You have my respect, Shay Pierce.
Exactly. The headline is wildly misleading - he didn't opt out of the buy-out, his small equity stake was bought. The value of the buy-out is irrelevant, and it's unlikely that the offer he got was off-the-charts above what he could get somewhere else - He said it was a standard offer, so most likely it was what he made before + n%.
It came across as very professional to me.
The argument given was also understandable and deserving of my respect.
Surely there were other developers who had "side projects" they really loved who happily went with Zynga. I really have to question why this guy was the _only_ one who didn't jump ship. Sure you can write a post claiming to be the white knight and not another corporate zombie like the rest, but that's very rarely the case.
I see this as a power play. Instead of being a "Zynga acquisition", I think he saw it as much more beneficial to be the David vs. Goliath. Good for him, I guess.
He seems to be pretty clear that he heavily debated the idea with himself and ultimately realized that his long term beef with the way he understands Zynga to operate doesn't work for him. The rejection of his addendum seemed like it was just icing on the cake. He deserves the praise he's getting for being honest with himself and the reader, not accused of making a "power play" just because you, or anyone else, can't rationalize the decision any other way. This is the kind of reaction that keeps us from having nice things.
So he's simultaneously got a reminder that his own work is important to him, a bit of breathing room from his chunk of the buyout and an opportunity to start off with a bit of a "bang" PR-wise.
What entrepreneur would pass up on that?
If a company's not willing to be flexible about something like this, then it is the last place you want to be working.
It makes Zynga look arrogant, inflexible and downright mean.
If a big company buys a small company, how common is it do contract negotations with the employees of the small company? or is the "take it or leave" approach the norm?
Sometimes, acquisitions are for talent reasons, sometimes it is for product reasons. In the former, you buy a company specifically to acquire a person (or people). Those people are aware of this & have some negotiating power. Similarly, in the latter, the acquiring company might want to keep the product team in tact (at least for a short while), so they might have some power, but in both cases, the other people are more or less on their own with a "take it or leave it" type of offer with very minimal room for negotiation. There will be examples counter to this, but this is in my experience (mostly from the "big company" POV).
Here's a guy who has enough mojo that he produced a well-reviewed game on his own. That's exactly the kind of person I like to hire because they can think broadly about the work in a way that many people can't. Zynga obviously doesn't want employees devoting significant time to competing with them. But leaving the game up does no harm. So they negotiate the exception, file the paragraph away for when this comes up again, and everybody's happy.
What we learn from this is that they don't really want people this smart and creative. They want somebody mindlessly obedient who will go and do the dubious things Zynga does.
So I think it's more accurate to say that managers thrive on process more than empowerment, because a lot of companies are functionally equivalent to feudal empires in their social structure.
Of course, refusing to negotiate has the effect of establishing a particular kind of power relationship with the potential employee, which could be one of their goals.
Especially in Zynga's case, when they are quite used to people having side projects. What the author didn't mention was that Z has a standard Prior Inventions addendum. I should know, our company was acquired by Zynga, and 100% of the offer letters were accepted. Several of us had prior works and side projects, including my cofounder, and we simply listed them.
What he wanted sounds like some specific addendum that called out his app and maybe made some forward looking promises about it... Or... Something.
"But I exhort game developers: don't join a company whose values are opposed to your own. Values aren't just for idealists -- they matter. If a company's practices make you uncomfortable, pay attention to your instincts and be true to them."
Replace "game developers" with "developers" or even "humans" and it still works.
There are two ways to lead by example in this situation. One is to walk away. The other is to breed change. Don't discredit the latter.
On the other hand, most often than not, you'll be tilting at windmills.
You have to recognize when you have a real chance, and not fight a losing cause. I guess the standard advice works in this case as well: fail fast :)
I've ignored my own advice and am stuck on a company with a toxic IT department, I tried for years to change it, but upper management is not interested and the IT managers were clueless and only interested in keeping their jobs.
As long as anyone but you holds the gold, it's much harder to engender change. Putting them out of business, on the other hand, has the awesome side effect of getting one rich while doing the right thing.
Once you start screwing other people over for a living, it's a hard trap to get out of. Partly because that's now your expertise. And partly because your perception shifts. As Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"
So in this case, if his prior contract did not have the objectionable clause, the new employer may not add it.
But then again, employees can also legally expect to receive a decent amount of holiday, and a number of other rights not accorded to those in the US.
And I think the state needs to stand up for employees, because (especially non-unionized) employees in most professions are never going to have the bargaining power to make it a fair relationship.
(I say this as an employer not an employee)
But we have to remember that not every other industry works the same as ours.
Imagine an average mother working at the tills at Walmart. Is she ever going to be good enough at that job that she is going to earn 'bargaining power' by virtue of her merit?
No. Some jobs can be done without a huge amount of training, talent or skill. It is in the company's interest to push down pay and working conditions as much as possible (as the employee is easily replaceable). Therefore it is the state's job to set minimum standards.
Even then there are protections about sacking too many people at once. ie, you can't redefine an entire department's responsibilities and then sack them for not doing their new unrealistic job roles.
Once you meet a certain threshold of layoffs everyone has to go through the redundancy process of getting a pay-out, being offered services to find a new job, etc., etc.
(IANAL, IIRC, etc.)
The employment relationship (in the UK, at any rate) is a contractual arrangement between two parties. One side of that agreement can't opt out of their legal obligations by playing corporate musical chairs.
This was the right move, although I wonder why it took until literally the 11th hour to make it. Now I don't know the circumstances so I don't know how long there was between the offer and the required acceptance, but I do know that the first thing you should do when you get such an offer, is take it to your attorney and tell them what you want out of the deal, and see if the agreement/contract gives you that. If not, you have your attorney draft an addendum and you add that. Then its a simple yes/no kind of thing.
Be aware that since most companies have already spent a bunch of legal $$ getting the original contract/offer written they are going to measure their willingness to accept it or negotiate based on how much they want you. If you are just one of the bunch, probably not at all, if you're special in some way, then perhaps some.
Take away is that you should not take it personally if they choose to say no, and it sounds like the author didn't take it personally. Lately at some big companies it seems like it would be best if your brought your attorney with you on the first day to go over the paperwork they ask you to sign, it is getting that complicated.
I have a feeling this is more common when a big company buys a small one, and/or when it's not an explicit talent acquisition.
It is really, really sad seeing these transformations affecting nearby companies almost every month. And it can be really sudden, it may take even 6 months to change your software think tank into a wannabe-corporation with timesheets and firewalls.
And I ask myself each time - is there a way to avoid this? I understand we need to standarize "the business" at some point to make it scalable but is it the only way? Can't we build seperate team of strong individuals and just allow them to do their best giving them some financing and office, and let them grow to a specific point of splittage? Wait, isn't it actually similar to what YC is doing?
What do you think? Don't we all dream of building a giant soul-eating monster at the of the road?
I guess the message is simple: if you want your business to not either become or get acquired by a nasty big monolith, don't take VC funding.
I've yet to find another way.
To recap: Shay seemed intent on preserving control over Connectrode, even though it wasn't making any money and going nowhere. But after getting turned down by Zynga, he had an epiphany: he had never applied to Zynga even though they are right there in Austin.
I've seen this happen a few times. When we don't want to do something, our conscious mind will come up with some excuse ("their cafeteria is not good, and I'm a strict vegan", or "they use python, and I'm a Perl guy", or something inane like that). But deep down we already know we don't want to do that; we're just coming up with some overt justification for our decision.
I'd be willing to bet that even if Zynga agreed to his terms, he wouldn't have joined. His gut told him it was not a good fit for a variety of reasons, many of which probably he himself doesn't know.
Moral of the story is: we should listen to our gut more often. It speaks very softly, but it's usually right.
A big takeaway from this article is what one can learn from the example of Shay's all-too-uncommon level of insight. He should be credited for listening to his intuition, then making a logical, rational, and moral decision based on it.
Too often, people ignore that "quiet voice inside", much to the detriment of their moral and personal well-being.
An interesting point, made by a friend  recently at dinner: companies can't be evil.
Companies can't love, they can't be loyal or caring; they can't be malevolent or heartless. Only people can be those things.
What we mean when we label companies that way is that their employees have acted that way. It's ethical hackery to absolve someone of malevolent acts because they were in the service of an abstraction. We may still continue using that sort of short-hand, but it's important to remember that at the end of the day, a company that's being "evil" is really a bunch of individuals that are collectively and actively making decisions to hurt others.
The whole purpose of a company is to absolve the individuals involved of some legal consequences. I think right now we are having a debate over exactly how far that absolution extends.
I could imagine a situation where each individual was acting ethically, but the emergent behavior was still unethical. For example, each individual manager might be promoting the worker they feel is best-qualified for the job, but over-all hiring patterns end up being discriminatory due to small, unnoticed biases. Corporations are emergent systems, much like programs themselves. Race conditions, concurrency, stampeding herd dynamics, failing to have anyone be responsible for important considerations: all the downfalls of parallelism apply to human organizations as well.
That's funny because for the past few months, my mind has replayed Romney's quote every time I've heard someone say 'corporation'. I don't know why, it just happens.
You make some good points, of course. A company is a single entity after all.
I bet Cash4Gold has a ton of friendly ethical people working the lower ranks, but that doesn't balance out the fact that the entire organization is a scam.
What you did there is the anti-thesis to my point though: if your job requires you to make specific decisions that you feel are hurting others, you are not absolved of that malevolence just because of "corporate culture". You are still an individual making decisions that you believe will hurt other people. (And that you'd be rewarded for such is even less morally relevant.) Naturally there tends to be more of that decision making power resting with the executives.
Culture is useful if we want to understand the context and root of ethical or unethical acts, but it doesn't whitewash them – most people don't believe that growing up in a tough neighborhood makes it ok to steal, even if it does give that act context.
So, when it's stealing or starving, and I'm offered a job at Cash4Gold, should I reject it?
I think that's factually true, but the moral implication is false. Nobody says, "Oh, it's not his fault the mob assigned him to break kneecaps. He doesn't set the policies, you know."
I view Apple's stance on intellectual property to be 'evil', the fact that they would rather use lawyers than engineers, reduce competition rather than increase it to win their battles, it's an 'evil' concept to me, which is why I will never use apple and always give my opinion to family members on why to avoid them when asked.
Technically they're not a person and cannot have any standing, but the worldviews of the culture, when sufficiently opposed to our own, are indistinguishable from 'evil'
>Because the company's values are completely opposed to my own values, professionally and creativel
>An evil company is trying to get rich quick, and has no regard for the harm they're doing along the way
Why does he not give any examples of how Zynga is evil? Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to defend them. I honestly don't even know and now I'm curious. The only thing I know about Zynga is from their stock revoking mess that occurred around the IPO.
As for specific reasons why they could be viewed as such, there are plenty out there already. Here's an AMA with a previous engineer that doesn't paint a pretty picture:
Job contracts are frequently overly zealous and heavily biased in favour of the employer, rather than the employee. Conflicts of interest are sometimes hard to spot. I have been in this situation, and it isn't pleasant.
Always qualify and question everything. The OP has earned himself the right to pat himself on the back (in my humble opinion).
This deal looks like win-win, but maybe it's a bigger win for Zynga, as it removes one potentially dangerous competitor from the market.
But I mean, its OK to love something and we all love our creations, but I wonder if I'd have viewed the thing that I loved, as a platform that was moving me onto the fastest growing, possibly largest game platform of our generation. The biggest player of the industry "I" belong to.
It would have been a sad moment perhaps, but I'd have sacrificed it in a ceremony if it meant that much, but tailed it into a drinks of celebration and the start of a new zynga-charged chapter. Just my 2c.
"When an entity exists in an ecosystem, and acts within that ecosystem in a way that is short-sighted, behaving in a way that is actively destructive to the healthy functioning of that ecosystem and the other entities in it (including, in the long term, themselves) -- yes, I believe that that is evil. And I believe that Zynga does exactly that.
A "good" company is one which provides goods or services of real value in exchange for a fair price. A good game company recognizes that its developers are the ones who create that value, and treats them as valuable, especially if they are good at what they do. It follows practices that are sustainable. And it ensures that, at the end of the day, the world is a little better for having their goods and services.
An evil company is trying to get rich quick, and has no regard for the harm they're doing along the way. It's not making things of value, it's chasing a gold rush. An evil game company isn't really interested in making games, it's too busy playing a game -- a game with the stock market, usually. It views players as weak-minded cash cows; and it views its developers as expendable, replaceable tools to create the machines that milk those cows."
(I hope this wonderful rant gets you the boost in app sales it deserves. 70% of my 0.99c is headed your way - and I _never_ play puzzle games…)
Certainly they could prohibit him from continuing to work on it while employed at Zynga, though.
It's a shame Shay didn't join Zynga so that he could see how we really operate and how we really think about our players instead of taking on what is essentially an uninformed and cliched conventional wisdom opinion about the company.
I don't know anything about contracts, so I have no opinions about that part. I just take issue w/ the last half of his article that slanders me and my team without any first-hand knowledge in order to market his new dev shop.
Judging a company by what they do publicly rather than what they might say or think privately seems like a smart move on his part.
If you want your peers to think better of Zynga, the onus is on you, not them.
With less than 24 hours to decide -- a timeframe set by Zynga -- what exactly is he supposed to decide on beyond his impressions at the negotiations' start?
And he went out of his way to _not_ slander Zynga. He didn't claim to be poorly treated, makes no complaint about Zynga pursuing its own interests. He mentions his respect for a number of your colleagues. He calls the company "evil" but so carefully defines the term that it's clear he means "unsustainable" and "short term cash flow maximizing". You don't agree and that's what makes a market.
You want a chance to bridge the gap between your understanding and his? Get on the horn to Corporate, get a carve-out for Connectrode, then call him up and make him an offer, same terms as Monday but without the crazy deadline.
To employ a bit of basic systems thinking, "the purpose of a system is what it does." When it comes to the actions of this system named Zynga, intentions don't matter. Only actions and effects.
In this context, the purpose of Zynga is to clone other developers' games. To create addictive positive feedback loops that exploit players lacking in self control. To ignore/break my iOS notification settings (OK, a mere personal gripe). ETC. Is that the whole story? Of course not. But a system that does these things was put in place by humans, and a lot of other humans think it's a nasty way of business.
"Hey, let's make a carbon copy of this popular tower game."
"Sure! That sits pretty good with me morally."
Mr. Pierce: here is something you need to look into with a competent attorney - I don't see a reason, with your next game, why you should not use the term: "Programmed by 'Draw Something'(r) Developer". Ability to use this line alone (which is the truth), after all the media-steam Zynga/OMGPOP's deal is getting, should land you a dream job at almost any game-developing house around the world!
Good luck with your future endeavors. And let us know what you're working on.
You mean beside him saying he never worked on that project, right? Seems like a step backward off of the moral high-ground he's taking to lie about something like that.
- I didn't work on Draw Something.
If i ever start a company i want this guy on board.
He got paid for what he owned of OMGPOP, he didn't opt out of that. Title is deceiving. This is a post about someone who opted out of a job offer because of a personal project he felt more passionate about.
I just purchased Connectrode, as well as his other game Great Land Grab Plus (mainly because I had a very similar idea for a game in the early iPhone SDK days, and wanted to check out his take on it).
He turned down the job offer at zynga not the equity, or the buyout itself.
One clarification: I didn't choose the title of this article and I am not confirming or denying any sum of how much the Zynga/OMGPOP buyout was for - I honestly was not privy to what that amount was, and I don't know anything more than the public information on that point.