Who is Zynga? If you are asking that question you probably haven’t been around the gaming halls of Facebook or had a dozen games of Words With Friends going on your iPhone. You probably haven’t cultivated in FarmVille or killed in Mafia Wars. You’re leading a blissfully unaware life, separate from a lot of the world we live in.
I freely admit to having spent a lot of time and a fair amount of money on Zynga Games. In their nascent stages, most of those games are visually appealing, cleverly themed and relaxing to play.* They are essentially doll houses and sandboxes where you can putter and design and imagine. More than once I’ve held dark thoughts at bay by tending to my cartoon crops.
Zynga is the creation of The Other Mark–while Zuckerberg enjoys a growing notoriety and bank balance, Mark Pincus toils away behind the scenes. In 2007 he changed the name of his nascent social gaming company to honor his American Bulldog, the late Zinga Pincus, and pulled together enough venture capital to make a splash. He started his company with the best of intentions; they wanted to make money and bring the world together through social games. Pincus has appeared here and there talking about World Peace and his part in it. I personally vouch for how fun it is to have friends all over the world whom I met through Zynga but retained through, well, being a friendly person.
So what’s the problem?
There are many. My first boycott was for the Facebook games only, and I kept playing the iOS games on my iPhone. After all, my complaint was that Zynga was intentionally making its Facebook-linked games too interdependent. You could no longer play at your own pace: they made game goals impossible to obtain without either constantly pestering hundreds of people (literally) for completion items…or paying real dollars for those completion items yourself. The only way to have a satisfactory gaming experience with Zynga’s online games was to dump hundreds of dollars into the company in exchange for virtual credits. Zynga has employed a behavioural psychologist in house so they can fine-tune their games for maximum exploitation of the consumer. Unlike developers in the past whom I’ve admired (Maxis, NimbleBit, InfoCom) the Zynga focus has never been primarily on enjoyable game play. They merely want to mimic Vegas’ use of “games” to separate the consumer from her money.
Of course, this is capitalism and if that’s how they put food on the table–and it is perfectly legal–that’s their business model. Much as I refuse to go to Vegas for gambling I can easily refuse to go to Farmville and CityVille for play.
Now, though, the other shoe has dropped. I can handle companies gaming the consumer experience–doesn’t every grocery store employ psychologists for store layout? And pretty much all brands on sale design their look for maximum impact. Gaming the system is the system.
There are two things I can’t abide, and I feel my duty as a responsible consumer is to loudly decry the companies who make those two things part of their strategy. Zynga does BOTH of them. They are:
Theft of Intellectual Property and Mistreatment of Employees.
I simply cannot do any type of business with a company I know to be stealing from others. I will not do business with a company I know to mistreat those who work there. I’ve repeatedly seen Zynga steal, and when they stole from my favourite development team–NimbleBit–all bets were off. Now in the wake of their IPO we are hearing numerous accounts of employee abuse. The work environment is harsh and stressful, pitting teams against one another and creating in house bitterness. I let investors worry about the coming talent drain. I worry about the quality of life for those people, and the quality of life for their families and other support people.
There are days I miss my farm. There are days I miss my cities–both in Facebook and on my iPhone. Even now I miss all my Words With Friends and my ability to share my crap Scrabble skills with all the people I know.
But even more I miss ethics in business.
For further details you can always check these sources:
Zynga coerces employees into returning stock options
Zynga and the Skinner Box. And especially Zynga Vs. Nimblebit.
Zynga employs behavioural psychologist to fine-tune games for maximum exploitation.