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Anonymous Is Going After Zynga For Mistreating Employees (techcrunch.com)
106 points by psycho 1845 days ago | hide | past | web | 83 comments | favorite

As a current zynga contractor who is losing his job there next Friday, I have to admit I have mixed feelings about this.

Firstly, I don't see the employees being let go as victims, most are getting 3 months severance. Secondly, I don't think there is any real evil going on by Zynga; they accidentally hired more people than they can afford, it sucks as I'm one of them, but I fundamentally agree with the notion of at-will employment in the US.

Can you say what product you are working on? How would you describe the game design philosophy for your team, or Zynga overall?

I think when people say Zynga is evil, they largely point to three things:

* spaminess of the games

* propensity to copy other products rather than come up with original ideas

* tuning of games to maximize revenues from individual players

Do you think these are fair judgments about Zynga's methods? Is Zynga more guilty of these tendencies than other gaming companies?

As a hardcore/indie gamer myself, I understand that a lot of hardcore gamers are turned away by Zynga.

But I'm not Zynga's target audience, and that's okay. And there's a lot of sympathy for your point about the "spaminess."

However, going from spammy/over-monetizing to evil has always seemed a tad dramatic to me.

The games are designed to both get people addicted, and to get your friends involved by manipulating social gift reciprocity obligations. I think we'd have settled for "awful" up until the clawbacks, now we know the leadership at Zynga is sociopathic at best. Maybe not evil, but totally unscrupulous, totally unsympathetic.

I think the leap from "spamminess" to "evil" is helped by those other two things he pointed out.

I think the reasons you list are why people really dislike Zynga, but those things alone are not enough to explain the pure hate people have for the company.

The reason I think they are evil is the way they treat their employees, beginning with forcing developers to give back stock before their IPO. This latest stunt is just piling on.

Thats standard, two months(60 days) are required by California Law(WARN act) and one month pay is usually tied to an agreement that you won't sue.

IANAL, but I'm fairly confident that you're wrong about CA requiring severance pay under the WARN act, and I don't think you should be giving legal advice if you're not a lawyer. Your post can mislead a lot of people on HN.

The law:

An employer must give notice 60-days prior to a plant closing, layoff or relocation. In addition to the notifications required under federal WARN, notice must also be given to the Local Workforce Investment Board, and the chief elected official of each city and county government within which the termination, relocation or mass layoff occurs. (California Labor Code Section 1401)

No one gives notice because of the risk that employees will do something malicious and instead just pay out the 60 days(with benefits including vacation accrual). I've done 3 sets of layoffs at my old company as a manager and was eventually layed off. At non California locations and offices that were too small to fall under WARN, we terminated employees with no severance except one month that was attached to an agreement not to sue. BTW, nothing i said was legal advice just simply stating that 3 months is standard for California.

Minor nitpick: He isn't giving legal advice: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_advice

Also, you did the exact same thing he/she did when you said you didn't think the warn act requires severance so even if what he/she did was giving legal advice, your comment would fall under the exact same category.

If that was legal advise that was given, then can I warn you to stop giving legal advise about legal advise? Thanks.

If you didn't pay money for it, it's not legal advice.

You might want to tell pro bono lawyers that. They've been giving free legal advise for some time now.

This isn't a courtroom; they use agreements. I could be parsey to hunt down and list all the exceptions, but my point is true for the general case of legal discussions on the Internet. "If you have no client relationship with the person offering the advice" just seemed kind of clunky, you know?

3 months! Wow that's way more than generous. Anon might want to target someone else

How do you "accidentally" hire more people than you can afford?

I could see two people both hiring a janitor without realizing it, but not "accidentally" hiring a lot of developers, designers or whatever else.

> How do you "accidentally" hire more people than you can afford?

Making predictions is difficult, especially about the future.

So it's not really an accident. They meant to hire those people, they were just bad at forecasting. To me, those are separate issues.

You expect to make more revenue than you actually do.

So you didn't "accidentally" hire people. You did it with a lack of foresight. To me, that's different.

Saying you accidentally hired people makes it sound softer than it really is. If Raytheon or Boeing hired 2,000 people ahead of a defense contract they were sure they'd get, and didn't that wouldn't be an "accident." That would be poor planning (counting your eggs before they hatch kind of thing.)

Either way, I don't really care either way about Zynga. I don't think I've ever played their games, but at the same time I'm not hoping they fail.

You are a middle manager. Do you say "bob in the other department hired 5 people, so I guess I'll stick with the three I have"? Nope. You go straight to your VP and say a rival VP just got five guys, where's mine. If hiring is decentralized and no one is concerned about costs you end up growing exponential.

That sounds like what would happen at Strawman, Inc. I've worked at a bunch of companies, big and small, and have never seen hiring justified like that.

Now, getting people and teams transferred once they are hired? That's a whole different story.

What do you propose caused Zynga management to vastly overhire and conduct layoffs?

They expected faster growth than what actually happened. It's possible that the CEO approved each individual hire and they still could have overhired.

Then the VP is not doing his/her job correctly. Someone needs to be aware of the budget for salaries and be responsible for ensuring it isn't exceeded (and held accountable if it is).

It's also very backwards (government-level!) thinking to be playing the hiring quota game like that. I'd much rather hire a few members in a kick-ass team than participate in a headcount battle.

I agree with your statements, but those are arguments about how it should be, and not how it is.

Seems to me that they need the level of developers they have, because they've said they are moving their whole division to India.

That's not a mass redundancy, that's a mass replacement.

I would be shocked if this isn't actually just a post-rationalization for previously completed hacking activity (which has been the majority of their previous M.O.)

Thanks for saying this as sometimes I'm afraid that Anonymous gets too much respect around here. You mention their M.O. which seems to basically be hack something, release tons of private or damaging information then say its because the people they hacked were evil. In reality its a bunch of bullshit. If they had hacked the American Cancer Society or even Piratebay or Wikileaks they'd come up with some reason they were evil.

Shit was cute at first but now its just looking like a reason hack for its own sake. And the whole grandiose "Hacktivist" identity they've garnered is now looking more and more like its also bullshit.

Right, but they didn't hack the ACS, or Piratebay, or Wikileaks. That's worth keeping in mind.

No, but there was the Epilepsy Foundation, back in the day. I tend to draw a distinction though between Chanology, /i/, Op Payback, and OWS flavours of Anonymous, despite a great deal of overlap in the people involved.

This idea of Anonymous being (or seeing themselves as) a force for good is actually pretty new. I'm thinking it can probably be traced back to the financial blockade against Wikileaks and the response thereto. Coming just as it did after the resurrection of Anonymous during Op Payback, I think the response to Wikileaks' trials probably brought in a lot of new people with a much different set of ideals than those who came before.

Epilepsy Foundation was widely speculated to be a Church of Scientology false-flag operation. Don't know if anything was ever proven either way.

I'd say the idea of Anonymous being a force for good goes all the way back to the Hal Turner raid. Before then it was all about spoiling other people's fun (Habbo Hotel etc.), but after targeting this white supremacist (basically by accident) suddenly people realised that maybe this power could be directed against those who really deserve it. Chanology and all the rest of it came out of that.

>Epilepsy Foundation was widely speculated to be a Church of Scientology false-flag operation.

That rumour was started by 7chan, where the raid originated. They also blamed ebaumsworld, because they always blamed ebaumsworld.

It strikes me as naive to think that they would be capable of launching a false flag operation that so closely emulated Anon's previous raids, given how inept the CoS was in responding to Chanology, and how readily and willingly they fed the trolls. The choice of target, means of attack, and escalation of the raid were all classic Anon.

> Epilepsy Foundation was widely speculated to be a Church of Scientology false-flag operation.

A curious thought: are false-flag operations even possible with Anonymous, which is a label anyone can take, not an organisation?

If Church of Scientology decides to hack Epilepsy foundation and call themselves Anonymous, then they are Anonymous. And hacking to troll and upset some group of people is certainly within the usual motivations of Anonymous activity.

>A curious thought: are false-flag operations even possible with Anonymous, which is a label anyone can take, not an organisation?

Meh. Ultimately Anonymous does describe a particular cluster of people and behaviours, however loosely affiliated - and rightly or wrongly, they do have a reputation to discredit. When one incident is an outlier both in terms of action and (alleged) perpetrators, I think it's fair to call it a false-flag operation.

>hacking to troll and upset some group of people is certainly within the usual motivations of Anonymous activity.

Absolutely, but hacking to cause actual physical injury is far less so IME.

The inner nerd in me would love the opportunity to take a peak at some Zynga game code, but the exterior sensible adult in me has mixed feelings about this. The employee's weren't terminated without pay, the employees are being gracefully compensated, I don't see what Zynga have done wrong here other than failing to predict how many employees they actually needed. Any company regardless of money in their bank is entitled to make their own decisions and trim excess staff, it's called business and I am sure even a profitable company like Apple if in the same situation would do the same thing.

So releasing employees from their ahem employ is mistreatment? These kids need to stick their noses back in their schoolwork.

More likely this is a build-up of many offenses, like Pincus' past threatening to fire employees if they didn't surrender their stock.

Pincus is a scum-bag of the first order and is ruining startup employee confidence in the value of their equity. He's poisoning the well for the rest of us.

Anonymous is silly in their own way, but you shouldn't be so quick to dismiss things or actions you don't understand.

Actually, you don't understand Zynga since you're relying on rumor and hearsay. I've worked as Zynga. Things aren't as black and white as you think they are.

I don't think he has to have worked at Zynga to understand the problem. Zynga is hardly the only one, but they are one of the biggest of the new crop of startups that grew huge and IPOed to the benefit of very few employees.

Back in the "old days", even when you move the "old days" up to include Google's IPO, a company with such a massive liquidity event could be expected to result in a lot of wealth spread out among early employees. Even receptionists, chefs, etc could cash out big paydays.

With the way things are now, companies are often structured such that unless you're a founder with an ironclad paper trail of equity ownership, you probably aren't going to be walking away with much more money than what you'd get from a particularly good yearly bonus at a large company, and that's absolutely best-case. More likely is that a liquidity event will occur where nobody but preferred stock owners will see a single dime.

This perception is absolutely a problem for the overall startup ecosystem and plays into why everyone involved wants to be a founder and not just an early employee and this in turn plays into why all these startups all these founders are founding are having massive problems hiring non-founder employees.

As a potential startup employee, your biggest concern shouldn't be whether the company fails spectacularly. Failure sucks, but that's easy enough to get past psychologically. Your biggest concern should be what if the company is extremely successful and you get screwed anyway. Because while this is statistically less likely than spectacular failure, it is much harder to deal with and more common than a lot of people think.

>you shouldn't be so quick to dismiss things or actions you don't understand.

Instead you should offer more speculation on top of what You don't understand?

Which part of his response was speculation, that Zynga is poisoned from the top?

Mob vigilante acts are not excusable. Not even if you dislike Pincus.

Well, in many countries it is illegal.

I'm not really looking to debate the rights or wrongs of at will employment, but it's pretty common in Europe that sacking a worker requires going through a lot of legal hoops (broadly speaking, unless they've committed gross misconduct, you have to show that you've made efforts to help them improve, that you've provided guidance, and that you've given clear and explicit warnings). Laying them off in Zynga's circumstances involves statutory redundancy regulations (including minimum redundancy payouts according to length of service etc etc).

So I think that it is somewhat unfair to say that their position is fundamentally juvenile or under-informed - agree with it or not, laws based on the principle that you can't sack employees at will are very well entrenched and popular in a number of countries.

> it's pretty common in Europe that sacking a worker requires going through a lot of legal hoops

If the position is truly superfluous (1) and you can't use the employee in another position (2), sacking is entirely hassle-free.

(1) This implies that you cannot hire into this position for 1 year, without offering it to the previously sacked employee first.

(2) Considering reasonable retraining and acceptable skillset.

And this is one of the reasons unemployment in certain Eurozone countries is so high. It's better not to hire when you're unsure about future demand because you're sure as hell not going to be able to fire them.

This is plain wrong. Unemployment in Eurozone is so high because of a lot of other Problems. Switzerland has also quite a lot of laws which protect employees and the rate is lower than in a lot of countries.

Please read what economists have written before you add your opinion.

One analysis of Europe's inflexible labor market is here, by the IMF: http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2000/06/soltwede.h...

Europe's ridiculous labor regulations do more to strangle startups in the crib than almost anything else. Zynga may have done some unethical things, but firing employees they didn't need was not one of them.

"Europe's ridiculous labor regulations do more to strangle startups in the crib than almost anything else"

Or alternatively, and this is just my opinion here, you could say that Europe's labor regulations help protect employees from unscrupulous employers seeking to take advantage.

I just don't buy the argument that EU labour laws "strangle startups". Firstly, the actual laws vary from country to country. Secondly, most labour restrictions are phased in over the course of employment. For example, in the UK employees can be dismissed without reason for up two years from the date of hiring. I doubt this is "strangling" start-ups, especially when you consider that in the start-up space many people work less than two years per company.

Perhaps you personally have had some bad experiences, but I don't go to meet-ups around Europe and hear people saying "if only we had a labor market that favoured employers more, then I could get my start-up off the ground!"

Let me put it another way: last month, the UK government put forward some proposals that would drastically reduce employee rights in exchange for companies offering employees small (£2-10k) amounts of equity when they joined. If what you say is true, you would expect companies to jump at the chance. However, the CBI (the main lobby group for British industry) was very luke-warm towards the proposals. They felt that labor laws in the UK were not "strangling" business in the UK, and were in fact an issue of secondary importance when compared to tax incentives and other financial matters.

It's difficult to make generalizations about "Europe" because each country has its own set of labor laws. From what I hear, Britain has a pretty heavy tax situation. This leads to multi-national companies setting up "dutch sandwiches" and other ridiculous tax schemes. They end up paying very little; small and medium-sized businesses pay the full amount. I'm not surprised that various business interests felt that tax reform should be high up on the government's agenda. I don't see how it in any way invalidates the need for other reforms.

I also don't see why making people ridiculously hard to fire is "favoring employees." Maybe it just disadvantages employees who are actually good at their jobs, but didn't manage to get in the door before the incompetent or unsuitable ones? I've been fired before. It's part of life, like breaking up with a significant other. Relationships that have gone bad shouldn't be forced to fester.

For an extreme example of "pro-employee" (but not really) regulations gone bad, check out Spain. More than half of young people under 25 cannot get a job, because of the gold-plated employment contracts their elders negotiated years ago. The unemployment rate for the country as a whole is at least 25% now. See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/01/europe-youth-unempl....

Spain has a two-tier labor market where temporary employees are treated very poorly, and usually fired before various "magic dates" kick in when they would automatically get benefits. In the meantime, full-time employees are virtually unsackable and coddled. The older generation, like vampires, are living off the young.

Entrepreneurs in France are also having problems: http://www.economist.com/node/21564609

I do think that one problem with the situation in the UK is that 'getting sacked' is a real problem for your career - there's a big stigma associated with it and it can make it very hard to get your next position. If there's less of a sense of fault in dismissal, maybe that's less of a problem.

However, I'm somewhat dubious about claims of it leading to unemployment due to old and useless employees who are entrenched in their jobs - if it were, wouldn't there be more scope for new companies to emerge who weren't weighed down by those older employees? If adding a new employee did add value, wouldn't it be worth doing anyway? If those employees sacked before the magic date were in high value roles, would companies be willing to throw away their experience? I suspect that the problems ultimately stem from deeper problems than this, especially in the case of Spain and Italy - there's probably a thesis that centres around them being historically poor, agricultural countries who've artificially benefited from the EU in a way that has masked big problems in the fundamentals of their economies.

"startups" are not the economy. A startup is barely a real business, so let's not get to hung up on the effect that labour laws have the questionable benefit startups bring to Real Life (tm).

Now US employment law might help startups grow quickly, but the flip side is uncertainty and insecurity for millions of employees in all walks of life. That's your trade off, and you have to get out of the startup bubble world if you really think it's worth it.

New Zealand and Australia also have relatively strong (compared the the US) labour protection laws, and unemployment remains low. Yes, companies need to be more careful when planning, but they are able to lay off staff when the business is suffering, without compromising the protection of employees to spurious dismissal.

You are wrong in the UK the first two years of employment are effectively at will - at lot of employment rights only accrue after two years.

And if an employer pulls a fast one and break the rules on they don't get fined by labor courts as they do in the USA.

Actually, no. Obviously I don't know where you're from, but I'd assume it's not the UK.

Most employee rights come into effect immediately. After one month, you earn the right to one weeks notice, and pay if you are suspended from work for medical reasons, or if you're laid off.

After that, the only extra benefits you get are after 1 year, you can claim unfair dismissal. After 2 years, you can claim redundancy pay.

If you are from the UK, here's some help from the Citizens Advice Bureau.


Actually, your own link is contradicting what you're saying! Here's what it says:

"In most cases to be able to claim unfair dismissal you will have to have worked for your employer for one year if you started before 6 April 2012 or two years if you started on or after that date"

Note the bit at the end about the period changing to two years as of last April. This is a new change, if you're not actively involved in HR or hiring you may not be aware of it.

>Please read what economists have written before you add your opinion.

You're either being obnoxious or are not as informed as you think you are when characterizing all economists' opinions on "at-will" employment as monolithic enough, and the IMF's economists as representative enough of that monolithic opinion that making a statement that disagrees with them should disqualify you from having an opinion.

Please stop arguing from authority.

>Europe's ridiculous labor regulations do more to strangle startups in the crib than almost anything else.

That's your opinion. A different opinion might be that Europe simply lacks a good "startup hub" like PG talks about.

The fact is, it depends on where you're talking about. In Switzerland and the UK you can certainly fire people if you want/need to. You just have to give them notice of a few weeks (or months in Switzerland). This isn't "ridiculous" and the employee is held to the same standard.

Unlike the US where the power difference between employer and employee is clearly seen with the expected two week notice of employees and 0-minute notice expected of employers.

I don't have the data or expertise to determine whether or not the increased stability provided by said employment laws (and by the differing approaches to unemployment benefits / 'the social safety net' which go hand in hand with them) provides consumer confidence that (at least in principle) increases demand to an extent that offsets the economic disadvantages of making companies more cautious about growth. It's also hard to determine whether there are social benefits to such policies that outweigh possible economic disadvantages.

Of course, this is rather a side-issue: many countries have a concept of 'temporary' vs 'permanent' employees, which introduces different dynamics and problems into the system.

It is an interesting topic. I suspect it won't be resolved in a comment thread on HN.

> I suspect it won't be resolved in a comment thread on HN.

Nor will Anonymous hacking some company whose employees, in the grand scheme of things, are pretty well off.

I like how you phrased it so that losing your job sounds beneficial.

earning 3 months severance and easily finding another job is pretty beneficial if you ask me

Indeed. You'd have to try pretty hard to not find another programming job in three months. Everyone is desperate to hire programmers.

All this will do is hurt Zynga employees further. Releasing sensitive data about a company will push the stock price down further. Most employees have equity in the company. Equity is (was) one of the major incentives for working at Zynga. Zynga is not forcing anyone to work there. If employees feel mistreated they are free to go work elsewhere. I say all of this as a former Zynga employee.

Zynga's stock price is below book value, and it hasn't been an incentive since about 2 days after IPO. The employees have already been hurt by the company themselves much worse than any outside influence can at this point.

I don't see the evil in a company needing to lay off employees after shipping a bunch of games that didn't do so well.

Zynga should be more careful the next time they hire somebody wearing a Guy Fawkes mask in their profile picture.

I think that if Anonymous want to protest dodgy labor practices there are certainly far more compelling targets in the US.

However, I would say that if as a CEO you're laying off 5% of your workforce due to poor company performance you should really evaluate your own compensation package, because as a CEO you're meant to stop that kind of crap from happening. I doubt that's going to be happening for Marc Pincus.

"I would say that if as a CEO you're laying off 5% of your workforce due to poor company performance you should really evaluate your own compensation package, because as a CEO you're meant to stop that kind of crap from happening"

This isn't really true. A CEO is there to make sure the company stays profitable. Sometimes, cutting a percentage of the workforce achieves this goal.

So they're going to cause Zynga employees problems (who, after all, will have to deal with the fallout) in an effort to protest the fact that problems have been caused for Zynga employees?

I am guessing that Zynga games don't have a lot of security, and that a targeted attack would be disastrous to their players and analytics.

The gamers I know (who are the only people I know with an opinion about Zynga) would like to see Zynga no longer exist as a company, which entails all the employees having to find a new job. What's with the sudden sympathy for the employees?

Tackling the big issues...

I'd rather Anonymous go after Zynga because they use flash. It's about time we get some quality client-side code that doesn't eat 100% CPU just to plant some seeds on my stupid little virtual farm.

Another legitimate motive is to reduce the amount of time people waste on *ville. Even if they just DDOS, that means 2+ hours more productivity per person! That leaves bored programmers with nothing to do to waste their time, and we might just get some quality games out of it!

Anonymous is now composed of jilted Zynga employees?

My first thought exactly!

To claim that Zynga employees were taken advantage is like claiming that the bankers were taken advantage of during the 2008 collapse.

If you don't like your employer, find another one! These guys work in San Francisco, plenty of jobs to go around.

These sort of news posts should be a game, take an article like this and put the top comment against an article about SOPA or any other internet "oppression" policy:

From a "Hacker Advocate" at Spotify

    The internet needs policing

>The offensive has been dubbed “#OP MaZynga”

A pun for Mazinger[1]?

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mazinger_Z

Getting really tired of how internet news is acting like mob vigilante justice is a good thing.

Calling it vigilante justice is giving it too much credit.

Meanwhile at Walmart employees are receiving great treatment.

At which point do these guys simply become a lynch mob?

They're not now?

I have mixed feelings about this. Laying people off, for business reasons, and providing three months severance, is not worthy of this kind of attack. Most of these people will get better jobs. Companies commit injustices against their employees all over the place, and Zynga is justifiably disguised, but this isn't a case of that.

I think the general precedent of increased employee empowerment (by increasing the consequences, currently at zero, of treating employees badly). I'd like to live in a world where employees have some power and a few hiccups or overactions on which I don't agree with all the details is something I have to accept. So that is to the good.

I don't think they deserve this for laying people off. Every company has to lay people off. The clawbacks, on the other hand, earned Zynga this.

Exactly. Zynga should have been punished back when they did the clawbacks and the CEO made that idiotic statement about the "Google Chef". Not now that they're behaving pretty nicely (3 month severance? In the US?).

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