Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pincus, The Finkus

What a tremendous dirtbag.

Mark Pincus is CEO of Zynga, creators of FarmVille, PetVille, CloneVille, MillVille, and VilleVille. He's a fascinating personality, because not only is he a dick, it appears that he practically celebrates it.

My name is Mark Pincus, and I'm a dick. Now, the revelry.

Frame of reference? Pincus makes Bobby Kotick look like Papa Smurf.

Let's review.

Initially, there was a presentation given by Pincus at a Startup@Berkeley mixer, where he said this:
I knew that i wanted to control my destiny, so I knew I needed revenues, right, fucking, now. Like I needed revenues now. So I funded the company myself but I did every horrible thing in the book to, just to get revenues right away. I mean we gave our users poker chips if they downloaded this zwinky toolbar which was like, I dont know, I downloaded it once and couldn’t get rid of it. *laughs*


I don't know what it's like in the rest of the world, but in this country, we celebrate result over process. You put nursing home residents through a wood chipper, marketed the results as a "New SPAM," and made $40 million? Up high, winner!

It's not just that the end justifies the means in this country. It's that the end justifies any means.

That's Pincus.

Around the same time as his speech, TechCrunch did a thorough expose of what they called Scamville. The short version: Zynga's games are filled with misleading advertisements for "free" in-game currency that involve hidden subscription fees and outright fraud.

Zynga responded to what had become quite an outrage by saying that they would remove all "offer" advertising from their games.

So, good ending, right?

Well, not exactly. One slimeball tactic terminated, others still in play. From the Wall Street Journal today:
Many of the most popular applications, or "apps," on the social-networking site Facebook Inc. have been transmitting identifying information—in effect, providing access to people's names and, in some cases, their friends' names—to dozens of advertising and Internet tracking companies, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found.

The issue affects tens of millions of Facebook app users, including people who set their profiles to Facebook's strictest privacy settings. The practice breaks Facebook's rules, and renews questions about its ability to keep identifiable information about its users' activities secure.

The apps, ranked by research company Inside Network Inc. (based on monthly users), include Zynga Game Network Inc.'s FarmVille, with 59 million users, and Texas HoldEm Poker and FrontierVille. Three of the top 10 apps, including FarmVille, also have been transmitting personal information about a user's friends to outside companies.


So if one scam stops, there's always another one to take its place. Roaches.

Here's the thing about someone who is so publicly willing to admit they're a dirtbag: it's not like they're going to stop. Even if they try to compartmentalize their dirtbag phase, it's highly unlikely that's who they are in reality. Someone like that is successful precisely because they're a dirtbag. Why would anyone expect someone like that to change?

Then we have the recent publication of FarmVillains, which was an investigative piece by SF Weekly. Check this out:
In light of Zynga's phenomenal rise, one former senior employee recalls arriving at the company eager to discover what new business practices were driving its success in a market where other popular Web 2.0 ventures struggled to make money. What was Zynga's secret? Not long after starting work, he got an answer. It came directly from Zynga founder and CEO Mark Pincus at a meeting. And it wasn't what he expected.

"I don't fucking want innovation," the ex-employee recalls Pincus saying. "You're not smarter than your competitor. Just copy what they do and do it until you get their numbers."

The former employee, who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly about his experience at Zynga, said this wasn't just bluster. Indeed, interviews conducted by SF Weekly with several former Zynga workers indicate that the practice of stealing other companies' game ideas — and then using Zynga's market clout to crowd out the games' originators — was business as usual.

Stay classy, Pincus.

As the former senior employee who listened to Pincus rant against innovation recalls, workers at Zynga were fond of joking (albeit half-seriously) that their firm's unofficial motto was an inversion of Google's famous "Don't Be Evil."

"Zynga's motto is 'Do Evil,'" he says. "I would venture to say it is one of the most evil places I've run into, from a culture perspective and in its business approach. I've tried my best to make sure that friends don't let friends work at Zynga."

It's an amazing read, really, although you'll need a shower afterwards.

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