Ex-Zynga employee outlines company failures

2 Posted by - June 6, 2013 - News, Opinion

Note to future corporations: Beware the Reddit AMA.

One of the 520 recently laid-off Zynga employees, going by the handle Former_Zyngite, took to Reddit yesterday for an Ask Me Anything session, and the answers painted an often-unflattering look at the troubled social-game giant.

Topic ranged from Zynga’s practice of “blatantly” copying and re-packaging other games — euphemistically referred to internally as “the fast follow” — to disfunctional command structures, outdated business practices, the conversion rates of free-to-paid users, and all the free food available to Zynga employees. But the company behind games like FarmVille didn’t show nearly as much consideration towards their customers.

According to Former_Zyngite, Zynite “excelled at data gathering” … that is, mining information on player behavior in their games. The company just didn’t know what to do with it.

“Data interpretation and understanding of gaming psychology could have used improvement,” writes Former_Zyngite. “At some point, the company seemed to switch over from genuine attempts at innovation to attempts to ‘do what worked before.’ I’m not sure how many games in the past year really had true A-B tests to try to discover new fun AND popular ground.”

Former_Zyngite adds that nobody at the top seemed to recognize that strategies that worked with original hits Mafia Wars and Hidden Chronicles no longer applied to the market.

“They’re trying to change over,” says Former_Zynite, “but employ too many of the same game development “best practices” that were developed for Facebook games. These just don’t translate to the mobile market, which is why they’re suffering in that market.”

Then even the “fast follow” model of development broke down. Management made hasty reactions to sudden market changes. Creativity was thrown out the window in favor of jumping on any game that entered the top-grossing charts. The constant shift in priorities led to missed deadlines. The “fast follow” games stopped happening fast enough, reaching the market well after the craze faded.

And as those games failed, desperation mounted. Micro-management took over along with, according to Former_Zyngite, “An over-reliance on every game being a blockbuster hit, which makes the fun aspect of games suffer while making the money grabbing tactics all too transparent to the users.”

The AMA wasn’t all doom and gloom…at first, anyway. Former_Zyngite outlined an especially generous severance package — four months’ salary and continued insurance coverage, plus an additional week for each partial year at the company. However, Game Informer since reported that the package came with strings attached for some employees at OMGPop, the Draw Something studio that Zynga purchased just over 400 days ago for $200 million and has now shuttered. Select employees have been laid off, but must stay on to train other Zynga employees before they actually depart. The severance package is contingent on their co-operation.

The picture that emerges is that of a company that stopped thinking about its customers, then its employees, then its own future.