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Zynga sues former exec for 'wholesale theft' of data

The gaming company is going after its former general manager of CityVille, saying that he stole "sensitive and commercially valuable data" and left a "forensic trail of his wrongful conduct."

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
3 min read
Zynga's CityVille

Alan Patmore left his job as general manager for Zynga's CityVille in August and headed over to a job as VP of product at Kixeye -- a much smaller social-gaming company also based in San Francisco. Zynga is now saying that when Patmore stepped down, he stole important company trade secrets.

In a complaint filed in Superior Court in San Francisco on Friday, the gaming company alleges that Patmore nabbed data files, financial information, unreleased game design documents, and more.

"Zynga respects the rights of its employees to resign and seek employment with other companies," the gaming company wrote in the complaint. "But what Zynga cannot tolerate is the wholesale theft of some of its most sensitive and commercially valuable data. Zynga has no choice but to bring this lawsuit to recover its stolen data and to ensure no use is made of it."

Zynga is one of the top social-gaming companies and produces hits like FarmVille, Words with Friends, and Mafia Wars. It employees nearly 3,000 people that work on the creation and making of these games.

As general manager for CityVille, Zynga says that Patmore had "widespread access to some of Zynga's most sensitive trade secrets." The gaming company alleges that the day before he left the company he "engaged in a series of intentional acts designed to steal Zynga data" and left a "forensic trail of his wrongful conduct."

The way he supposedly carried out this heist, Zynga says, is by amassing more than 760 files and putting them into a folder on his computer desktop named "Zynga." He then allegedly synched this folder and its contents to his Dropbox account. Within this folder was some of Zynga's "most valuable and confidential information," including monetization plans, spreadsheets related to employee data, more than 10 unreleased game design documents, confidential revenue information, release dates for unreleased games, proprietary information, and more.

Zynga claims that a competitor could use this information to better understand the company's market strategy and "improve a competitor's internal understanding and know-how of core game mechanics and monetization techniques, its execution and ultimately its market standing to compete more effectively with Zynga."

This suit comes as more than a dozen high-level executives have resigned from Zynga over the past couple of months, including Chief Operating Officer John Schappert, Chief Creative Officer Mike Verdu, and Chief Marketing Officer Jeff Karp.

A Kixeye spokesperson told CNET that it had nothing to do with the suit. "Unfortunately, this appears to be Zynga's new employee retention strategy: Suing former employees to scare current employees into staying. They've clearly exhausted other options in their employee retention playbook."

On Friday, a judge granted Zynga's request for a temporary restraining order to stop Patmore from using or giving the data to anyone, according to All Things D. Zynga is scheduled to return to court tomorrow and will ask for the return of the data, access to Patmore's Dropbox account, along with other requests.

CNET contacted Zynga for comment. We'll update the story when we get more information.

Here's the complaint:

Zynga vs. Patmore