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"Ethical Considerations? Absolutely, It's Why I Quit" Former Zynga Programmer Shares His Experience

"I miss a lot of the people, I miss the dogs, and I miss the paycheck." Former Zynga employee on how it was, and why he left.

by 5 months ago

Reddit user LangrangePT, a former programmer at Zynga, kicked off an AMA last night. What follows are the highlights, which offer a candid look into life as a game programmer at a large company; warts, perks and all.

If you're into programming, there were a lot of excellent discussions around coding trends and game design that you should check out in the full AMA on Reddit.

dangerdark asked:

"How old are you? When did you start programming? How did you break into the industry?"

LagrangePt: "I'm 27 now, was 23 when I joined Zynga.

I originally started programming LogoWriter in 5th grade, but I dropped that and didn't pick it up again until Senior year of high school.

I graduated in 2009 when the US economy was in the shitter. I spent about 9 months looking for a job before I got referred to zynga (my mom met someone who knew someone who worked there). They were hiring like mad at that time, and I did well in the interviews they offered."

gnarfel asked:

I got into games to make people smile, not just to make money. I stayed at Zynga because I was reaching tens of millions of people every day and making at least most of them smile. I left Zynga when I felt it was becoming far too negative on that metric.

LagrangePt: "Well, I was there to make money - it was a job. At first I was trying to pay off student debt, and later I just wanted enough money to be able to 'retire' and spend a few years creating my own game.

All too often, it was a debate between idealism and realism - the game needs to make money in order to justify developing it. the business side is really good at uses stats to prove their side, which appealed to the higher ups. Unfortunately, business statistics tends to be very short term focused, which (I feel) cost a lot in the long run.

I was usually on the 'but that isn't fun, which will ruin the game' side of the argument, but I often had to justify my ideas with 'this will improve the game in this way, which these previous projects have shown will increase rev[enue] by this much.'

I got into games to make people smile, not just to make money. I stayed at Zynga because I was reaching tens of millions of people every day and making at least most of them smile. I left zynga when I felt it was becoming far too negative on that metric."

nasty_eardrums asked:

"How do you measure how many people you made smile?"

I would periodically dive into the more positive parts of the forum and remember that there were people who really loved the game

LagrangePt: "I had to spend a lot of time on the forums hunting for bugs (which is a soul destroying task). I would periodically dive into the more positive parts of the forum and remember that there were people who really loved the game for various reasons.

"I also wore farmville shirts in public, and so I got to have random people coming up to me and talking about it sometimes.

"My first day at zynga, I made it so that clicking on stuff was pixel perfect (instead of being driven by bounding boxes). 10 million people played in the next 24 hours, and a good number of them actually noticed the difference and posted happy feedback on the forums."

FattyMcPhatterson asked:

"Do you miss Zynga after a year away? How does your new job compare?"

I miss a lot of the people, I miss the dogs, and I miss the paycheck.

LagrangePt: "I miss some of the perks, I miss a lot of the people, I miss the dogs, and I miss the paycheck.

"Most of the perks aren't being offered anymore, a lot of the people (and their dogs) have left, but the paycheck still hurts."

Marfell asked:

"What is your opinion about bigger game developers? Do the stock ones tend to go more for profit and care about the shareholders profit rather than the product, or are they still willing to keep on producing good content at the risk of losing some money?"

Before IPO, it was all about long term health of the company, making games that would be fun and profitable, etc. After the IPO there was so much pressure to 'just make the numbers for the quarter, don't let the stock drop any more'

LagrangePt: "Being publicly owned ruins any company that is based on delivering hits (gaming is fundamentally a hits based business).

"I can't really speak to the rest of the industry (though comparing public to private large game companies gives a very negative view). I do know that the culture of Zynga became a lot worse after the IPO.

"Before IPO, it was all about long term health of the company, making games that would be fun and profitable, etc. After the IPO there was so much pressure to 'just make the numbers for the quarter, don't let the stock drop any more.'"

tsujiku asked:

"Do you think there are any ethical considerations with some of these mechanics?"

"A lot of people oppose 'pay to win' mechanics, and I know I personally find the constant requests to join random games to be extremely annoying. Are those things that are considered at all when designing a game with these mechanics?"

Ethical considerations? Absolutely, it's why I quit. A few months ago someone tried to get me to add those mechanics to a real money gambling game, which I refused to do

LagrangePt: "Ethical considerations? Absolutely, it's why I quit. A few months ago someone tried to get me to add those mechanics to a real money gambling game, which I refused to do (and convinced the other guy not to pursue either).

"re pay to win - the invest and express model is not a game that can be won, so their is no pay to win. Farmville and similar games were about growing and nurturing something, similar to sim city.

"Being completely honest, while I didn't like spamming, if you weren't part of our target audience the business people didn't care, and if you didn't like the game invites then you weren't part of our target audience. Facebook eventually cracked down on the spam a lot, which caused Farmville to drop from 30 million users/day to about 23 million.

"Design is done by a bunch of people, who then have to justify the designs to the business people at the top. so while there were always arguments for not spamming and not adding negative mechanics, at the end of the day Zynga was in the business of making money, so that's what got put into the games."

migrafael asked:

"I just want to know one thing. Was it fun?"

LagrangePt: "At first, absolutely. The IPO changed the company a lot tho, and towards the end I wasn't having any fun at all.

"I still have pictures of doing office chair jousting using nerf axes :)"

Image from money.cnn.com

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Comments
  • 36
    About 5 months ago,
    Ryan Kerns (Featured Columnist) said:
    Wow... that's really sad to read about someone so passionate and committed to making fun games get crushed by the business end of the industry. So many new games on the market right now feel like they had to go through a checklist of what the executives and focus group results said the game should be.

    I'm sure if a designer at EA pitched an idea for a game about an Italian plumber that eats a bunch of magic mushrooms and crushes turtles to death... he'd probably be fired on the spot.
  • 1
    About 5 months ago,
    Big Url said:
    "I joined a company that built their empire off of what was essentially plagiarism, and I quit because of ethical considerations."
  • 5
    About 5 months ago,
    Spyke_3447 said:
    This, is the sad truth. And this should be pinned to the front page with superglue.
    Excellent read.
  • 60
    About 5 months ago,
    Amy White (Editor in Chief) said:
    It was a really interesting AMA. Interviews are one thing, but there's a power to the casual, usually anonymous interaction of the AMA that really gets people to share in more candid ways.
  • 5
    About 5 months ago,
    Spyke_3447 said:
    It most definitely does, perhaps because the people posting them are usually willing to answer "anything" and can do so legally. Sadly we are seeing the fruits of a long time worth of efforts from the financial side of the gaming market to make game development as profitable as humanly possible at the cost of just about everything else, the irony is that anyone who games and spends cash on said games (responsibly) does so on games that DON'T try and maximize their profitability... to the point where one or two are almost literally pooping cash.

    We only have to look at the likes of League of Legends etc to see this in action, they don't compromise their games integrity and balance by screwing around with "sold mechanics" or "advantage" and they keep it all aesthetic in nature.

    If we look at the other side of the coin however. Here we see games that continually disrupt your immersion and gameplay to "coax" you into a cash shop. And for most gamers every time they see this they feel LESS inclined to go there, not to mention the games that make themselves so frustrating in terms of progression etc but offer "easier" ways out by paying; and it's hard to love a game that does that let alone look past their usually terribly coded engines or flaws.

    But back to the topic, it's this trend that is in my honest and humble opinion the reason why we're seeing so much craziness and scandal from the gaming industry, I strongly feel this is just a symptom of a greater problem, publishers and PR just have WAY too much input and freedom to pull some really underhanded garbage in order to mislead.

    *cough* game journalism awards *cough*
  • 60
    About 5 months ago,
    Amy White (Editor in Chief) said:
    Many of the larger games are watering down what makes players loyal and engaged in favor of what will sell the most copies, while the most successful indie studios are capitalizing on those things that make people love games precisely because they are different and not appealing to everyone.

    Excellent observations and very well stated. When the mood strikes, I hope you'll write a few articles here! Would love to hear more of your thoughts on the industry.