Former Zynga Employees Talk About Copying Games for Mark Pincus' 'Evil' Online Empire
|The latest SF Weekly cover story explores Zynga's culture of game-copying|
But what's the real inside story on Zynga's alleged knack for making millions on re-branded copies of its rivals' games? We've learned that within company walls, the social-game developer's employees reportedly make no bones about trying to steal competitors' ideas. And we've learned it from the people who should know: the employees themselves.
In the latest SF Weekly cover story, multiple former employees of Zynga, speaking on condition that their names not be published so that they could discuss their work experiences candidly, tell us that studying and copying rivals' game concepts was business as usual. One senior employee who has since left the company describes a meeting where Zynga CEO and founder Mark Pincus said, "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."
Another former employee recalls a meeting where Zynga workers discussed a strategy for copying a gangster game, Mob Wars, and creating Zynga's own Mafia Wars application. "I was around meetings where things like that were being discussed, and the ramifications of things like that were being discussed -- the fact that they'd probably be sued by the people who designed the game," he says. "And the thought was, 'Well, that's fine, we'll settle.' Our case wasn't really defensible." (Mob Wars' creator, David Maestri, proprietor of Psycho Monkey, did sue Zynga for copyright infringement. The case was settled for an undisclosed amount.)
|Zynga's smash hit, FarmVille|
One of the more common complaints among former Zynga employees is about Pincus' distaste for original game design and indifference to his company's applications, beyond their ability to make money. "The biggest problem I had with him was that he didn't know or care about the games being good -- the bottom line was the only concern," a former game designer says. "While I'm all for games making money, I like to think there's some quality there."
|Slashkey's Farm Town game, which preceded FarmVille|
The former senior employee who says he was present for Pincus' "No Innovation" speech jokingly sums up Zynga's corporate ethos as an inversion of Google's famous "Don't Be Evil" motto. "Zynga's motto is 'Do Evil,'" he says. "I would venture to say it is one of the most evil places I've run into, from a culture perspective and in its business approach. I've tried my best to make sure that friends don't let friends work at Zynga."
For the full inside story on the controversial business practices that drove Zynga's phenomenal rise, read our cover story.