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Zynga laying off 520 staff, shuttering multiple offices
Zynga laying off 520 staff, shuttering multiple offices
June 3, 2013 | By Kris Ligman




Zynga is closing the doors of its Los Angeles, New York and Dallas offices, with 520 employees facing layoffs -- 18 percent of its total workforce. These cuts are part of Zynga's efforts to consolidate and refocus on mobile.

The layoffs follow only two months after Zynga was reported doubling the salary of its top executives.

Tweets from employees are already beginning to surface confirming the layoffs and studio closures. Meanwhile, Zynga founder and CEO Mark Pincus's letter to employees regarding the studio restructuring has appeared on Zynga's corporate blog. It reads in part:

Today is a hard day for Zynga and an emotional one for every employee of our company. We are saying painful goodbyes to about 18% of our Zynga brothers and sisters. The impact of these layoffs will be felt across every group in the company.
A press release from Zynga said the layoffs will be "substantially complete" by August this year.

The company also downgraded its financial guidance for the fiscal quarter ending in June. Zynga is now projecting quarterly net losses of between $39 million and $28.5 million, down from previous guidance of net losses between $36.5 million to $26.5 million.

Zynga also said today that it expects quarterly bookings to be in the lower half of its guidance, which stands at $180 million to $190 million. "Bookings" is a specific metric that Zynga uses to measure sales of virtual goods and advertising.

Gamasutra has reached out to Zynga for additional comment.

If you are a Zynga employee who has been affected by these layoffs, please get in touch with us at news@gamasutra.com. All confidentiality will be upheld.

Update: It would appear that Zynga has closed Draw Something studio OMGPOP -- the company that it acquired for $180 million just over a year ago.

Former OMGPOP VP Ali Nicolas tweeted about the closure, while the official OMGPOP Twitter noted that "This is the last day at Zynga for many Omgpop staff."


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Comments


Ramin Shokrizade
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I predicted this in a paper ("Zynga Analysis") that I published almost two years ago. I think this is part of the social network contraction I discussed there, though "midcore" companies will be be less effected, at least initially.

http://gameful.org/group/games-for-change/forum/topics/zynga-anal
ysis-1

Kris Graft
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Ok, wow, this thread is COMPLETELY DERAILED. (Replying to the top comment so that everyone can see.)

Let me remind everyone of our comment guidelines. For the love of all that's good and pure, please follow them: http://www.gamasutra.com/static2/comment_guidelines.html

1.Be thoughtful and constructive. This rule is number one because it's the most important. We don't just want comment threads full of inside jokes and snarky, 'me-too' bashing of the subject at hand. Every comment should be thought-out and truly add something to the discussion.

2.Stay on topic. This can get a bit fluid as a thread that starts on one topic evolves into related tangents, but there are limits. For example, a story about Sony bringing PlayStation 2 game downloads to the PS3 is not necessarily the place to write about how the Dreamcast was the best system ever and should have sold better than the PS2 in the first place. If you are inspired by a thread to write about a totally different topic, take it over to the blogs and we'd love to see discussion start there.

3.Keep things respectful. That means no hateful speech, ethnic slurs, or ad hominem personal attacks. Criticizing a person's work or ideas is OK ('Mario is overrated because it's not that great a gameplay leap'). Criticizing someone personally or irrationally is not OK ('Mario is overrated because I hate Shigeru Miyamoto.')

4.Use your real name when posting. As an extension of this, don't misrepresent yourself or your position in the industry through your posts, and don't use more than one account to post on the site (we have ways of finding out). We also encourage you to use a real picture when posting, although other avatars are also permitted.

5.No posting irrelevant links. This includes commercial spam, links to offensive material, and purely self-promotional links that don't apply to the topic thread. One exception: A single link to your personal web site is permitted as a signature.

Katy Smith
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Aw :( I wish a speedy recovery to everyone who was laid off today.

Tyler Shogren
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Another brilliant contribution to humanity from corporate governance. I don't understand how their market data and A/B testing could have failed to prevent this!

Caleb Garner
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it's easier to hire / fire than to grow responsibly. Especially in this industry.

Ramin Shokrizade
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You guys almost sound compassionate. Given the company involved, and the type of people that company attracts, I figured you guys would be more amused than upset.

Rebecca Richards
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It's hard to wear a smile over 520 people joining the unemployment line in a single day, in an industry where layoffs are becoming a regular (but unpredictable) occurrence, and the idea of a sustainable industry through even the next year, let along the next 5 years, is increasingly in doubt.

Luis Deliz
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I don't know about everyone else, but I don't take joy in people losing their job. Most of these are artists and programmers, not the people in charge that are responsible for Zynga's reputation.

Scott Pace
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Many were industry vets who worked on mmo's and triple A titles for many years before going to zynga. Do you mean those types of people or do you just find it "amusing" when folks with families lose their jobs?

Doug Poston
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Shokrizade: "Given the company involved, and the type of people that company attracts, I figured you guys would be more amused than upset."
---

Zynga attracts people who want to work in the game industry, not child rapist. I can't see how it would be amusing to hear about people losing their jobs.

We're not all assholes.

Ramin Shokrizade
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The cool thing about economies is that they have this "interconnectedness" that is almost spiritual. When a person makes a conscious choice to make coercive products, whether that company is Zynga, various financial companies, or hostile companies like Monsanto or tobacco companies, what little social good they produce is outweighed by public harm they create. I call this "public debt". The people seeking private gain in these ways tend to ignore this public debt that they are creating, which in these cases exceeds their private gain.

The net result is a drag on the economy, our society, and in this particular case, the gaming industry. As I detailed in my "Death of the MMO" paper, the extraordinary investment into the social network gaming space robbed other sectors of jobs. AAA, for instance, saw a severe collapse. Despite more of our population becoming gamers every year, the stigma associated with game play just gets worse yearly. This is because of the types of games we make, and the way we sell them.

So yes I am going to take the potentially unpopular position of saying that those that chose to leave other companies to make Zynga products, even the "non-decision makers", were acting selfishly, even if that selfishness extended to their families.

What I worry most about here is if this will cause a talent drain on our industry that could cause us to lose years of progress, including a reluctance on the part of investors to continue putting their money into this space.

Kenneth Wesley
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Wow, dude. Just wow. So if I'm reading you right, and I'm probably not, because Call of Duty and Madden sold less copies each other, its okay for the social market to completely die out because it just means more gamers to buy triple A titles? Is it wrong to take an opening to your skill if some people don't like Zynga?

No matter how much you may think people get annoyed with Zynga, there was a legit market made by those consumers. Consumers who said 'I'd rather spend 5 or 10 bucks here or there on a browser game than pay 60 bucks for an updated model'. Diminishing returns are at play too. There's only so many times people will pay for a Madden game before deciding to take their money else where. Same goes for MMOs, platformers, fighters, first person shooters: you can't saturate the market. Why would anyone pay for a WOW clone when they have WOW available?

I have no sympathy for any company not succeeding because their 'me-too' clone didn't sell. I do have sympathy for the workers who wanted to make a game that would allow them to use their talents and now have to pick up the pieces because the higher ups thought they can take money from another game.

Based on my time at Zynga, no one left something better. Many of them came in when they were unemployed or let go from another company laying off employees. Also, new companies in new markets gave people a chance to explore new opportunities they have every right to explore in this economy.

Jason Weesner
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520 people laid off should not result in a moment of schadenfreude for anybody around here. Also, I personally know quite a few people who work at Zynga and I would not call them "selfish" for working there.

matt landi
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Deleted. Since my post is no longer valid.

Rebecca Richards
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@Ramin

"So yes I am going to take the potentially unpopular position of saying that those that chose to leave other companies to make Zynga products, even the "non-decision makers", were acting selfishly, even if that selfishness extended to their families."

And with that single comment, I lost my ability to ever take you seriously as a game developer or a contributor the gaming community. Well, no, sorry, that was before that, where you compared a gaming company that's worst contribution to mankind is cow clickers on Facebook, and put them in the same category as Monsanto and the tobacco industry, companies that have in fact killed people with their products. Yea, as far as I know, Zynga doesn't have a body count, so can we leave the silly hyperbole out of the corporate grave dancing?

We're sad, not for Zynga's business model, but because most developers do in fact possess actual human empathy for the toll that mass layoff after mass layoff after mass layoff has taken on this industry. Two good friends of mine, talented people, lost their jobs today, and I'm sure they'd love to know a regular Gamasutra contributor was happy about the consequences of their "selfishness.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Tyler Shogren
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@Ramin

I think you have to take Monsanto in the context of historical agriculture subsidies and what those have become. Corporations allow financial productivity to be conflated with human equity, which is obviously not a given, especially in this article's case.

Kris Ligman
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Regardless of Zynga's corporate practices, those are 520 real lives being affected today, most of whom had no say in how the company was run to begin with.

We can all afford to have a bit of sympathy in an economy where a lot of people can't be too picky in where they work.

Ramin Shokrizade
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The reason these people felt "forced" to take these Zynga jobs was often because their prior studios were cutting back or closing. This was because investors, not understanding the space, were very willing to accept the false assertions being made about the commercial prospects of Zynga's business model prior to their IPO. They truly wanted to believe that gamers (and especially female gamers) were as gullible and easy to manipulate as Zynga execs were saying they were. It seemed like easy money.

So when investors moved their money out of the AAA studios (and indies) where these people used to have jobs, those people were now unemployed and seeming without options other than Zynga, because that is where the money was flowing.

While the investors may have been gullible in agreeing to put so many of us out of work in the first place, I find it a bit more hard to believe that the people in our industry that took those jobs at Zynga did not understand the core business model they were using their skills to promote. I know people at Zynga, and I know a lot more people that either left Zynga early or turned down those "too good to be true" offers that came with the golden Zynga stock options.

Michael Joseph
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"And with that single comment, I lost my ability to ever take you seriously as a game developer or a contributor the gaming community. "

@Rebecca Richards
Sounds more like your attempt to punish him for having an opinion that is very disagreeable to you. That doesn't seem like a reasonable response to a colleague who is putting himself and his opinions out there. Disagree sure, but "never take you seriously again..." is a bit immature.

Scott Pace
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First, regarding your comment about social games taking away from AAA media. That I completely disagree with you on. Social games target, mainly, stay at home parents not the roughly 15-30 male demographic the majority of AAA games target. Additionally, our economy sucks right now and most people I know would rather pay a couple of bucks a month than plunk down $60 per 14 hour title.

Second, it's the fault of these greedy employees that either left unemployment or for better opportunities to improve their skills and life conditions? What an arrogant and asinine statement. We are free to take other jobs is they better our economic conditions and not all of us are willing to stay in "righteous poverty". Taking a look at your LinkedIn profile, you've hopped around a bit yourself, doesn't that make you as "selfish" as the folks that got laid off?

Shokrizade: "The reason these people felt "forced" to take these Zynga jobs was often because their prior studios were cutting back or closing." Really? Some folks took the job because it was better than unemployment. Some took it because it was a fair or better offer. No one holds gun to your head and "forces" anyone to take a job.

Kenneth Wesley
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''So when investors moved their money out of the AAA studios (and indies) where these people used to have jobs, those people were now unemployed and seeming without options other than Zynga, because that is where the money was flowing."

You mean like with Activision, when they saw record profits and decided to lay off a chunk of their workforce in 2010?

If investors put so much money into Zynga, why did their stock tank? If they took so much money from the rest of the industry, why did the share prices hover around 4 bucks for years?

Again, one sector of gaming doesn't truly affect the other. If that was true, then I wouldn't be able to buy console games to this day.

If anything disappears, its because time has changed what we're used too and it may be changing it for the better. Executives are trying to hold on to money through past methods without making any changes to their methods. Why am I still paying $60 bucks for Madden?

And your precious stakeholders is what drives the stagnation and sequelitis that made browser based, mobile, and Facebook such a great platform to work for.

Michael Joseph
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Interesting backlash I think to comments which to me are very logically consistent.

If a person believes that Company A is making exploitative products, then how do you stand against the company and not against the employees who enable the company to do it's work?

How do you support the troops but not support the war? This is the type of schitzophrenic logic that the right used to successfully neuter the left's ability to be fully opposed to wars. If you don't support the wars, then it doesn't mean you spit in a soldiers face, it means you advocate against raising soldiers pay, and military funding bills of any kind. Otherwise you're a hypocrite.

So to the extent that you believe Zynga makes exploitative products, it takes a lot of rationalization to believe that it's workforce of enablers are not responsible for anything because they are just trying to put food on the table. How do you stand against Zynga and not stand against the people who chose to work there because in the final analysis, earning a living trumped other ethical considerations.

Are we saying that the drug dealers are right? It's the same type of logic. Are we saying that on the scale of 1 - 10, 5 and below unethical behavior is ok if you're making good money? Seriously.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Ramin Shokrizade
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I care a lot about gamers, and especially children. I have been one of the USA's top consumer advocates for gamers for the last 12 years. When I did my Zynga Analysis in 2011, I observed the worst systemic abuse of children by a game company that I can recall in that 10 year (2001 to 2011) span. The details are there in the paper.

I did not start designing new business models in 2005 because it sounded profitable or fun. I did it because I could see, from my observations of coercive business models in Asia, that Zynga was bound to happen. So I set about creating alternatives.

My "The Death of the MMO" (http://gameful.org/group/games-for-change/forum/topics/the-death-
of-the-mmo-1) clearly explains the link between investors funding Zynga and jobs being lost all over the gaming industry. The more Zynga paid, the more jobs had to be lost because the total investment dollars were not expanding sufficiently to cover that.

"If investors put so much money into Zynga, why did their stock tank?" Because the leaders of Zynga designed their stock to allow them to ditch it first, extracting maximal wealth from all investors (including other Zynga employees) before their short lived business model collapsed. No doubt you already know that there are lawsuits about this exact subject.

I won't apologize for putting children first, and in order for the Zynga era to pass these job losses had to occur. I don't expect anything I've done since 2005 to make anyone at Zynga happy, and I don't apologize for that either.

Dane MacMahon
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It's always nice to say people lost their jobs, it's an easy, nice thing to say. It takes someone willing to be critical and honest to say "hey maybe these people were exploiting addiction and ignorance, draining money from more artistic and culturally relevant development, and will likely be okay and get a job that better contributes to society."

Rebecca Richards
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@Dane

Actually, if this train of discussion is any indication, it's much easier to say "Told you so, suckers!" while you yourself are in a position of comfort.

If this is the community that Gamasutra, purportedly a publication for gaming *professionals*, really wants, then I'll see myself to the exit. I could get this level of self-righteous gravedancing on Kotaku and at least not have to endure the veneer of respectability.

Ramin Shokrizade
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@Rebecca: My views do not represent the staff or institution of Gamasutra, especially when I am commenting since they have no control over what I comment. That said, I read through your comment archive and you have been bashing both this website and Kotaku for over a year. Yet you are still here.

How about we just agree that I am going to continue to ride Zynga until it is gone or they change their ways, and you are going to continue to ride this website and Kotaku until you make good on your threats some day to stop trolling us. I feel I have very good reasons that I have documented, and I'm sure you feel equally justified.

I would also like to add that as a virtual economist, I predict and explain trends so that those reading my posts can better understand those trends and take preemptive action (for instance finding alternative jobs before they are fired). Many people find this information useful. In my work I project a certain level of detachment which allows me to talk about difficult subject matter in quantitative terms. As a vegan I see the people around me projecting the same level of detachment as they eat animals around me every day. This just makes it easier. I am sorry if it bothers you, and I totally understand why people around me do the same thing every time I enter a restaurant.

Daneel Filimonov
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Ramin, you are like the Hari Seldon of the games industry (that's a compliment :P).

Carlos Silva
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"...as a virtual economist (...) As a vegan..."

And what's exactly does a "virtual economist" ? Pretends to be a real one ? And how the fact you're a vegan justifies your position, BTW ? Forgive me because I am just a simplory meat eater, and I fail to see the reasoning.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Ramin Shokrizade
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I've had the night to think about how to explain this more precisely. Imagine (numbers have been simplified for sake of math and explanation) that we have $1B of total investment money going into our industry. One company, in this case Zynga, makes claims that are so rosy that investors move half of all their money to Zynga.

Now Zynga knows their product is inferior, but they are first into the Facebook space where competition is low (I talk about this in my 11 page Analysis from 2011). Thus improving their product (assuming they knew how to) is of lower importance than suppressing competition. They do this by buying potential competitors and offering twice the normal salary.

Now let's say that that $1B is normally enough to hire 10,000 workers at a rate of $100,000 each. But Zynga is paying $200,000. Now instead of 10,000 employed game developers, you have Zynga hiring 2,500 workers (actually very close to the real number) @ $200,000 each. The rest of the industry hires 5,000 workers at $100,000 each.

The result is that 2,500 workers are now *UNEMPLOYED*. That is 25% of the workforce! More importantly, every person that took a job at Zynga .... wait for it......

Put one of their colleagues out of work.

Strange that in their rush to grab the Golden Apple they did not worry about putting their fellows out of work. Ah yes... but of course they did not realize, and if I did not point out this ugly truth they could blissfully take that money and now come to their fellows that they previously put out of work and seek sympathy for also being out of work.

So I'm guessing some percent of you may feel bad knowing this, because you have a moral compass of some sort. For those I do have sympathy and would ask that you think harder about the consequences of your actions in the future. The rest of you will be quite upset at me for exposing these mechanisms, and it is for that group that I have difficulty even faking any sort of sympathy.

Daniel Backteman
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@Ramin [This comment doesn't really add to the topic] Ah, the Troy McClure of Gamasutra ("you may remember me from.."). You've gone from being a self-promoter, to a self-promoter with actual interesting, informative views and to a self-promoter with interesting, informative views and visible morals.

You've received a surprising amount of flak for your OP. Interestingly, there's always been a simmering dislike for Zynga - but once that's pointed out people seems to throw themselves over each other to prove that they are indeed not haters.

Losing your job feels bad and like everyone I can relate to that feeling. But pity is one of the most useless commodities around, and it doesn't really help the slightest unless you couple it with a job offer.

Instead this topic around the alleged corruption of Zynga's workers and their indirect role in the game industry is absolutely food for thought and I appreciate it. I appreciate every single one of you commentators who continues the dialog on Gamasutra without attacking a view that you don't agree with. I love hearing everything from all views, I don't believe I get any wiser from listening to people agreeing with each other.

I signed up to say that I stand behind Ramin as he is only stating his opinion. I hope that you all continue to disagree with each other while striving for actual facts. And I will try to start adding to the conversations here as well.

Stay awesome, everyone.

Andrew Pellerano
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Zynga's wages are competitive with any other engineering opportunities in the area. The bay area is full of tech startups and hugely successful web companies so salaries (and cost of living) are very high as these companies compete for talent from the same pool. Zynga's remote studios were/are also in hotbeds of tech talent where competition is fierce.

Sorry, but your theory has nothing to do with what happened. And if you've spent the last day victim blaming off the back of that math it'd be best if you just walked away from this for a bit and let everything cool down.

Ramin Shokrizade
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@Andrew: The Economist magazine seems to disagree with you:
http://www.economist.com/blogs/schumpeter/2013/06/zyngas-woes?fsr
c=nlw|newe|6-4-2013|5831785|59417611|NA

Even if what you say is true, you have conveniently not mentioned the Golden Stock offerings that lured so many workers and kept them there even though they wanted to abandon the sinking ship. Further, if all that money that could have gone to workers went to buy expensive buildings in San Francisco, then that means Zynga hired a big building instead of thousands of us.

For sake of full disclosure you might also want to mention that you have been working for Zynga since 2009.

Andrew Pellerano
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I left earlier this year. I just know from my time there that it can be frustrating to read the rants of misinformed outsiders and be unsure of how to respond appropriately. I responded because I'd like to defend my friends and past colleagues.

Equity is a pretty standard form of compensation, especially in an area with a lot of tech startups. It's part of the SV culture. Zynga's equity offerings and salary offerings are competitive with the other companies in the area. You stay because you believe in the mission. In SF the recruiters are relentless with lucrative offers from other companies, in many fields. It's not about the money.

The economist article has no supportive evidence for your compensation claims. If you want to change your argument to how the company should have hired more people instead of buy a building for them to fit in, you can, but that's an equally preposterous claim. We outgrew the original building; we were sharing desk space, there wasn't enough bathrooms, we had to go to a separate building for any company gatherings. The new building, a 5 minute walk from the old one, was a welcome mix of right size and right location.

Are you suggesting that instead they should have hired thousands more developers, who would perhaps sit on our shoulders or work in the rafters? Or maybe next you'll move on to how they could have hired more people instead of giving us lunches and dinners? Once again, the top tech companies in the area offer meals and Zynga needs to as well to stay competitive.

Your beef is with the decadent status quo of silicon valley (which is a fair opinion) and not with the good workers who lost their jobs yesterday.

Brian Blessed
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Comment redacted.

Ramin Shokrizade
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@Brian: I received a number of supportive emails via LinkedIn thanking me for my comments here by former Zynga employees, but yours is the first to go public in the way you did. I realize how much courage it takes to say what you did and I find it humbling.

I personally was a neuroscience researcher studying addiction on the cellular level at UCLA in the 20th Century, and then worked for two years at the Betty Ford Center applying what I knew clinically. I understand addiction and while I am egotistical enough to think I know how to manipulate it better than the people at Zynga do, I find their methods unethical and destructive. It is fairly obvious what they are up to. The public health community has been watching also, but are divided as to what to do about it. I'm not divided, and it sounds like you are not either.

Nate Anonymous
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And so ends the idea that Facebook would be the next great gaming platform.

Sometimes it's an innovation; sometimes it's a fad.

Michael Joseph
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Fad products from fad companies marketed to fad players leads to fad growth and fad revenues.

It's telling when the overwhelming majority of game developers who do play games, do not play zynga type games.

And the sense I'm getting is non indie game developers outside of the social networking space are too increasingly finding themselves making games that they don't want to play themselves. And there's nothing more liberal than making inferior products intended for a lower class of people.

It's like the actors who star in your favorite tv show who don't watch tv themselves because they've got better things to do with their time than watch what they view as mindless drivel, advertising, propaganda and political theater.

Doug Poston
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Joseph: "It's telling when the overwhelming majority of game developers who do play games, do not play zynga type games."

I'm not going to defend Zynga's game design but, IMHO, it's silly to target "game developers who do play games" if you're trying to run a multi-million dollar company. It's a very small market.

Michael Joseph
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It's silly from the perspective of trying to make as much money as possible in the short and medium terms I totally agree with you.

But I was not trying to make a business argument by saying that so much as I was trying to make a philosophical one.

If we care about having fulfilling careers and not just profitable careers, then thinking about the types of products we release (or help to) upon the world's citizens needs to be part of that equation. Thinking about how we grow a company is another part of that equation. Slash n burn is horrible for players and employees.

Doug Poston
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I agree the current "slash n burn" model is horrible both for games and the employees who develop them.

The point I was trying to make is that there is a limited market for games targeted at game developers. Game developers play games but they are, by definition, a very small niche market.

On the other hand, millions of people play "zynga type games" like Farmville. It would be nice if a company could develop these types of mass market games in a sustainable manner.

Bob Charone
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people flock to whats good, and game developers have good taste in games like fashion designers have good taste in fashion and gourmet chefs have good taste in food.

people also (unwillingly)flock to whats manipulative like drugs, gambling, and Zynga(ect), but those people that have problems are a minority which is why Zynga revenue is a fraction of Activision, EA, or Nintendo

Maurício Gomes
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Heh, when social games exploded, I avoided working with them like the plague, and remained making PC, Mobile and even a arcade (yes, with cabinet, those made of wood and lots of wires!) games.

I firmly believed that they would be just a fad. And I guess I was right.

Using the social game companies jargon, they have a too high "churn rate" and I don't think anything with that high "churn rate" can remain stable for long.

john talbot
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this story is far from over:
http://upstart.bizjournals.com/news/technology/2013/04/17/wendy-l
ee-suit-against-mark-pincus.html?page=all

nick ATpainttehDOTcom
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What? No manager to take responsibility and leave?
Oh wait...I see now: management was doubled the salary two months ago!
Now it make sense.

Mark Morrison
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I'm really saddened to see so many people lose their jobs, and it sounds like Zynga is doing what most companies don't do: taking good care of their own. As for the voices here trying to validate themselves as being fortune tellers or the one loud voice who has lessons for us to "apparently" learn in all of this, I simply ask, did you lose your job today?

Ramin Shokrizade
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I did end up on food stamps for two years during the height of the Zynga era because every employer I talked to during that time told me that if I would not copy Zynga and make coercive monetization models for them, they did not want to talk to me. I never regretted that for an instant. Trust me, as a 6 foot tall runner, the sacrifices I had to make to survive on that budget, without hurting other people, were severe. If I do lose my job for posting what I have here today (which is entirely possible), I won't regret that either.

Jonathan Gilmore
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People that work for a crap company that exists solely, solely by exploiting people with products that manipulate and offer nothing of value culturally, socially, etc. should be thankful for the experience that they did get, but should not be surprised when that company goes down. I feel for those people as a human being, as they now have to find jobs, but Zynga needs to not exist anymore, and this was inevitable.

And what does taking care of their own mean to you, executives cashing out as they lay off workers?

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Mike Kiessling
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How exactly do record losses of a company translate to "good executives deserving of a ridiculous pay raise"?

And yeah, in most cases it IS the managements fault when a game does poorly.
They hired the wrong people, didn't read the market right, were just too stubborn to leave from the trodden path or a million other things.
Point is, if you have to lay off any significant number of people than you, as a manager, have failed.

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Jakub Majewski
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I don't know if Andrew Webber is any kind of troll, but he certainly is spot on about this. The first symptom of Zynga's problems were all those departing executives. Raising salaries to persuade them to stay is not wrong, it's common sense. This doesn't mean that capitalism is perfect and always works, it just means that a company with an unstable management structure is doomed to fail.

Note that it is the people in the trenches who suffer the most when management is in constant flux. When leaders change, priorities change - when priorities change, money that had been spent on earlier priorities is considered wasted, and the people who worked on the earlier priorities are considered expendable.

Jorge Ramos
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Bye bye cow clickers :)

Phil Maxey
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Nope, cow clickers coming to mobile.

Mark Morrison
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Hi Ramin, no one is hinting that you'll lose your job over this. Why would you think that? I would hate for that to happen just for sharing your opinion. And, my sentiment here is to encourage us to think of our fellow developers and peers who are affected rather than some big monster somewhere taking out our industry. We should also try focus on some sort of good out of bad, if possible.

The technology world has changed in every way in the last 20 years. I’m lucky to be in this business IMO. I treat it like a privilege. We've ALL had crap jobs and been out of work, and this is what helps build our resilience and characters IMO. You're not unique in being unemployed my friend, but you and all of us here can help create employment and bolster our industry by propping up standards, attitudes, and being the best we can. Having a good moral compass also goes a long way in my network.

My dream here is that rather than sit back and write "we told you so", why don’t we offer some actual help or pro-active support for some great talent available today-August at Zynga? Why not contact their HR dept. next week when the dust settles and try to provide job descriptions you will be hiring for soon or get an email thread or location to solicit available devs?

I will gladly extend Unity Pro trials as well as advise on resumes and in many cases try to help people find jobs in specific cases. You have an open invitation when and if this happens to you again. I hope others would offer that to me in this case. I learned during my unemployment a few years back that not many of us will help each other when we’re out of work. The phone rings all day for favors when I have a job. Why don’t people answer it on the other end when I need that favor returned?

We should always try to help those of us who are professional and helping to further our industry. That's what I call a genuine self-sustaining environment ;)



Ramin Shokrizade
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Mark, it was not my intention to be a jerk in this thread, and I'm sure I came across that way. In the spirit of your last post, I would like to talk about what is next for these employees, and again it is not all cheery but some of it is.

When investment dollars were sucked into social network and mobile game development, the lifespan of these games went WAY down, along with development times. I talk about this very subject in a thread I started here this weekend. Because studios are now in the habit of firing everyone that is not actively working on a project when one ends, people are getting tossed around like crazy. This was the subject of another thread this week (not mine).

I've heard that the average career lifespan in this industry is 3 years. As we move to smaller and smaller projects, that will just get worse. It is the people with children or at least spouses that will have the hardest time as they roam the world looking for work like high tech gypsies. If you can work from home (which I usually do) that is the ideal solution.

The good news is that if games start getting larger again, then production times will increase again and people won't have to move so much from project to project. This is the positive trend coming out of the Zynga contraction, but this won't happen right away. If employers get used to moving us around like vagabonds, and there are enough unemployed people willing to do this, the situation might persist and become a new paradigm. I really hope not, because with people exiting the industry so fast the remaining talent will get less and less experienced.

So my best advice to anyone newly unemployed would be to make sure your passport is current and be willing to work *anywhwhere*. If you can work from home, start selling yourself that way. Employers like remote workers because they are cheap, especially on very short projects.

Mark Morrison
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I like your direction here Ramin and think that many out of work devs spend a lot of time on Gamasutra so sharing as much of the below is great!

You wrote: "So my best advice to anyone newly unemployed would be to make sure your passport is current and be willing to work *anywhere*. If you can work from home, start selling yourself that way. Employers like remote workers because they are cheap, especially on very short projects."

Why is the above relevant and can you elaborate on how people can help themselves from home? Can you elaborate on any great tactics? Any non-US regions growing in this space especially? What types of skill sets can be leveraged from a (currently marginalized) casual space to mid or hard core jobs? We do have consoles changing soon so maybe the pendulum swings again (as it always does).

It's true that the industry isn't what it used to be. I for one see vastly deep blue when education meets digital entertainment over the next ten years. I also believe the non-gaming game sectors aka Serious side has a lot to offer. Working for EA is pretty sexy, but I bet the United Health Care/Baylor employees using game development software like their job security and day-to-day.

Ramin Shokrizade
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EA went "all in" on social network game development and got caught in the contraction. Maybe I should say "correction" since it would not have contracted except for so much money suddenly flowing into the space. A lot of that money is now moving to mobile game development, which is not that different from social network game development. Thus if your skill sets are very much focused for social network games, I would focus on mobile game jobs.

I'm not the expert on where to look for work, but current hot spots (just based on who is contacting me, very unscientific) are Austin, TX, Singapore, UK, Montreal and Vancouver, Canada, and of course the usual Seattle/San Francisco/Beijing/Seoul hubs. Even France and Australia are seeing some action, so you might find yourself in some nice new locals!

Oh and Eastern Europe is also heating up for work, but presumably mostly for locals. If you have skills that you can apply from home then this really helps studios that might need you but do not want to have to deal with VISA nightmares. Other companies realize there is a glut of top notch talent available in the USA and want to hire them, if the price is right. Getting a work VISA raises the cost tremendously, as does relocation.

If the industry can convert successfully to Games as a Service, this could allow companies to retain workers at the end of a project instead of rewarding them with a pink slip for a job well done. Since games don't exactly "end" if they are services, there is always a need for continuing work on these projects.

Make sure your VISA is in order before you go to another country for work. I learned this the hard way when I was arrested at the airport in the UK last year, forced to eat an animal during my interrogation (I'm a vegan) and stuffed on a plane back home by armed guards. I was not charged with any crime, but it certainly was not fun.

C L
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Zynga overhired (yes, it's true) because they were completely inefficient and had next to zero process for getting content out massive amounts of content with quick turnaround. Their whole thing was to throw as many bodies at an issue as possible, then coat it at all with booze and food to make the workers happy. They practiced "defensive hiring" and acquired smaller companies as a way to keep those workers (developers, really) off the job market and out of reach of Zynga's competition. Z also wasted tremendous amount of money, talent, time, you name it, not looking far enough into the future or trying enough games that were out of their usual 'Ville template. In fact, it's probably only a matter of time before some beans get spilled and people get a glimpse as to just how much money and man hours were spent on crap that should have never cost that much to begin with.

It was a good couple of years of opulence but all good times come to end. These layoffs were long, long overdue. My sympathies go out to all those affected. I'm hoping those that remain are able to get to work in a more comfortable environment, have more balanced lives and maybe Z can get a more clear and consistent vision as to just what kind of company they're trying to be. Not gonna hold my breath, though!

Jed Hubic
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Good luck to all on the job rebound, hope everyone lands on their feet!

It seems easy for people to be the ones on the sidelines bragging about how right they were and rip on the decisions other have made, without actually doing/contributing anything substantial themselves. Haters gonna hate. Hopefully everyone gets back in the ring quickly.

Yuval Bayrav
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I just logged in to say that this thread is very interesting, and to thank Ramin for sharing his very thought-provoking insights and analysis. I have a vested interest in both the social and mobile game spaces as well as a special interest in virtual economies, and I find that Ramin's writing always makes me think.

Jason French
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Kudos to Ramin for voicing an opinion that clearly matters to him, yet makes him an easy target for Internet ridicule, but keeping his cool (while others get emotional & start mobbin'), and continually citing evidence and research. Despite those angry that such a conversation took place on Gamasutra, this was the first time in a while that I took a break from coding, and really got engaged in a "real" conversation here on Gamasutra. Reading this thread almost felt like being a dark tavern where I got to witness a heated discussion from Game developing Philosophes! Okay, well maybe that's a bit much, but perhaps you get the point.

Apparently, whatever is being discussed, has touched a nerve, and matters to a lot of people. We need places where we can safely discuss these things and not be ridiculed. That's not to say that if someone comes in just throwing hateful crap that isn't constructive at all that Gamasutra should welcome them with open arms, but in cases like this, agree with Ramin's opinion or not — he's provided the most sound, thought-provoking, and well-researched comments which has at least for myself been of value in reading it. Again, it's not about who's "right" or "wrong" — it's about the conversation ( and being upset because you were exposed to a viewpoint you didn't agree to ....all I can say is life will be a very scary place if you have to hide from those which think differently than you...)

Michael Gribbin
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Awesome post.

Mark Morrison
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Wow, what a disconnected thread as is evidenced by the first post, Kris Graft's post, and then the Zynga bashing train that follows. Has Gamasutra just become a haven for individuals to advertise and promote their own beliefs? That's why I stopped voicing my input a few years back. This thread has encouraged me to go back to that practice unfortunately. Carry on....

Jakub Majewski
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Just out of curiosity - exactly what kind of comments would you expect?
"Oh, poor people, they got fired."
"Yeah, I agree, they got fired."
"Poor sods."
"Sad to hear."

...And so on? Not only is it inevitable that in order to actually discuss this topic, people had to go deeper than merely expressing what they think about people being fired, but above all - it's highly desireable.

What you're seeing here is people getting to the point. Zynga fires 520 people? Well, yeah, that's sad, but why are they firing them? Because Zynga is X, Y, and Z. And why is it X, Y, and Z? Because... et cetera. The so-called "Zynga-bashing" that a few people here are complaining about, is simply folks expressing their opinion about the company - looking at its DNA, and trying to identify the reasons why 520 people just got fired in a flash.

It's not pretty, and of course many of the comments will inevitably be out-of-line and/or just plain stupid ("greedy bad managers, man, always firing people and trying to keep the company profitable, man"), but I hardly see how the absence of this discussion would be better.

Rebecca Richards
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There's a world of difference between "dispassionately" looking at the business model, and bragging about how much better you are than those tools that sold their souls. One is trying to identify a problem and solve it, the other is schadenfreude.

Rolling your eyes at people being upset about good people losing their jobs is the former, not the latter.

Rodolfo Camarena
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They also closed the Austin office too. A former fellow co-worker at Zynga filled me in about it today.

Marc Schaerer
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This is sad news.

While I expected it to happen (basing on my assumptions from the first layoffs from Zynga, its still another ~700 to be layed off), I truely hoped that the shakeups after the first big blow at Zynga would wake Zynga and the teams enough to resolve the situation.

Naturally without knowing the reason for the shutdowns (were they losing money or just not making the piles of money Zynga made during their initial years with FarmVille, which will never ever happen again), its hard to know if they ever had a chance to overcome it.

I wish all those who lost their jobs a lot of luck and success in the future and hope that many of you reenter the industry, using your knowledge and gained experience to create better experiences in the future without the pressure to create bad experiences flooded with lame psychological 'trick into buying' mechanics and forced spam walls.

Babak Kaveh
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First off let me say that I have seen a number of layoffs in companies I have been working with, and though I was lucky enough to never have been laid off myself, it is always an extremely sad moment. People who make games, share a lot of pressures and passions, and you will lose a lot of friends if you or they are laid off, simply because of the international mobility that most developers are forced into these days.

On the other hand, I can understand what Ramin is saying – and I don’t get why he’s receiving so much flak for it. It is one thing to have schadenfreude for a personal misery (which Ramin is not claiming), and another to be happy and hopeful that an institution that is harmful to society is crumbling. I share that happiness, and I won’t be politically correct and delay this discussion.

Zynga has done a lot of harm, in setting precedents for methods of marketing, game design, and in siphoning a lot of investment that would have been much more beneficial if it had been done anywhere else. They have soured the market for any future major investments from outsiders, and they have created acceptance (in some management circles) for horrible business practices. And now that they are contracting their game presence, they are ramping up in the gambling sector – a sector that leeches off the worst in human behavior and encourages the destruction of human lives. Yes, gamblers are to blame too, but so is any company making money off society’s ills.

I think all the people who were laid off need to have a hard look at their tenure at Zynga, and see if they have truly been doing their duty to society and global culture. As developers in a new medium, we have a social debt to pay – we have to stand for our ideals, and we have to make the world we live in a better place through the conscientious use of our medium. This is not some fancy notion – it is our duty.

Many generations before us have given their all and lost a lot for us to have the freedoms we have and the well-being we enjoy. The way is paved with sacrifices. Now here is my question: Are we doing the same for our children? Or are we hiding behind the excuse that we just want a job to make ends meet, when we join companies such as Zynga. If you dove into the quagmire that Zynga is with the ideal of reforming it, then kudos to you - if you just went in for a job, you are part of the problem. There is no absolution from your duties because you are not a “decision maker” in a company. There are no excuses.

In the past I have quit two jobs because I saw the wrong direction that greedy managers were pulling companies towards, and I would do it again if I noticed that the “social burden” I was creating was larger than the benefits that I could create for the societies I lived in. No one should be a drag on their friends, family, society and humanity if they have a choice. It is the scientist who researches weapons of mass destruction who is responsible for the death of thousands. It is the worker who works in the gun factory who shares the responsibility when an innocent child is killed. It is the soldier who takes orders without thinking about consequences who commits the atrocities of wars…. In the same way, but on a much smaller scale, it is the designer who designs for maximum exploitation of addictive human behavior or meaningless context-free violence who should feel responsible for a lot of social ills.

The way to our current state is paved with the pains, sacrifices and blood of many many good humans – can we just lean back, play our games, work a job, pay the rent and shrug off the responsibility we have towards our children?

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Josh Ostrander
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It's a sad and regrettable thing when bad events come to pass. I feel for so many people now out of work. I find it unfortunate that some take pleasure in a failure that has cost so many people their jobs, but I suppose with the antipathy Zynga has earned one cannot be separated from the other. I am genuinely surprised that anyone would be shocked that this is occurring or (more applicably) feel satisfaction for predicting the outcome as if it were not obvious.

Zynga has followed the same formula that many start-ups-turned-titans have; first-to-market, expansion of product portfolio based on formula, massive growth, acquisitions to increase value, IPO, executive exodus, and then slow decline. Did anyone really think the insane growth, platform-dependence, and reliance on competitor's ideas would lead to a strong position for them? The market shifted (as it always does), and their methodology is not mapping in a new space where they lack network, originality, and the no-cost acquistion based on virality that got them to the top of FB in the first place.

In my view, the only thing we can do as block-and-tackle employees in this industry is to take seriously the sort of buzz words that (at least in my experience) have often been meaningless talking points; vision, mission, values, and strategy. The less interested you are in researching these aspects of a company when considering job opportunities, the more likely you are to be "surprised" by the outcomes of a given company's behavior.


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