"Ethical Considerations? Absolutely, It's Why I Quit" Former Zynga Programmer Shares His Experience
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.
<form id="form-t1_cdd7jox54u" class="usertext" action="#"> asked:
"How old are you? When did you start programming? How did you break into the industry?"
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."
<form id="form-t1_cdd7j2cu03" class="usertext" action="#"> asked:
"How did the requests from 'the business side' of the company affect your vision of the games you created?"
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.
: "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."
"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."
"Do you miss Zynga after a year away? How does your new job compare?"
: "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."
"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.'"
"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 (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."
"I just want to know one thing. Was it fun?"
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