Zynga has been called "evil" by both industry pundits and former employees. I know many developers who find this claim naive. A company seeking profit is never "evil" from the perspective of its stockholders and employees -- employees who are normal, real people just trying to pay off mortgages and support their families. So what is "evil"? Can a company be evil? When an entity exists in an ecosystem, and acts within that ecosystem in a way that is short-sighted, behaving in a way that is actively destructive to the healthy functioning of that ecosystem and the other entities in it (including, in the long term, themselves) -- yes, I believe that that is evil. And I believe that Zynga does exactly that. A "good" company is one which provides goods or services of real value in exchange for a fair price. A good game company recognizes that its developers are the ones who create that value, and treats them as valuable, especially if they are good at what they do. It follows practices that are sustainable. And it ensures that, at the end of the day, the world is a little better for having their goods and services. An evil company is trying to get rich quick, and has no regard for the harm they're doing along the way. It's not making things of value, it's chasing a gold rush. An evil game company isn't really interested in making games, it's too busy playing a game -- a game with the stock market, usually. It views players as weak-minded cash cows; and it views its developers as expendable, replaceable tools to create the machines that milk those cows. It follows unsustainable practices (like cloning or even completely screwing innovators; or abusing viral channels until they have to be curtailed) -- all practices which, in the long-term, not only make things worse for every other company in the industry, but ultimately for itself. Zynga is not the only one of these, but yes, they fit my definition. Not everyone shares my values, and not everyone is in a position to pick and choose job offers. I know many good developers who work for Zynga -- especially now -- and their choice of employment doesn't change the respect that I have for them. They have their reasons and I have mine. But I exhort game developers: don't join a company whose values are opposed to your own. Values aren't just for idealists -- they matter. If a company's practices make you uncomfortable, pay attention to your instincts and be true to them. For my part, I'll be returning to a company I can be certain meets my definition of "good": I'm re-activating Deep Plaid Games, my personal company. It has one employee -- myself. I'll be contracting out my services as a generalist/gameplay programmer to other companies that follow sustainable practices, for projects that I think are worth making (or at least which don't actively make the world a worse place). Meanwhile I'll also be creating innovative and fun indie games that respect the time and intelligence of players. It's not a business model that has attracted much VC funding to date -- I imagine you won't be reading any headlines about Deep Plaid being acquired by Zynga. But I can go to work and feel that I'm making works of value -- and that I'm making the world overall a better, more fun place. [Shay Pierce is a professional game designer/programmer who has been making digital games since he was 13 years old, and professionally since 2003. He's worked for such employers as Blizzard, Midway, NewToy, and Omgpop. He is now sole proprietor of Deep Plaid Games LLC, an independent game development micro-studio. His views do not represent those of Omgpop or any other former employer. Rumors of his lycanthropy have been slightly exaggerated.]
- I didn't work on Draw Something. - I wasn't screwed. I had a small amount of equity in Omgpop, I received a compensation for that, and that was never at stake in this decision. The amount is not going to change my life but it's fair. I lost a job; that's all. - I'm not bitter. I have zero complaints about anyone at Omgpop and I congratulate them for their success. Zynga had the right to ignore my attempts to negotiate; I had the right to walk away. This has all been legal and amicable. - I was not directly asked to give up control of my indie game. I was only asked to sign a job offer -- which might have that legal consequence. (If this seems like a flimsy point over which to worry so much, ask yourself: if you were asked to sign a document that might mean that you lost custody of your child, with no assurances otherwise -- would you do so? I don't have a child, I have Connectrode.) - I'm not an idealist. (I would love to be, but I work in an industry and I have a mortgage.) I've received paychecks from Zynga before: In late 2010 I was a full-time contractor for NewToy (on the Words with Friends client team) when that studio was also acquired by Zynga; I didn't balk at working with Zynga then. I've made many compromises in my nine-year career in professional game development, but this one was simply asking too much.
9 MIN READ
Turning down Zynga: Why I left after the $210M Omgpop buy
When Zynga paid around $210 million for Draw Something developer Omgpop, only one person turned down the offer to join the FarmVille house. Shay Pierce writes how a difference in values drove his decision.