Zynga Optimizes for Players Who Spend More Than $10K, Says Purported Former Zynga Engineer

A person claiming to be a former Zynga engineer hosted an Ask Me Anything on Reddit last night. As proof, he or she submitted a snapshot of a termination notice and claims to have quit and have no axe to grind. Take it with a grain of salt, but Redditors and Hacker News users seemed to think the poster was legit. The person certainly talked the talk, dishing on everything from spying on users, to maximizing for profit at the expense of fun, to treating contractors like “second class citizens.”

Overall, the Q and A by user mercenary-games doesn’t end up doing Zynga any favors: they say Zynga releases unstable code regularly, is rife with brogrammers who can’t program, and affirmed when another user marveled, “it’s like the games play you.

What else?

-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.

-Just how data driven is Zynga? How much do the PMs rely on metrics to craft the games? EVERYTHING. 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

-Ill add more to the creepy stuff, specifically concerning contractor workers. Z treats them like second citizen employees, they almost have no feedback or say on their work schedule. I’ve seen people waiting to turn full time, but only spend more time as a contractor because of office politics. Worst of all; they are NOT welcome to company events, they are openly excluded from them. Yet, they want them to work twice as hard as regular full timers.

-Internal metrics researchers often give studio wide talks on what trends are going on. They’ve basically tracked down very popular players and also players who’ve spent an excess of 10k into the game.We often tweak our features to match and maximize for a particular gaming habit. We do this for massive populations of players.Players are not aware of this. To me, that’s a big brother like issue, someone is measuring and monitoring your behavior intimately, and you don’t know how that data is going to be used.

People have paid over 10k onto farmville and the other games?!?

One user was befuddled: “People have paid over 10k onto farmville and the other games?!? wait what? You surely can’t mean $?”

The original poster affirmed: “Zynga Black. That’s what they are called.” 

The supposed engineer does give a shoutout to the “chowhall,” though: two meals a day (and arcade machines all over campus). See kids, Zynga isn’t all bad.

Zynga Optimizes for Players Who Spend More Than $10K, Says Purported Former Zynga Engineer