Disgruntled Workers

Trash-Talking Former Zynga Engineer Is Back With a Kickstarter

After a tell-all on Reddit stained his name in the Valley, Slade Villena decided to go indie.
thor inf Trash Talking Former Zynga Engineer Is Back With a Kickstarter

(mercenary-games.com)

Rejecting work at monster game factory Zynga for the sake of higher principles seems to be a bit of a trope these days. Slade Villena, who worked as a low-level engineer at Zynga, took to Reddit in February after he quit to spill his guts about his former employer. The resulting thread went viral, with juicy tidbits about how Zynga optimizes for players that spend more than $10,000, maximizes profit at the expense of fun, releases unstable code, and treats contractors like “second class citizens.”

Since the story blew up, Mr. Villena has been “getting ‘you’ll never work in this town again!’ sort of emails,” from Silicon Valley types. So he recruited a crew of programmers who are similarly disgruntled by the corporate game-making machine and turned to Kickstarter to raise money for FleetCOMM: Operation Vigrior, a web and mobile strategy game.

His crew, Mercenary Games, declares its principles like the blurb on the back of your organic soy yogurt: “We believe in independent technology, and building games from the ground up. We do not ‘clone’ games, we mutate and splice game mechanics, to evolve, to prototype, and to play.”

Mr. Villena wrote to Betabeat, hoping to get more press for the Kickstarter campaign, which has raised 58 percent of its goal with 11 days to go. Programmers are not respected in Silicon Valley’s gaming scene, he said; “it’s all about the people who can drive money and numbers,” as he witnessed during his last two months at Zynga, when the company was scrambling to file its IPO. “That said, and the kind of culture that revolves around SV, I don’t stand a chance to ever get hired in any studio, nor would anyone in my crew,” Mr. Villena said.

Do you regret going public with your criticism? we asked.

“Honestly, I just wanted to rant in a bar about it, let people know what the raw deal is about ‘social’ gaming,” he wrote.  The Reddit thread ended up dividing readers with more than 4,000 upvotes and 2,600 downvotes.

“I felt the whole conversation about these companies only focuses on the money being made, and I never saw such a wasteful culture inside any kind of company,” he wrote. “The industry is designed to burn out new graduates, then rehire a new batch coming next year. They know that people have to get jobs, and they don’t care if they burn out all the talent coming out of university life.”

In a follow-up email over the weekend, Mr. Villena wrote back again to apologize in case his emails sounded melodramatic. “I’ve had too many friends and a lot of people I respect get burned by Zynga’s managerial caste,” he wrote. “The Kickstarter project is a lot funnier: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3Sdb2XoCjQ. We’re happy, but we are broke.” He appended a smiley.

Follow Adrianne Jeffries on Twitter or via RSS. ajeffries@observer.com