Neil Roseman probably could have used his technical talents to build a new startup company in Seattle. Instead, the former vice president of engineering at Amazon.com and former CEO at Evri decided to go to work for Zynga, the fast-growing maker of hit games such as FarmVille and Words With Friends.
“There just aren’t that many Zyngas,” said Roseman, when asked why he chose to take a job at the fast-growing gaming company.
Zynga just tossed a swanky bash at its new engineering offices in Pioneer Square’s Washington Shoe Building, obviously targeted at recruiting top developers.
Right now, the offices are pretty much vacant, except for a few Zynga-branded pillows; bean bag chairs, couches and wall hangings. But, over time, the game maker hopes to settle right in. We chatted with Roseman to ask why the 51-year-old joined Zynga, what he’s most excited to work on.
Oh yeah, we also asked him about his favorite Zynga game. Here’s more from our conversation.
“I like games. I’ve never gotten to work in the games industry, and it is always nice to work for something that you at least feel good about and I feel pretty good about letting people play games,” he says.
On choosing Zynga over a startup: “I had a couple ideas that I had been working on, but I had the opportunity to essentially be my own entrepreneur here. Mark (Pincus) really does believe that … and so it seemed like it would be crazy to pass that opportunity by.”
On his desired job: “I am much more excited about getting to build a team and build stuff, then run a company. I am not an operational guy anyway, so I’d always figured that if anything I started got real successful, I’d have to find someone to be CEO because I wouldn’t very good at it. And so this was kind of the best of both worlds.”
What are you going to build here at Zynga Seattle? “Well, whatever I want to. I think that is actually true. So, if I had an amazing game idea, I have no doubt that Mark would say: ‘Go ahead, go do it.’ But what we are working on now is the stuff I’d describe as everything around the games, so to make all of the games better for everyone playing them. So, one of the big public projects is thing I am wearing the T-shirt for, which is RewardVille.”
Will the new office be about creating the tools that power Zynga or actually creating new games? “I think it is a little bit more of the former, and the way I’d think about it is is building consumer Web products that improve Zynga’s network game experience. So, if you could think of anything that could make the gaming experience better across all of our games, that’s the kind of stuff we are looking for.”
How many people are you planning to hire here? “Right now, I think in Seattle we have the opportunity to hire great folks. So, I don’t really have a headcount plan. We will try to hire really great engineers, and at some point we will have enough. Because, there comes a point where new people slow you down. I don’t want to hit that point. I want to make sure we can take them in, and make them productive and feel really good about the ability for Zynga to hire great engineers in Seattle. It is a gaming center. It is a great office, a great space. We will keep it open. I am not worried about trying to get 100 square feet per person…. It can be a lot of fun. I am happy to have open space that we can make fun for as long as possible, so if we have a dozen people for a while, you can actually do a lot with a dozen engineers. Most things were built with a small number of engineers.”
Did Zynga try to get you to move to San Fran to work at the company? “Basically, what happened was I wasn’t sure that I wanted to move. But I really wanted to work at Zynga, and there was a Seattle initiative going on, so I said: ‘Hey, why don’t I do this.’ After talking to Mark, I ended up taking on a role that spans both Seattle and San Francisco, so I actually spend a lot of time in San Francisco.”
What’s your favorite Zynga game? “Words with Friends is probably my consistent favorite. It is just a great implementation, and it is a great social game. I like CityVille a lot, and I like poker.”
Does it concern you that Zynga is so dependent on Facebook? “We have this great relationship with Facebook, so I don’t actually worry about that too much because I think we are creating this really unique value that our users love. It just so happens that the best place to do that for social gaming is Facebook. I think there are a lot of opportunities to expand. ”
So you don’t worry about losing customers? “Great user experiences win, and so we have to focus on building a great user experience. I think a lot about the platform that Zynga is building in the sense that the set of games and the experience around the games.
How did Zynga emerge so quickly, and why didn’t a similar company arise in Seattle first? “I think getting social is hard…. It is clearly not for lack of trying. I think everyone in this city is trying to get social in their games, and it is not easy.”
On having the right leader: “Mark is very focused. A lot of times it comes down to whether you have a great leader who can actually organize a bunch of people around a specific idea, and once that starts to catch fire will he innovate. And the good news is that he started with this idea of social games. Sometimes having a legacy hurts you. It is really hard to break your own mold…. It is one of the reasons why I was at Amazon so long, because it was one of the few companies I’ve seen that was able to break its own mold, and have multiple businesses.”
Here’s Roseman talking more about the new office at the party earlier this week: