Just Say No

The Only OMGPOP Developer to Say No to Mark Pincus: ‘Zynga Asked For Too Much’

He did it all for the values.
tweeter The Only OMGPOP Developer to Say No to Mark Pincus: Zynga Asked For Too Much

Mr. Pierce (via twitter/IQpierce)

On Shay Pierce’s Twitter bio, the Austin-based designer and developer identifies himself as the maker of the puzzle game Connectrode before concluding with, “I worked for OMGPOP until the Zynga buyout. True story.”

The last line is understandable. On the heels of what played out in the press as a startup fairy tale, with OMGPOP as the long-suffering Cinderella and Mark Pincus as the handsome prince, who would believe someone could resist getting swept up in the acquisitional romance?

Well on Gamasutra today, Mr. Pierce, who has been making games since he was 13-years-old, offers readers a peek into the decision process behind opting out. In the end, he writes, it came down to values.

Zynga was offering “a lucrative salary and solid benefits,” but Mr. Pierce was worried because Connectrode–a deeply personal labor of love that even includes a dedication to his wife–is also sold in the iOS App Store. He was anxious that by signing a contract with Zynga, he might have to give that up.

“When that 11 p.m. call came, the decision I’d feared was exactly the one I was being forced to make: Connectrode or a job with Zynga. I got off the phone and called my attorney. By 1 a.m. we’d drafted a very reasonable addendum to clarify my points. Connectrode makes almost no money anymore — I knew it really shouldn’t be a sticking point if Zynga wanted to give me a job offer. Surely a compromise was achievable, right? I emailed the addendum and went to sleep at 2 a.m.

Nine hours later, I was told that the addendum had been completely rejected — there was no compromise here, and no getting around making this decision.

And then I wondered: why was I even trying to compromise? Zynga has an Austin studio, where several good friends of mine work. Yet I had never applied to Zynga. Why? Because the company’s values are completely opposed to my own values, professionally and creatively. Because I believe that developers are at the front lines of game development and deserve to be treated well, and I didn’t trust Zynga to do so. All this was still true — except that their complete unwillingness to negotiate with me only confirmed my concerns. Why on earth was I even considering joining?”

Mr. Pierce puts an even finer point on his problems with Zynga later on, in the section where he pontificates over whether they’re evil (SPOILER ALERT: Yes, he truly thinks they are!):

“Zynga has been called “evil” by both industry pundits and former employees. I know many developers who find this claim naive. A company seeking profit is never “evil” from the perspective of its stockholders and employees — employees who are normal, real people just trying to pay off mortgages and support their families. So what is “evil”? Can a company be evil?

When an entity exists in an ecosystem, and acts within that ecosystem in a way that is short-sighted, behaving in a way that is actively destructive to the healthy functioning of that ecosystem and the other entities in it (including, in the long term, themselves) — yes, I believe that that is evil. And I believe that Zynga does exactly that.”

Later, Mr. Pierce offers these sobering words of advice to his fellow devs:

“But I exhort game developers: don’t join a company whose values are opposed to your own. Values aren’t just for idealists — they matter. If a company’s practices make you uncomfortable, pay attention to your instincts and be true to them.”

As for Mr. Pierce’s Twitter bio, it’s changed a couple times since this morning and no longer mentions OMGPOP.

screen shot 2012 03 27 at 9 16 14 am The Only OMGPOP Developer to Say No to Mark Pincus: Zynga Asked For Too Much

He is, however, on the hunt for a new gig. Hmm, perhaps Betabeat can help with that.

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com