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Laid-off Zynga employee dishes dirt on Reddit

A game developer recently laid off by controversial freemium gaming company Zynga has taken to Reddit to reveal what went on.

A developer laid off earlier this week by social-gaming behemoth Zynga, best known for FarmVille, has taken to Reddit to air the company's dirty laundry. The image above was his or her proof that they are who they say they are, and Reddit has a vetting procedure before any 'Ask me Anything' thread opens.

"I was just laid off yesterday, along with 520 other employees," former_zyngite writes, before answering questions from other Reddit users. "I'm willing to talk about the company that all gamers love to hate if anyone wants to know more about it. I need to keep my identity on the down-low because I'm job hunting now and not trying to burn bridges. So I can't give specifics on the the projects I worked on, but can talk to a lot of the games, processes, culture, infamous game copying, etc. I was there for almost two years. I was in a creative position."

Zynga hit choppy waters recently, leading to the closure of OMGPOP, which made Draw Something and which Zynga paid $180m for just last year.

"Their business strategy is terrible," he says. "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.

"At this rate, I'd give them another 2 to 3 years. They make money and have a lot in the bank. But they also throw away money like you wouldn't believe. If they actually manage to change their strategy and start putting out some big hits, they could be around a lot longer."

Copycats

Asked about Zynga's notorious habit of releasing games that are very similar to those at the top of the charts, former_zyngite reveals the company called the strategy "fast following" a game.

"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."

Not all bad

The revealing Redditor didn't only slag off his former employers, however, disclosing details of his severance package and giving some insight into what it was like to work there.

"They tried hard to keep everyone around, which I really respected. I think they just hit critical mass and finally had to let us go.

"I can't say for sure that everyone got what I did. But 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.

"[There were] lots of perks, like a gym in the building, three free meals a day, happy hour every Friday with free booze, unlimited vacation days. Not everyone takes advantage of them all. I loved getting a free 15 minute massage once a week."

Another user, calling him or herself ex_zyngite (who was not verified) chipped in. "I had a work issued iPhone 4S with an unlimited data plan. Of course, they took that phone back yesterday. :("

"They really try hard to keep morale high," former_zyngite added. "They promoted volunteering. Going green. They really tried hard to be a good place to work and a socially conscious company. In that way, they're really great."

While many gamers can't stand freemium games, former_zyngite defended the business model. "The general attitude with freemium is that if you're going to pay us, we'll let you skip through the game as fast as you want. Because, who cares? We get the money, and you get to save some time. We both win. I'm not saying it's for everyone. But there's clearly a market for this kinda gaming."

Finally, my favourite answer was about the company's "obsession with dogs".

"I like dogs. They're great. I grew up with them. Never really wanted to take one to work. But it's highly encouraged there. And kind of obsessed over. Some of the dogs were cool. Some were barking assholes I wanted to punch in the face. It's kind of like a crying baby on an airplane. It sucks, and there's nothing you can do about it."