Media & Entertainment

The Legal Tussle Between Zynga And The Cityville GM That Left For Kixeye Heats Up


Kixeye CEO Will Harbin is lashing out at Zynga for suing the vice president of product that the gaming startup poached earlier this month. Shortly after former Cityville general manager Alan Patmore left for Kixeye, Zynga sued him for theft of trade secrets and breach of contract.

Zynga says that Patmore stored more than 760 documents from his work computer in Dropbox before his last day. Zynga says these files contained design documents for unreleased titles, future monetization plans and compensation information on employees.

The suit names Patmore and while Kixeye isn’t a defendant, Harbin has decided to be more vocal today about Zynga’s suit. Update: Zynga obtained a court order today (embedded below) that prevents Patmore from destroying any of the company’s data, asks for a forensic analysis of his computers, iPhone and Dropbox account. He will also be deposed. Kixeye isn’t doing anything additionally legal at the moment:

“Zynga is burning to the ground and bleeding top talent and instead of trying to fix the problems — better work environment and better products — they are resorting to the only profit center that has ever really worked for them: their legal department.

It is simply another case of Zynga vindictively persecuting a former employee as an individual. Given their financial situation it all feels pretty desperate.

Our games have little in common with the ones that Zynga is known for. We make synchronous, combat strategy games. They make asynchronous cow clicking games. We have 2 of the top 7 highest grossing games on Facebook. Why on earth would we want to emulate a business that has seen a 75% decline in share price since their debut? According to their S1 their games average $.06 ARPDAU. Our games generate up to 20x that. You do the math.”

OK, for background: Kixeye is a midcore social game developer. Midcore titles have smaller player bases, but they monetize better. They tend to target male audiences instead of the stereotypical middle-aged female demographic that Zynga and other casual gaming companies go after. That’s why Harbin says that Kixeye’s games make up to 20 times as much as the 6 cents that Zynga earns on average per player per day.

Zynga, in turn, has criticized Kixeye for being ranked #34 in terms of monthly active users on the Facebook platform and for never having released a top 10 game (as ranked by player base) in the suit against Patmore. Kixeye has said it’s on track to do more than $100 million in revenues this year, while Zynga said that it expects to see $1.085 billion to $1.1 billion in bookings this year.

However, Zynga has recently made moves that suggest that it is considering midcore titles, which is a huge departure from the way it has done mass-market, casual titles. Zynga recently bought a developer named A Bit Lucky and framed it as a deal that would break the company into midcore gaming.

Around the same time, Kixeye poached Patmore, who oversaw one of Zynga’s most lucrative titles Cityville, to become the company’s vice president of product. Just to give you an idea of how important Cityville has been to Zynga, the title made 13 percent of Zynga’s online game revenue in the second quarter of this year, according to an SEC filing. Do the math and multiple that out against the company $291.5 million in quarterly online game revenue, and you can infer that Cityville alone made at least $38 million that quarter.

Zynga has also been bleeding senior talent throughout the last several months, as the company’s stock has declined to a current $2.50 from a $13-14 range in March. Some of the executives that left Zynga came over from EA and were close to former COO John Schappert, who resigned earlier this year.

At the same time, Kixeye has not been shy to rub dirt in rivals’ faces. Not only do they have an irreverent hiring campaign running in the local San Francisco BART metro system with laser-shooting unicorns, they made a viral video ad that jabs competitors in a not-so-subtle way. In the video below, a candidate interviews at three semi-fictitious gaming companies. Based on the logo, it’s not really hard to guess which one satirizes Zynga and its CEO Mark Pincus.

So it’s no wonder that Zynga, which hasn’t been shy to pursue litigation with former employees, to go after Patmore. Zynga had previously sued four former employees who left for Playdom, which was then acquired by Disney. Zynga later settled and one employee was even sentenced to jail time, although they didn’t actually serve that time.

Here’s a copy of the suit against Patmore:

Zynga also obtained a court order today that asks for a forensic analysis of his home computer, his Kixeye computer, his iPhone and his Dropbox account. There is also a restraining order preventing destruction of any Zynga property.

More TechCrunch

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

1 day ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

1 day ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost

The investor lawsuit is related to Bolt securing a $30 million personal loan to Ryan Breslow, which was later defaulted on.

Bolt founder Ryan Breslow wants to settle an investor lawsuit by returning $37 million worth of shares