Taiwan’s sites too…and 90% of the Chinese tour operators’ sites are similiar to those in Taiwan…who copied who, that I can’t say, but creativity has been dying for a long time in the tourism industry here.

    I quit after 2 months.

  19. cameronh1403 says:

    This does not surprise me in the least. It seems like American Business has changed from ‘make the best product’ to ‘get the most money and f*ck everyone else’. I guess they don’t teach that a strategy like that is not a good way to do business..

  20. Ratel says:

    I’m sure I would find this fascinating if it was in a vaguely reputable magazine.

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