Zynga’s remarkable growth may be tied to hit games such as FarmVille, CityVille and Mafia Wars. But there’s another secret to the company’s crazy success: a decentralized structure which rewards entrepreneurial employees. Mark Pincus laid out that vision tonight as the Zynga founder and CEO spoke at the grand opening of the company’s new Seattle engineering office in Pioneer Square.
At this point, the office — located in the historic Washington Shoe Building — has more trendy couches than desks. But that’s set to change as Neil Roseman, an Amazon veteran and newly-appointed Zynga vice president, looks to boost hiring at the 5,850 square foot office.
We captured Pincus’ remarks (video posted below), who also discussed some of the heavy-duty technical challenges facing the four-year-old company. Zynga attracts more than 250 million active monthly users, with those users sharing some eight billion “neighbor connections.” It is a massive collection of data, and a big “technology challenge,” he says.
On the company’s mission: “This concept of helping people find five minutes in their day to play. I know there is a whole discussion about the games industry, and people kind of segment themselves that they are a gamer, or not a gamer. I think that there’s a bigger opportunity than that. And just like Amazon built out ‘shop’ on the Internet and made that a verb … we want to build out play. And I think play is such a powerful word, and it is much more aspirational than a lot of things you can do on the Internet.”
On facing technical challenges: “In order to build out this opportunity around play, we need to solve a lot of interesting technical problems and user experience issues because to get you to the point that you can play, we need your friends to be there with you and we need to have something that you want to play, they want to play it, and you are connected through time and space when you are never in the same time or space with your friends, and you may not even be on the same networks or devices.”
On the complexity of social games: “While it sounds simple to get you to play with your friends, our lives have made it really complex and not that easy. If we do our jobs right at Zynga — just like Amazon — play and games seems simple and available and it seems like your friends are just their waiting for you, but behind the scenes there’s a ton of innovation that we have to do to make that a reality.”
On the Wal-Mart effect: “What can we do to, I like to say, have the equivalent of the the Wal-Mart greeter. That is as you come to the game knows something about you, and knows whether you are engaged in the game and interested … and knows whether you are having a lot of what I call social liquidity: Are your friends active and do you need more friends to have a good social experience,
On expanding to Seattle: “The Seattle angle for us is we’ve envied the level of engineering talent up here in Seattle from a distance for a long time, and we’ve tried to recruit people from Seattle and get them to move to San Francisco, with very limited success. I guess people like the weather and the coffee. (Laughs). It is always good weather when I am here, which is not often. For us, we are excited about having an office here where we can recruit both world-class engineers and world-class entrepreneurs.
On the entrepreneurial culture: “The way Zynga is set up is we are a confederation of entrepreneurs and CEOs, and that is what our culture is all about. The only way we have been able to grow this fast has been by recruiting people who really want a clear mission, they want to own a product and they want to have clear goals for their products, and they want to be left alone or helped to be successful. We are a very decentralized company with that kind of structure.
On what may come out of the Seattle office: “We hope that in Seattle, we can have several product groups that can be on those kinds of missions, but leverage the incredible depth of engineering talent that is here, but is becoming very hard for us to get at the scale we need in San Francisco.”