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If you’re a fan of endless runner games like Temple Run, starting today you’ll get your chance to do more than outrun a pack of demonic monkeys — you can take on your friends, too, with Zynga’s new title Running With Friends.
That’s the basic distinction that Travis Boatman, Zynga’s senior vice president of mobile, offered when describing the game to me. There’s already “a huge group of players that love these games,” he said, but they aren’t able to “play with friends and family the way that I can in Words With Friends.” At the same time, even though the social component is Zynga’s main addition, Boatman said the team was also focused on making sure the core gameplay was fun.
That gameplay involves running through the streets of Pamplona, Spain, during the annual Running of the Bulls. As players try to keep ahead of the bulls, they also smash obstacles like haystacks and barrels to improve their scores. If they’re feeling particularly daring, they can jump on the back of a bull. As they race, they can compete with friends in a turn-based fashion, each player trying to best their friends’ time on the same level, and also trying to move up the game leaderboard.
Although I have had my share of intense Words With Friends gameplay, this seems a little more fast-paced and action-oriented than the other titles in the With Friends franchise, which tend to have their roots in board games. However, Boatman said Running With Friends is linked to the rest of the franchise because of its asynchronous gameplay and its aim of being “very approachable” to casual gamers. (Plus, it uses the same login system as the other With Friends titles.)
The game actually launched in Canada back in March, but today is its global launch on iOS, with an Android release promised shortly. This comes after some disappointing titles led to a relatively slow period for new releases from Zynga — during its most recent earnings call, executives said that the company is planning to accelerate its launch schedule again, and that both Draw Something 2 (which launched in late April) and Running With Friends were showing some of the best internal scores that the company has seen.
Zynga is also announcing Dunkin’ Donuts as a promotional partner, with Dunkin’-sponsored tips appearing in the game, and plans for Dunkin’-branded in-game rewards and boosts.
Running With Friends was designed by team members who had previously worked on Scramble With Friends — they worked with Eat Sleep Play, the developer of Twisted Metal. Zynga said Eat Sleep Play built a custom 3D engine as well as helping out with art, animation, and other aspects of the game.
For today’s launch, Zynga didn’t provide me with an advance copy of the game, just a video illustrating the gameplay. I did, however, get a chance to play once or twice during a company dinner with journalists earlier this year. As with other endless runners, I got caught up in the race pretty quickly — though it was only a few seconds before the bulls caught up and gored me.
You can download Running With Friends here.
NEW YORK CITY — New York VC Fred Wilson shared a lot of thoughts today an interview on-stage today at TechCrunch Disrupt NY. Not only did he talk about why Foursquare is doing fine, but he also shared what he thinks makes a good entrepreneur — being a little crazy.
Wilson is the co-founder of Union Square Ventures and someone who has placed a lot of smart bets. He’s invested in companies including Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare, Zynga, Kickstarter, Etsy, and Dwolla.
“You don’t want a psychopath, but it happens,” Wilson said. “You want someone who is crazy, but mentally healthy. … To see things differently requires you to be wired a little differently.”
Wilson refused to name “pyschopaths” that he has funded, but he was willing to name a few people who fit the bill of “good crazy.” Two entrepreneurs he thinks fit that are Kickstarter’s Perry Chen and Zynga’s Mark Pincus. “They just do things differently,” Wilson said. “Perry and Mark have some common traits. … Pincus can drive me crazy.”
What not to do in a pitch session
Wilson also gave insights into things founders and entrepreneurs had done in past pitch meetings that were ill-advised. Here are few tips of what not to do:
- Don’t give a lengthy back story. Get to the point. (“Going through a long back story is a bad idea.)
- Don’t pitch something derivative. (An example of what Wilson hates: “I’m taking a Pinterest model and I’m applying it to automobiles and there will be flash sales.”)
- Don’t demo a product that doesn’t always work. (“I had a meeting yesterday with an entrepreneur and the product didn’t work. It was a painful moment for both of us.”
- Don’t talk for 20 minutes and then show off your product. Show your product for 20 minutes and explain it.
- Don’t show 20 slides when you can show one really great slide that explains your product.
Photo via Sean Ludwig/VentureBeat
Zynga hasn’t been releasing as many new titles in recent months, but things are about to pick up again, executives said during today’s conference call discussing the company’s first quarter earnings report. In fact, they said they’re launching a big new title later today — Draw Something 2.
Chief Operations Officer David Ko said that there’s been “a little bit of a pause in our title slate.” Behind the scenes, he said, the company has been reorganizing and reassessing its lineup, with a focus on four core genres (casual, casino, mid-core, and invest-and-express games), but we can “expect to see an uptick in our number of launches in the back half of the year” — though he didn’t offer a specific number.
The company’s revenue declined 18 percent year-over-year and bookings were down 30 percent; its outlook for the next quarter isn’t promising, either. One of the analysts on the conference call asked whether, as Zynga navigates its transition to mobile and launches new titles, we can expect the next quarter to be the “trough,” with bookings picking up again afterwards.
Chief Financial Officer Mark Vranesh responded that when it came to the second-quarter outlook, “We’re not presuming that aggregate bookings from new releases are going to offset declines from existing games. … That goes to DS2 as well.” As for whether things will pick up in the back half of the year, Vranesh said that’s what the company is hoping if its new launches go well, but he also cautioned that this year will be “bumpy.”
To that point, another analyst asked what Zynga can learn from its recent launches — particularly the fact that FarmVille 2 has succeeded while other attempts to turn games into franchises has not. One of the main lessons of FarmVille 2, according to CEO Mark Pincus, is that “when we combine our best brands with our best teams and their passions we see almost magical results.”
Ko added that while it’s impossible to know for certain which titles will turn into successful franchises, Zynga employees have been testing Draw Something 2 and Running With Friends internally, and they’re showing “some of the highest fun scores within the company.”
Looks like Baidu and Zynga are the most recent victims of a bogus press release stunt. This morning, a company called PR*Urgent put out a notice saying that Baidu — known as the “Google of China” — wanted to acquire Zynga, the social gaming giant. It claimed Baidu offered to pay $10 per Zynga share in cash. But a PR representative for Baidu has categorically denied the news. “Baidu had nothing to do with this news release,” he told TechCrunch.
The release recalls an incident from November last year, when a press release agency called PRWeb distributed false news that Google would be buying WiFi technology company ICOA for $400 million. The news was picked up by a lot of outlets (including TC, I hate to admit), but both companies debunked the news, and PRWeb apologised for the hoax. Like PRWeb, PR*Urgent offers a “free” distribution service.
As with the Google/ICOA incident, it looks like the Baidu/Zynga news may have been put out either as a prank, or an attempt to boost Zynga’s stock price, or lower Baidu’s.
Zynga closed Friday trading at $3.19 per share, and is up 3.45% in pre-market trading. Baidu closed Friday at $86.43 per share. Both Zynga and Baidu will be reporting their quarterly earnings this week, Zynga on April 24, and Baidu on April 25.
The bogus release claims that Baidu’s interest in Zynga was based on its foray into real-money gambling. That strategy finally saw its first launch earlier this month, in the UK. There are further rollouts expected in Europe, Asia and the U.S., as Zynga looks for further ways to monetize its gaming platform amid overall growing competition in social and mobile gaming.
While most rubbish like this isn’t worth reporting, we’re putting this out because at this moment, the release is coming up near/at the top of Google News searches for both companies.
And if you know anything about Baidu’s business — strong on search, but looking to grow that by going big on mobile, increasing moves into gaming and other content, and international growth — there’s just enough of a kernel of truth there to give some pause to people browsing if they don’t bother to look a little deeper.
After a series of nose-dives and precipitous declines, Zynga’s stock is hovering near $3 after opening at $10 in December of 2011. It’s a surprisingly weak position (even more surprising for shareholders) and despite rallies throughout the beginning of the year that saw Zynga top $14 for a while, the company is now facing the spectre of lower user counts and a difficult upwards climb and the stock seems deflated.
In response, an anonymous Zynga user took to Quora to explain how “devastated” he/she felt about the stock crash after working 10 hour days with “terrible management” in the hopes of a payout. The post had 600 upvotes, but since the post has gone viral, it’s been seriously downvoted and attacked by other Zynga employees have come out of the woodworks (all anonymously) to counter the original poster’s complaints.
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.
Facebook and Zynga have experienced similar roller coaster-like devaluation from their peak stock valuations, and they’ve been partners for years, which is why MarkZ and MarkP often get lumped together in the same sentence by fearful investors whose stock is underwater: “Facebook and Zynga (insert analysis here).”
Such bundling masks a deeper structural truth. The reasons that the two companies have tanked in the market could not be more divergent, and more indicative of the character and strategic vision of the startups’ respective founders. Forget any analysis that lumps the two companies together, and instead find lessons in Aesop’s fable that are important to every startup founder.
Zynga is the Grasshopper in Aesop’s fable, playing and trying to get others to play. The fundamentals of Zynga’s business – even when it was working perfectly – are to ensure a steady stream of new games (often via M&A), to grease the user acquisition machine via advertising on other venues (largely Facebook), and to incent users to rope in their friends (via in-game promotions). This strategy depends on playing with copious amounts of capital to buy companies, ads, and promotions, and yet Zynga’s IPO and secondary seemed less concerned with raising capital for Zynga’s corporate coffers. After all its financings, BusinessInsider estimates that Zynga has about $1 billion in pro-forma cash on hand.
Grasshoppers just want to have fun. In March, Zynga’s founder Mark Pincus enriched himself and a few other large shareholders with giddy abandon; the goal of their secondary offering was to provide liquid exits to several existing shareholders. A longer-term thinker would NOT have cashed out a lot of his stock, but Pincus did. In fact, Pincus sold 15% of his ZNGA stock.
A lawsuit against Zynga contends that Zynga executives were selling even though they knew the quarterly numbers were weak. Long-term-focused management does not sell its stock in blocks of 15%; it sells cautiously in tiny amounts scheduled regularly over many years. Examples include Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Pierre Omidyar, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin.
Facebook is the Ant, stashing resources for the winter with grim determination, regardless of which interest groups might be hurt in the short term (among them: investment bankers who were squeezed down to 1% commissions and retail investors who bought high). Mark Zuckerberg’s goal for Facebook’s record-breaking $16 billion IPO was to put as much as possible into Facebook’s corporate coffers, not his own; through financings to date, Facebook now has over $10 billion in liquid assets.
In retrospect, it’s extraordinary to think about Mark Pincus selling $200 million of Zynga stock and $38 million of Facebook stock to enrich himself, while Mark Zuckerberg only cashed out barely enough to pay his tax bill. Let that fact sink in for a few moments, and then compare how Zynga employees feel with how Facebook employees feel about their respective stock prices going down.
Ants work hard, driven by a higher cause. Mark Zuckerberg truly believes that Facebook’s mission – to make the world more open and connected – is the biggest and most important in Silicon Valley. I’ve heard stories that even his relationships with close friends have suffered if those friends chose to sell Facebook stock on the secondary markets or otherwise showed a lack of faith in the long-term mission of the enterprise. His motivations are far closer to messianic zeal than most investors (and David Fincher’s Social Network movie!) recognize… and simple pattern-matching shows us that the greatest companies in technology are started and sustained by founders like him, who live for the mission.
Mark Pincus, by contrast, seems obsessed with his wealth. With some of his early stock gains, Pincus bought a posh 11,500 sq ft, $16 million mansion on the Gold Coast. He has been living large for years, with multiple homes. Zynga evidently spends $1.37 million a year for Pincus’s personal security – in the top 3 of all public companies behind Lockheed Martin and Oracle. Pincus’s stock obsession was first demonstrated by his attempt to claw back stock grants (extra classy touch to do it during the “quiet period”!) from loyal long-term employees — a move so audaciously selfish that I heard entrepreneurs muttering about the long-term damage to the entire startup ecosphere if early employees started thinking their stock could be taken away within weeks of an IPO.
Compare that with Mark Zuckerberg, who lives more like Larry Page than Larry Ellison. He has a single Palo Alto abode that is biking distance from Facebook HQ. His wedding was a backyard affair for fewer than 100 guests with “catering” that appeared to consist largely of tacos, followed by a honeymoon that was newsworthy largely for the money he DIDN’T spend (no tip on a $40 dinner! lunch at McDonald’s!). He lives a life that allows him to focus his energy on Facebook.
Zuck’s goal is to deploy Facebook’s giant war chest and tremendous talent to build a “social utility” that will outlast his lifetime, like Walt Disney and Steve Jobs before him. Pincus, on the other hand, is so out of ideas that Electronic Arts is suing Zynga for copying them too much. Perhaps he’ll get lucky and online gambling will become legal in America soon. But even the gambling-will-be-legalized wager is a demonstration that he’s willing to bet the company on something that MIGHT happen, and lose. Zynga may still have $1 billion in its coffers, but the actions of Pincus do not demonstrate that he knows how to prudently employ that capital. If Zynga fails, whatever, at least he got rich in the process. If a Game-of-Thrones-like Winter is coming, it will be game over for Zynga as they burn their remaining cash and run out of resources.
If Mark Pincus wants to demonstrate that he’s in Zynga for the long run, he will deploy the $200+ million from his March payout, to buy ZNGA shares on the public market the way Netflix CEO Reed Hastings just did with FB stock. A great poker player demonstrates commitment by going “All In”.
The values of startup founders are baked deeply into the DNA of their startups, from inception on. A founder’s character, attitude, and strategy contribute significantly to the corporate culture, so it’s interesting to compare the “culture of play” with the “culture of making the world more open and connected.” To understand the two Marks is to appreciate how they’re making choices now that affect their companies’ future prospects profoundly. Zynga is having fun, like the solo Grasshopper, because times are good. And Facebook, like an army of Ants marching, works tenaciously and tirelessly towards its vision of a better future every single day.
Editor’s note: Jay Jamison is a Partner at BlueRun Ventures where he focuses on early stage mobile and consumer opportunities. You can read more of his analysis on startups and Silicon Valley at his blog jayjamison.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @jay_jamison.
The highest flying of internet high-flyers, Facebook and Zynga, were laid low last week in public markets on weaker than expected guidance on their paths forward. What a difference public market scrutiny and forward-looking forecasts can make. Given the size, scope and importance of these two companies to the broader technology ecosystem, it’s worth analyzing what these reports might mean for industry trends.
According to Wall Street analysts, Zynga had a “dreadful” Q2 report. Several negatives converged to deliver an egg, reported the New York Times:
“A critical new game, the Ville, was delayed. Another new game, Mafia Wars II, just was not very good, executives conceded. The heavily hyped Draw Something, acquired in March, proved more fad than enduring classic. Some old standbys also lost some appeal.”
Zynga’s problems, however, could be characterized as broader than just a weak quarter. Financial analyst, Richard Greenfield of BTIG painted Zynga’s issues as more far-reaching, saying, “Right now, everything is going wrong for Zynga. In a rapidly changing Internet landscape that is moving to mobile, it’s very hard to have confidence these issues are temporary.”
Things weren’t much better for Facebook, which was reporting its earnings to the public for the first time. Given the symbiotic partnership between Zynga and Facebook, anyone paying attention knew Zynga’s weak results spelled trouble for Facebook. And as expected, Wall Street found Facebook’s earnings disappointing.
In coverage, three key themes of concern arose out of Facebook’s report. First, user growth is slowing. This is undeniably true: the growth of two key user metrics, Daily Active Users (DAU) and Monthly Active Users (MAU), is slowing. It’s unclear whether this is a useful concern. If the entire Western world is using Facebook, then Facebook probably is not going to showcase much growth in DAU or MAU until it cracks China. The land has been grabbed.
A second growth concern is revenue. Can Facebook convert all its social engagement into monetization? Facebook clearly has more to prove, but it’s a strong start. With a topline of $1.2B for Q2, Facebook beat analyst estimates on revenue. Its 32% Q2 revenue growth was equal to its year-over-year growth in DAUs. This revenue growth map to its DAU growth is where concern centers. On the one hand, having revenue growth equal to DAU growth shows that on a per-user basis, Facebook is monetizing effectively. At the same time, if DAU growth continues to slow, as it inevitably will, the question will be how Facebook can continue to grow it’s topline faster than DAU growth. The answer is not yet clear. Expect much hand-wringing here around the answer to this question.
These concerns around growth and revenue point to the third and most significant concern around Facebook (and Zynga): MOBILE. While we’ve known that mobile is the fastest growing technology wave the world has ever seen, it’s been a challenge to frame truly how important, impactful, and disruptive the mobile wave is. Last week’s reports from Zynga and Facebook make crystal clear the implications of mobile—two leading innovators and upstarts that basically created and drove the social computing wave are facing questions about their future earning streams on the basis of their execution on mobile.
So the broader story of what’s happening in technology is this: Mobile is what’s happening. Here’s one shorthand framework for the technology waves over the last roughly 20 years. Web 1.0 was about web connectivity, the giants of that epoch catalyzed by Netscape were companies like AOL, Yahoo, and Google. Web 2.0 was social, with Facebook, LinkedIn, Zynga, Twitter, and newcomer Quora as the foundational creators of the web’s ‘social layer.’ The power and impact of the social layer is difficult to overstate—existing industries and corporate giants (to say nothing of several repressive governmental regimes) have faced huge disruption on the basis of these companies.
Now we’re entering Web 3.0, which is mobile, and we are in the thick of it. The Mobile Web 3.0 has elements that build upon prior eras, but it also has several distinct and different elements from what’s come before. Some of these distinct elements of the Mobile Web 3.0 era include:
- ubiquitous (always connected, always with you)
- location aware
- tailored, smaller screen
- high quality camera and audio
These elements have two key implications for today’s leaders and tomorrow’s disrupters.
Let’s Get Small: Designing for Mobile First.The tailored, smaller screens of the Mobile Web offer new entrants the opportunity to deliver value and experience that differentiates from the existing leaders. Most leading tech companies today, with the exception of Instagram, were created with a PC web-first approach. Designing and building for the PC-centric web services packed increasing amounts of information onto ever growing screen sizes. Take a look at Facebook on your computer’s browser—it’s like a Bloomberg terminal full of fun—birthdates, events, status updates, advertisements, chatting. It’s a cornucopia of information laid out all around the screen.
For any company whose heritage is designing for the PC web, mobile is a big challenge in getting small. Compress a PC-web experience down onto a smartphone screen doesn’t work all that well. You may get the users—Facebook certainly has—but it is easy to overwhelm a user with an experience that packs in too much information into too small a screen size.
The challenge of mobile offers new entrants focused on a mobile-first strategy an opportunity to craft and tailor a user experience that is easier to use and enjoy on mobile. Instagram is the poster child example with its mobile-only, photo-centric social service. Rather than pack more information onto a mobile screen, for Instagram a picture was worth a thousand words (and a billion dollars). Instagram’s mobile-first, photo-sharing service created an alternative social network, and has since grown to over 80M users and its billion dollar acquisition by Facebook. Other mobile-first social services are following—Foursquare, Path, Foodspotting, Banjo, Pulse, and others—and each has an opportunity, through an approach that focuses on getting small to build a new audience and brand that stand out from the PC-web-based incumbents.
Getting Real: Mobile Will Drive MoreReal-World Commerce
Whether they’re a newer mobile-centric startup like a Path or an existing giant like Facebook, the key will be monetizing n a mobile world. Monetizing in mobile will likely evolve in new directions relative to what we’ve seen in the PC-web. Specifically: monetizing in Mobile is about getting even more real and concrete in the value delivered to customers.
Here’s why. In Web 1.0, Google achieved supernova momentum when it introduced its Cost-Per-Click ad model. With a dominatingly high quality search engine for users, Google gained share on search, and in effect knew what people were interested in. This was a break-through for advertisers in terms of measurability. Advertisers could escape the Mad Men world of spending on TV, print, OOH, and banner ads with their fuzzy efficacy and measurability. With Google, advertisers now could place ads in front of people searching on relevant terms. A huge step in terms of measurability, Google’s model had the added benefit of only charging when a user clicked on a specific ad. All combined to deliver a vastly more measurable and as such valuable approach to spending ad dollars.
Web 2.0 ushered in the social wave. Facebook now is showing ads of stuff we might like based on the interests we’ve indicated or based on referrals from friends. This embraces and extends much of the Google model, but provides potentially even more. Facebook knows what we like day to day (Graf Ice Skates, Breaking Bad, Crossfit for me), and what our friends like. Add to this the tremendously detailed demographic data that its users have willingly provided, and the opportunities for advertisers are pretty profound. While Facebook will continue to optimize its appraoch to ads, there should be little question that its current core business of ads is going to continue to grow.
With Mobile Web 3.0, the user experience opens the door for another level of innovation in advertising and promotion. Now technology services have the ability to leverage not just the social graph data from Facebook, but even more real-time / real-world information. Your current location, weather, traffic, local merchants other friends nearby, how often you’ve been to this specific store or location are available (or will be soon). And this in turn provides a whole new level of commerce opportunities for potential advertisers. Mobile brings advertisers and users closer to being able to close a transaction. It’s real-world commerce. Which leads to the question: Why pay for a click when you can get an actual customer? That’s the promise of mobile for advertisers, brands and merchants. The opportunity is huge: both in pure dollar size opportunity and for disruption. The internet advertising models of selling clicks to advertisers will need to evolve.
A few companies to watch in this new world are Waze, ShopKick and Foodspotting, to name just a few. Waze, the social mapping and GPS service, provides free turn-by-turn directions with real-time traffic information and routing to over 20m users. With users depending on Waze to help them find the fastest and least congested routes, Waze now shows offers for the cheapest gas prices along the way. Real value for users translates to real commerce for merchants.
ShopKick is a mobile app that gamifies retail shopping. Users who open ShopKick gain rewards for different tasks or quests they complete on ShopKick. What ShopKick is starting to show retailers is that ShopKick tend to spend more money when they’re in store, because of the interaction and engagement the ShopKick app can drive while the user is at the point of purchase. Again, real value for users leads to real commerce for merchants.
Open Foodspotting, a visual guide to what’s interesting to eat near you, and the app will locate where you are and show you pictures of the best food at restaurants nearby. Over 2m dishes have been submitted to Foodspotting at over half a million restaurants in the US alone. Users can express that they love certain restaurants and dishes. As it has grown its community, Foodspotting can now approach restaurants with promotional offerings for people who are nearby right now, who are fans of their type of food. Real value for users, real commerce for merchants.
So Mobile Web 3.0 is super exciting. But a word of caution: delivering value and driving monetization in the Mobile Web 3.0 era is hard. The answer will not be for web-first properties to scrunch their ad platforms onto mobile. Monetization via mobile advertising will require offerings that do more to close the loop of commerce. Advertisers increasingly will ask of mobile: why buy a click when what I want is a paying customer or user? The services with the best offers here will be big winners in this Mobile Web 3.0.
If you follow VentureBeat but don’t regularly check our GamesBeat site, here’s a list of the best games stories we ran over the last seven days that you may have missed.
This week, Konami cancels a patch for the Xbox 360 version of the Silent Hill HD collection (but totally updates it on PlayStation 3), Zynga’s chief operating officer steps down, and Amazon launches its own online studio and Facebook game.
You’ll also find a review for New Super Mario Bros. 2 and previews for Marvel: War of Heroes, FIFA 13, and PlayStation All-Star Battle Royale.
- TheDeanBeat: Kickstarter isn’t indie gamemaker Double Fine’s only funding route
- Blizzard’s authenticators breached in hack
- Calm down: Sony assures us that The Last Guardian is still in development
- Infinity Blade developers hire former Kingdoms of Amalur creators for new studio
- Ouya surpasses its funding goal on Kickstarter by $7.6M
- Konami cancels patch for Xbox 360 edition of Silent Hill HD Collection
- Game developers hate Windows 8, Microsoft responds
- Nancy Drew gamemaker turns to Kickstarter for mobile versions
- Facebook launches real-money gambling game in U.K.
- Wargaming acquires BigWorld middleware firm for $45M (exclusive)
- Amazon launches its own online game studio and first Facebook game
- The golden age returns? Seamus Blackley’s Innovative Leisure mobile game startup raises seed round (exclusive)
Second quarter earnings reports and NPD numbers
- Overall video game sales dive 20 percent in July, 3DS and NCAA Football 13 take top spots
- Nvidia earnings on the rise thanks to the Tegra 3 mobile processor
- Japan’s big console gamemaker, Square Enix, slips into a loss
- THQ losses beat expectations in fiscal first-quarter 2013
- Guild Wars 2: Console ports, subscription models, and making sure it works on launch day (interview)
- Now just how many tanks can you fit in a battle map? Find out in the Armored Kill expansion for Battlefield 3 (interview)
- DoubleDown Interactive succeeds by not sucking at social casino games (interview)
- Game designer crosses over from making Halo games to Zynga’s social games — he’s never going back (interview)
- The Walking Dead shambles over to Facebook in new social game
- Activision’s The Blast Furnace resurrects Pitfall! for mobile devices
- Introducing The Blast Furnace, Activision’s first mobile-only development studio
- PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale will kick your ass in ways you could never imagine (preview)
- EA shows off smart Wii U GamePad tricks for FIFA 13 and Mass Effect 3 (preview)
- Mass Effect 3: Leviathan boldly goes where no Shepard has gone before (preview)
- Marvel: War of Heroes distills superhero combat into card-based digestible chunks (preview)
- Meet Gems With Friends, Zynga’s newest (and familiar-looking) iOS game
- Zynga COO John Schappert steps down
- Zynga sees FarmVille and CityVille user spikes [UPDATE: Maybe not]
- Will Zynga’s ChefVille revive the company’s fortunes?
Pieces of flair
- Decorate your iPhone the retro way with these gaming-themed wallpapers
- The first 5 games you should get for your Nexus 7
- Check out the Ghostbusters, Sonic, and Minecraft references hidden away in these Team Fortress 2 maps (gallery)
- Annoy your friends and impress no one: Cheats for casual games
Filed under: games
Divorce, alcoholism, and near worthless stock are the rewards for 12 hour days prepping for a game launch at Zynga, according to one anonymous Quora user who worked there after their company was bought by the gaming giant.
The answer was called “butthurt” by one responder. “Sorry you’re not a millionaire after a year of work on a failed product” said another. Indeed it seems a bit overemotional and worth taking with a grain of salt. Long hours and rewards that might not materialize are part of working at startups.
Still, the answer has received tons upvotes, including some from former Zynga employees, and sources from inside the company say they’ve seen these hardships first hand. So here’s the grim Quora tale of killing yourself to get to an IPO, just to see your $10 shares dive to $3.
[Begin Quora answer from anonymous Zynga employee]
I worked for Zynga for a year when my startup was acquired. Within a few months, we were putting in brisk 10 hour days as we started our new project. Six months in a launch date was handed down from above and we shifted to 11 hour days six days a week.
People willing to play the politics game were given ‘rockstar’ status, quarterly bonuses and promotions. Project direction and goals shifted daily, innovation of any kind was difficult – we were constantly forced to hew our game closer to the Farmville/Cityville playbook. Six weeks before shipping the studio was flown out to San Francisco to launch our game – 12 hour days seven days a week, free of the distraction of friends, wives and girlfriends. I watched alcoholism and substance abuse skyrocket, relationships crumble (including my own), people slept on office couches, two developers got divorced, one nervous breakdown. They attempted to smooth this over with more stock, free food and t-shirts. Free food doesn’t do you much good when you’ve lost fifteen pounds from not eating.
Our game shipped and performed rather dismally, so the bonuses, raises, promotions and rest we were promised didn’t materialize. With a now completely exhausted team, we were expected to work even harder to improve key metrics. Management would divert blame when these unrealistic metrics could not be hit. Our studio manager, possibly the only person who knew how the company was actually performing on a macro level, quit unexpectedly a few weeks after the IPO.
But it was all going to be ok, just hang in there, we’d all be rich in a matter of months.
We were told point blank in one studio-wide meeting that we would IPO “around $20 a share”, and could expect $100 a share within a year if we “launched one or two more successful titles”. A quick analysis of the company fundamentals placed it closer to $10. It now sits at $2.90.
How does it feel? To spend years being worked into the ground, putting your life on hold and being egged along so top brass can cash out millions at $12 a share while the rank and file employees are in a ‘lockout period’?
I’ll second ‘devastating’.
[End of answer]
The last line refers to a previous Quora answer that describes the stock drop as devastating. There’s definitely conflicting opinions, though. One response from a 4-year Zynga employee said the company is “far from perfect” but that this story could be a “gross exaggeration”, and concluded that, “‘Devastated’ is a bit too dramatic…disappointed seems more fitting.” Now Bloomberg reports that Zynga will hand out more stock to employees to compensate them for the flubbed IPO.
Regardless of severity, Zynga’s culture problems may spawn from its inception as a mercenary company. It wasn’t designed to not be evil or make the world more connected like Google or Facebook. It’s a metrics-driven money machine. Yes, it aims to entertain, but also to get players addicted. If you don’t end up with a pot of gold, there’s not as much of a mission to be proud of, and that can lead to spiteful employees. The hard startup lifestyle only works if you love your job.
Check out the original question on Quora and downvote if you think this is bullshit, upvote what you think is right, and give your own account if you actually worked at Zynga.