Will Intense Culture Come Back to Bite Zynga?

Susan Hall
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"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ..." That Dickens quote came to mind while reading this New York Times article saying that Zynga's driven culture could lead to a post-IPO talent exodus.


The maker of games such as FarmVille and CityVille has been wildly successful, raking in $121 million since the start of 2010, yet the company's intense, data-driven culture could be driving people away, with competitors poised to poach its engineers and executives. In fact, it reports that one recruiting company sent cookie baskets this month to 150 Zynga employees. (It has about 3,000 employees, so that's actually a small percentage, but still ...) It says the company relentlessly aggregates performance data on everyone from the upper managers to the cafeteria staff and has enacted a program to cull those who don't measure up. (I'm wondering about the metrics for the cafeteria staff. Meals prepared? Meals served?)


Though the IPO promises a sweet payday for those involved and there are some lavish perks along the way, it says the game developers are pushed hard to meet aggressive deadlines and some of its acquisition targets, including Rovio, the maker of "Angry Birds," have taken a look at the company and said, "No thanks." There have been some emotional outbursts that haven't been pretty, though Zynga certainly hasn't cornered the market on that.


Zynga isn't alone in its demanding culture. The story tells of employee lawsuits against rivals Electronic Arts and Activision Blizzard claiming hostile work conditions and withheld compensation. And it quotes Gabrielle Toledano, head of human resources for Electronic Arts, saying:

We've learned that when companies treat talent as a commodity, the consequences are severe. It takes years to repair a reputation.

No doubt Electronic Arts would be only too happy to take some talent off Zynga's hands. In moving to digital, it's on a hiring binge, with plans to add 1,000 employees in the next three years and 5,000 engineers by 2020, FINS reports.


Meanwhile, the article says CEO Mark Pincus is working with consultants to soften his managerial style. At Glassdoor.com, employees rate the company as "OK" to work for, giving Pincus a 46 percent approval rating. Electronic Arts CEO John S. Riccitiello has 50 percent approval and Microsoft's Steve Ballmer 45 percent approval, far below that of Google's Larry Page (96 percent), Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg (94 percent) and Apple's Tim Cook (99 percent).

For those laboring in the trenches, our IT Downloads center offers an excerpt from the book "The Career Programmer: Guerilla Tactics for an Imperfect World." The chapter available for download, "Managing Your Management," offers tips on "managing up" the chain of command.

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