A user over on Reddit, claiming to be a former Software Engineer at social games giant Zynga, has not only gone and posted the rather dense separation letter he received upon quitting the company (above), but done a little extra guts spilling at the same time.
Among the claims user mercenary-games makes are, when asked "What creepy stuff went on?":
Spying on players. Getting intimate gaming data, their habits, their networks, and how to effectively monetize given X. Another issue was skewing gameplay for the sake of profit, example; I actually resorted to BAD MATH, to make the case for making a feature more fun. At the end of one sprint, a QA dude was complaining about the drop rate of a specific item being absurdly insane, and therefore UnFun. I looked at the code, and tweaked some values, gave it back to QA guy, and fun was restored. Product Manager overrides this, goes for unfun, yet more profitable version.
Later asked for his thoughts on the current spat between Zynga and the developers of hit iPhone game Tiny Tower, mercenary-games says:
Tiny Tower + D Heights is all standard operating procedure here. If you can't buy em, clone em. Even the core technology for FarmVille (MyMiniLife), was bought. The only "homegrown" codebases at Zynga is MafiaWars2 and maybe Poker, the rest of their tech was just bought from small studios. Lookup Dextrose Engine. To me, that's utterly creepy. They try to choke out the competition by gating all these engines and tech.
And finally, asked how data-driven the company is as opposed to looking at things like, well, fun, he replies:
I have a hook into every piece of new data and user involved feature. I have to report the data at all times. PMs rely on metrics more for office politics, not science, not game design. Zynga is a marketing company, not a games company.
None of which will be particularly new to anyone who's been following the success of the company, but for those aghast at what's been done to achieve that success, it's interesting reading.
Provided, you know. It's real. So keep a grain of salt handy while you munch popcorn.