Zynga insider spills the beans, details spying and "unfun" design ideas

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If you’re a fan of social games, then chances are pretty good that you’ve played at least one title that was made by Zynga. They’re giants in the industry, with numerous best-selling titles that have earned them hundreds of millions in revenue.

But lately, the house of Farmville also seems to be quite the independently developed game thief lately, with smaller studios issuing complaints over how their indie titles have been flat-out plagiarised by the software giant.

One former employee from Zynga has recently detailed just how low the company would stoop to make a few extra bucks,

Over at Reddit and Kotaku, a former Software Engineer for the company posted the separation letter that he received from Zynga after he quit, as well as details about what exactly went on behind the scenes-ville;

Spying on players. Getting intimate gaming data, their habits, their networks, and how to effectively monetize given X. Another issue was skewing gameplay for the sake of profit, example; I actually resorted to BAD MATH, to make the case for making a feature more fun.

At the end of one sprint, a QA dude was complaining about the drop rate of a specific item being absurdly insane, and therefore UnFun. I looked at the code, and tweaked some values, gave it back to QA guy, and fun was restored. Product Manager overrides this, goes for unfun, yet more profitable version.

When asked for his opinion as to what he thought about the current case where the creators of the iPhone game Tiny Towers being shamelessly copied by Zynga, user Mercenary-games replied with the following;

Tiny Tower + D Heights is all standard operating procedure here. If you can’t buy em, clone em. Even the core technology for FarmVille (MyMiniLife), was bought. The only “homegrown” codebases at Zynga is MafiaWars2 and maybe Poker, the rest of their tech was just bought from small studios. Lookup Dextrose Engine. To me, that’s utterly creepy. They try to choke out the competition by gating all these engines and tech.

And of course, Zynga has to have some focus on creating fun games, right? Not according to Mercenary-Games;

I have a hook into every piece of new data and user involved feature. I have to report the data at all times. PMs rely on metrics more for office politics, not science, not game design. Zynga is a marketing company, not a games company.

Now, while no one is denying that gaming is a business, it’s a business that can only succeed when the product released happens to be a fun way of spending time and socialising. Compared to what Zynga is doing so far, they’re just blatantly taking the best of the industry, twisting it around and slathering the abomination with a coat of cutesy-paint.

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For the gaming industry on the whole, this isn’t just a terrible blemish, but bad business practice as well, as gamers aren’t exactly unorganised and clueless in this day and age, and are more than likely to do something when they sense shenanigans of this magnitude.

Last Updated: February 6, 2012

Darryn Bonthuys

Something wrong gentlemen? You come here prepared to read the words of a madman, and instead found a lunatic obsessed with comics, Batman and Raul Julia’s M Bison performance in the 1994 Street Fighter movie? Fine! Keep your bio! In fact, now might be a good time to pray to it!

  • bta

    I just got “spied on” by Zynga 3 times yesterday playing Words With Friends. Notified my partner. Looks like a small, black worm with a circular, white head at top that slowly wiggles up 1-2 cms from the base of your screen and hovers there 1-2 seconds before it goes back down and disappears. Is this legal for Zynga to do? I feel violated by this and am considering deleting my Zynga games. This is a violation.

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