I started my new job as Product Manager at Zynga today. I had to come to the main office in San Francisco at 7:00 AM this morning for orientation.
Next week, all of the new hires will be put through a rigorous boot camp to learn the fundamentals of spec writing, reporting, and game design. It should be interesting.
I accepted this job in January of 2013. It wasn’t an easy decision. Zynga, as you know, fell on pretty hard times due to over-reliance on the Facebook platform for its social games. While companies like King and Supercell have dominated on mobile platforms, Zynga has been slow to pivot.
At the time I signed my offer letter, Zynga had just completed a round of layoffs. When the news broke, I seriously considered looking elsewhere. But then, some of my friends who worked at Zynga convinced me that things were actually much rosier than they appeared from the outside looking in. Specifically, the company was doubling-down on big mobile bets and branching out into Midcore games (e.g. casual games with competitive and strategic elements). Most of the layoffs were to close down satellite offices. Additionally, a new CEO from Microsoft was coming in to inject life into the studios and shake things up. I realized that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join a company that once tasted runaway success, felt that success slip away, and now looked to reinvent itself.
So that’s where I am today. I’m a new grad who’s hungry and eager to learn about mobile platforms, game mechanics, and data-driven design. I realize that a lot of hardcore gamers hate Zynga because they feel it’s cheapening games by turning what are essentially passion projects into money-making Skinner boxes.
As a hardcore gamer, I see things a little differently. Zynga designs games for a completely new audience: moms, grandparents, etc. The company is teaching basic game mechanics to people who know nothing about games. The fact that I can have a conversation about my mom about experience points, levels, and timed challenges without a puzzled look on her face is great.
Hardcore gamers can always fall back on their hardcore games. Casual gamers can be surprised and delighted by their casual games. There’s no conflict here.