Zynga CEO Mark Pincus, left, in Seattle with Zynga VP Neil Roseman

The New York Times published an unflattering story this past weekend about the hard-charging culture of game maker Zynga, noting how the maker of FarmVille and Mafia Wars operates like a metrics-driven New York investment bank. Interestingly, Seattle’s PopCap Games, which turned down a buyout offer from Zynga in favor of a deal from Electronic Arts, is featured prominently in the story.

Reporter Evelyn M. Rusli writes that PopCap turned down $950 million in cash from Zynga in part because the founders “worried about the company’s reputation after hearing rumors of the company’s rescinding share awards and fierce internal competition.”

Forbes had already reported that PopCap had turned down an offer for as much as $1 billion from Zynga. But the reasons weren’t spelled out in the story.

The Times’ story also notes that Rovio — maker of Angry Birds — turned down a buyout offer and notes that recruiters have been actively targeting “disgruntled employees” at the company.

Zynga's mission statement adorns the wall at the company's Seattle office

Venture capitalist Michael Arrington has jumped into the fray with a defense of Zynga, noting that EA’s “fingerprints” are all over the story since an executive from the company is quoted as is the venture capitalist Roger McNamee, the former business partner of EA CEO John Riccitiello. Arrington also points out some of the perks at Zynga — including free acupuncture and an organic cafeteria — and writes that a hard-charging environment is exactly the spirit that Silicon Valley is built upon.

Zynga didn’t comment on the story in The New York Times.

Interestingly, Zynga opened a branch office in Seattle earlier this year, led by former Amazon.com and Evri executive Neil Roseman. At the grand opening party, Pincus declared that Zynga operates as a “confederation of entrepreneurs” and offered some particularly interesting comments about the company’s culture. We were there, and took some video of the remarks. Here’s the most interesting comment:

“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.”

Zynga, which has grown to more than 230 million users and over 2,200 employees, filed for an initial public offering in July.

Here are Pincus’ remarks from the Seattle office opening in April, with the remarks about culture occurring in minute six.

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  • Guest

    I don’t understand these complaints about Zynga’s culture being “data-driven.” All companies are data-driven. You won’t last long in business if your primary concerns are feeding your employees wheatgrass juice and broadcasting platitudes over the Tannoy system. Zynga are in business to stick eyeballs to their web games, not to make people feel all warm and fuzzy.

    Make money first, drizzle a little over the employees to keep them happy, repeat. Zynga is continuing to win their industry precisely because of the conditions that make lesser men complain.

    • http://www.atebymonsters.com Matt

      Good points … If people don’t like the culture, then look elsewhere.  I know Zynga wouldn’t be my cup of tea, so I don’t even bother.

      But you can still make money and provide a good work/life balance.

  • http://twitter.com/ResonantInsight Resonant Insights

    This recap of Zynga culture bashing is quite amusing.  When will Silicon Valley (or Wall Street for that matter) wake up to “it’s about people stupid!”?  Yes money does drive value but it’s not the be all and end all.  What the current market is demanding is authentic connection with the customer.  If Zynga has that–more power to them.

    I for one prefer to focus on great examples like Zappos.  In case you didn’t know Tony Hsieh and his management team distributed their $1.25 billion Amazon proceeds to their employees based on % of compensation.  Now that’s walking the talk of culture folks.  The old mentality of “drizzle a little over the employees to keep them happy” will only retain fear and scarcity in our continuing competitive environment.  Instead to truly innovate and expand–get creative about the ROI of Delivering Happiness.

    • Guest

      How do you think Zappos got to be worth $1.25 billion? Were they literally chucking money at their employees before the merger or after?

      Work, realize reward, receive money, repeat. The value of hard work is not just an “old mentality.”

  • http://ClaussConcept.com Jason Gerard Clauss

    Is anyone surprised that the company that makes FarmVille has a screwed up culture? The entire revenue model they’re based on naturally creates shit games. Of course, they are but one of MANY factors in the decline of games in the past half-decade.

    • Guest

      Losers hate. Winners create.

      • http://ClaussConcept.com Jason Gerard Clauss

        Zynga employees rhyme.

        • Guest

          (Not a Zynga employee)

          • Tim Clemons

            Can we just hate you for rhyming, then?

  • http://twitter.com/WhiiteSauce Nick White

    It is too bad that Zynga are in their pre-IPO quiet period. I doubt this debate would be so heated if they could defend themselves.

  • Guest

    Ultimately they are guilty of making horrible, horrible games – hard to say if their culture is responsible

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