Fired Zynga Staff Hits Reddit to Talk Life Before the Massacre

A few game-makers who got the axe on Monday have already recovered—enough to dish on Reddit, at least. They're answering questions right now—and talking severance packages, game theft, and of course, corporate perks.

Like any good tech company, the snack situation sounds like it was ritzy:

Depends on the room, but the basics were granola bars, cookies, liquorish bites, kettle chips, pop chips, pretzel bites, hard boiled eggs, cereal, nuts, chex mix, coffee and tea.

Hard boiled eggs! But it wouldn't last:

Yeah, once the Redbull and Odwalla went away everything went downhill.

On a far more important note, one Redditor asks "What percent of users actually pay real money in Zynga games?" You know—how many people were actually generating money for the company?

The answer is complicated: "Depends on the game, but on average I think it's about 5%. Maybe less." That sounds low, but: "The big games deal in Millions of DAU (Daily Average Users). If 3 million users pay an average of $0.20 you're getting $600k a day!"

But this wasn't enough. The former employees agree that the company's downfall—if there is just one—was its clutching dependence on data. It stopped making creative decisions, and started letting past performance guarantee future results. Which of course, doesn't happen—the games started becoming derivative, then derivative of derivative, and the rest of the world became bored:

Personally, I also think that there was too much credence given to 'tried and true' strategies based on potentially incorrect assumptions from data gathering or perhaps not considering that formerly correct assumptions no longer applied in the new(er) world. Empire and Allies, Mafia Wars 2, and Hidden Chronicles were examples of games that eventually succumbed to this. At some point, the company seemed to switch over from genuine attempts at innovation to attempts to 'do what worked before.' I'm not sure how many games in the past year really had true A-B tests to try to discover new fun AND popular ground. The company excelled at data gathering. Data interpretation and understanding of gaming psychology could have used improvement.

Emphasis added. A colleague agrees:

Their business strategy is terrible.

Their major issues are the inability to adjust to the changing market. They did great when Facebook gaming was on the rise, but now it's declining and Mobile is on the rise. They're trying to change over, but employ too many of the same game development "best practices" that were developed for Facebook games. These just don't translate to the mobile market, which is why they're suffering in that market.

There's also lots of other issues internally.

A lot of micro-management from the top down that stifles the creativity and hinders the production of many games.

An over reliance on every game being a blockbuster hit which makes the fun aspect of games suffer while making the money grabbing tactics all too transparent to the users.

And a serious lack of foresight over all. Too many major decisions are quick reactions to sudden changes in the market. If some games jumps to the top of the Top Grossing charts then everyone need to drop everything and change to follow it. Which wastes time, makes for bad design and ultimately puts projects behind schedule. It just means they're always late to the party, and whatever game they're trying to compete with has already faded away by the time their own version hits the market.

They also cop to (and lament) the company's dark reputation for ripping off competitors—what was internally referred to as a "fast follow," a terrific little euphemism. Employees hated being forced to do this, but it became Zynga's bread and butter:

I think that early on it was blatant. Later it became well known practice at Zynga, but rather poor taste. Dream Heights/Tiny Tower was a big slap in the face. Sims Social/The Ville was the last straw. Towards the end of my time it was not so much that games were straight up ripped off, but key features would be. Such as the general method or menu flow that a game handles it's multiplayer. The idea being that if it works for that game, it would work for our game.

In general though, most of us knew what game was copying what. Bubble Safari was a copy of Bubble Witch Saga. The Ville was Sims Social. Hidden Chronicles was Gardens of Time. The company didn't call it out for what it was, but you knew because whatever project you were on most likely had similar pressures to match and beat a game on the market.

But what about that severance package?

I got four months salary plus an additional week for each partial year. I worked almost two years, so I got 4.5 months paid. Plus insurance is paid on top of that.

At least they were taken care of after being pressed to work in a company that ran itself like one of its games, where formula was put over foresight, and the surest bet was to copy what came before. Or copy someone else. Read their full account of life in ZyngaVille here.