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Zynga Co-Founder Wants To Make American Politics More Like FarmVille

Illustration for article titled Zynga Co-Founder Wants To Make American Politics More Like iFarmVille /i

Do you remember Mark Pincus? He co-founded Zynga and led the burgeoning online games company as CEO until 2013 when he was replaced by then czar of Xbox entertainment, Don Mattrick. After returning to the company for a short stint in 2015, Pincus now has a new pet project: making the Democratic Party more like a Zynga game.

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The tech entrepreneur has decided to apply his business acumen and games expertise to politics, announcing an imitative called “Win the Future” (also called WTF—get it?) through which he and the creator of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, will try to “aggregate our voices and money around the issues that we want to top our government’s agenda.”

At the start at least, that means crowdfunding billboard displays and having people vote through social media on which political messages they want them to display. Because if there’s one takeaway from the Democrats’ failure last November, it’s that they didn’t have enough billboards.

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Pincus tried to explain the project to Recode by comparing it to the video game industry a decade ago. “Gaming in 2007, believe it or not, was a declining industry, and no one saw it as a big growth area,” he said in an interview with the tech site. “And my insight [was] that the biggest reason it was declining is that it was serving the hardcore gamer, and gaming was getting more complex and expensive.”

The 2020 Democratic road to the White House goes through this place.
The 2020 Democratic road to the White House goes through this place.

As the co-founder of an empire built on the Facebook equivalent of slot machines put it, video games weren’t doing enough to appeal to a mainstream audience. He pointed to the Xbox controller as a prime example, telling Recode it hadn’t changed enough.

According to this analogy, Congress is the Xbox controller and the tech gurus behind two of the Internet’s most stale and disheartening ventures are the ones to remake it into something everyone can hop on board with. A Wiimote perhaps?

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On the surface, it’s easy to share WTF’s broad sentiment around opening politics up to more people using the Internet, just like it’s easy to agree with a critique of mid-aughts gaming as too insular, testosterone-addled, and obsessed with abrasive, AAA bombast.

But the answer to that was not FarmVille, or the plethora of other surface level games that took off around the turn of the decade. Give me Journey, Gone Home, or Inside over CityVille Hometown any day. While Zynga was able to open up gaming to other demographics, it never got around to giving them something really worth playing. Zynga’s stock shares peeked at close to $15 in 2012 the year it went public. Now they are about a quarter of that. If you like the company’s brand of colorful clickers, that’s perfectly fine, but it is not a model for empowering society’s downtrodden to accomplish concrete and equitable changes to the status quo.

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Just as I am willing to bet that the answer to the Democratic Party’s current problems is not to try and replace California Sen. Dianne Feinstein with Stephan Jenkins. That’s right. Outside of tweets and billboards, Pincus’ vision for a new politics is to send the front man of Third Eye Blind to D.C.

That’s not really surprising coming from the co-founder of Zynga though. After all, Jenkins waffly political views would be easy to situate inside WTF’s incoherent ideology of of “pro-social [and] pro-planet, but also pro-business and pro-economy.” Pincus wants to remake the Xbox controller to save the planet from President Trump, but not at the risk of alienating the billionaire class he hails from. Here’s a brief but not exhaustive refresher on Pincus’ good deeds over the last decade.

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[Source: Recode]

Kotaku staff writer. You can reach him at ethan.gach@kotaku.com

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DISCUSSION

Pre-post disclosure: I identify as a Centrist, and have consistently voted Democrat (with exception for a few local offices, as I really do try to look at candidates rather than party affiliation—and every now and again, the Republican candidate was the better option) since 2000. I lean Left, despite my attempts to remain at the center of the political spectrum, though I do tend to be a bit more Conservative in terms of national defense.

That out of the way:

Crowd-sourcing political messaging sounds absolutely wonderful on its face, until we reflect on the following:

-The American electorate, by and large, does not vote on (to say nothing of understand) the issues at hand in a given election. They vote party-line, or for the candidate they most identify with, or for the one who mouths the finest promises, whether those promises have a singular hope in hell of being fulfilled or not.

It’s not that the average American voter is stupid; they are poorly informed, and many don’t seem to have much drive to correct their deficit of information.

This happens on both sides of the aisle, as the coal miner who voted for our sitting President, believing the healthcare that treats his black lung would somehow remain intact, is not fundamentally different from the Bernie voter who assumed that “free college” would become a thing without adopting many of the other facets of the European model that Sanders’ plan was based on (educational tracking from an early age, compulsory national service—be it military or otherwise, VAT, etc).

-Getting even members of a given party to agree on a unified platform is an exercise in frustration. When the National Conventions of both major parties must hem, haw, fight and scrape in order to cobble together a workable national platform (perhaps a third of which will actually see legislative action), expecting the electorate to be able to unify its voice around anything apart from “more money for us is good, and fuck the other guy” is a fool’s errand.

-The “third party” options in this country display either an absolutely facile understanding of geopolitics and the interconnected nature of the global marketplace, or proffer over-simplified panaceas in place of actionable policy. They have attracted adherents like dog shit attracts flies on a hot day—and for much the same reason.

-The general political literacy of the American electorate is absolutely appalling. I don’t even need to launch into an explanation of just how poorly understood the First Amendment is to make that point.

So, er, yeah. Crowdsourcing a major political party’s campaign is one of those ideas that sounds as fantastic as unicorn farts and rainbows with pots of gold at the end—and about as realistic, too.