One Horrifying Account Of Working At Zynga

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Divorce, alcoholism, and near worthless stock are the rewards for 12 hour days prepping for a game launch at Zynga, according to one anonymous Quora user who worked there after their company was bought by the gaming giant.

The answer was called “butthurt” by one responder. “Sorry you’re not a millionaire after a year of work on a failed product” said another. Indeed it seems a bit overemotional and worth taking with a grain of salt. Long hours and rewards that might not materialize are part of working at startups.

Still, the answer has received tons upvotes, including some from former Zynga employees, and sources from inside the company say they’ve seen these hardships first hand. So here’s the grim Quora tale of killing yourself to get to an IPO, just to see your $10 shares dive to $3.

[Begin Quora answer from anonymous Zynga employee]

I worked for Zynga for a year when my startup was acquired. Within a few months, we were putting in brisk 10 hour days as we started our new project. Six months in a launch date was handed down from above and we shifted to 11 hour days six days a week.

People willing to play the politics game were given ‘rockstar’ status, quarterly bonuses and promotions. Project direction and goals shifted daily, innovation of any kind was difficult – we were constantly forced to hew our game closer to the Farmville/Cityville playbook. Six weeks before shipping the studio was flown out to San Francisco to launch our game – 12 hour days seven days a week, free of the distraction of friends, wives and girlfriends. I watched alcoholism and substance abuse skyrocket, relationships crumble (including my own), people slept on office couches, two developers got divorced, one nervous breakdown. They attempted to smooth this over with more stock, free food and t-shirts. Free food doesn’t do you much good when you’ve lost fifteen pounds from not eating.

Our game shipped and performed rather dismally, so the bonuses, raises, promotions and rest we were promised didn’t materialize. With a now completely exhausted team, we were expected to work even harder to improve key metrics. Management would divert blame when these unrealistic metrics could not be hit. Our studio manager, possibly the only person who knew how the company was actually performing on a macro level, quit unexpectedly a few weeks after the IPO.

But it was all going to be ok, just hang in there, we’d all be rich in a matter of months.

We were told point blank in one studio-wide meeting that we would IPO “around $20 a share”, and could expect $100 a share within a year if we “launched one or two more successful titles”. A quick analysis of the company fundamentals placed it closer to $10. It now sits at $2.90.

How does it feel? To spend years being worked into the ground, putting your life on hold and being egged along so top brass can cash out millions at $12 a share while the rank and file employees are in a ‘lockout period’?

I’ll second ‘devastating’.

[End of answer]

The last line refers to a previous Quora answer that describes the stock drop as devastating. There’s definitely conflicting opinions, though. One response from a 4-year Zynga employee said the company is “far from perfect” but that this story could be a “gross exaggeration”, and concluded that, “‘Devastated’ is a bit too dramatic…disappointed seems more fitting.” Now Bloomberg reports that Zynga will hand out more stock to employees to compensate them for the flubbed IPO.

Regardless of severity, Zynga’s culture problems may spawn from its inception as a mercenary company. It wasn’t designed to not be evil or make the world more connected like Google or Facebook. It’s a metrics-driven money machine. Yes, it aims to entertain, but also to get players addicted. If you don’t end up with a pot of gold, there’s not as much of a mission to be proud of, and that can lead to spiteful employees.  The hard startup lifestyle only works if you love your job.

Check out the original question on Quora and downvote if you think this is bullshit, upvote what you think is right, and give your own account if you actually worked at Zynga.

Postscript: I agree with Drew Olanoff. This person joined Zynga with the wrong attitude. No amount of money is worth being miserable. Quit, and go do great things.