Dan Porter & Zynga: A Match Made in Not Quite Heaven
Draw Something's meteoric growth could be associated with anything from its easy-to-use interface, it's quirky controls, or sheer novelty. It could also just simply be borne from being at the right place at exactly the right time. OMGPop's design document is essentially pictionary, but what made it so fun was that sense drawing with your non-dominant hand. Of making crude stick figures that look like something done by a first grader (and not a very good drawing first grader) and of laughing at you and your friend's ineptitude. The game existed for me as a largely silly exercise in quick fun -- an iOS curio that provided me with enough gameplay to warrant its .99 pricetag. It was fun. But I will not play it anymore. I have taken it off my phone completely. The reason? Dan Porter.
After making millions of dollars through selling OMGPop to Zynga, one wouldn't expect the self-professed "mind behind Draw Something" to be such a sore winner, but last night Mr. Porter felt it was a prudent PR move to lambast one Shay Pierce, the only designer who did not transfer with the rest of OMGPop to Zynga. "What's so interesting about success is the number of failures who try to ride on your back. Shay Pierce is just one of many."
Why all this hatred? A few days ago, Shay Pierce published an article on Gamasutra talking about his reasons for missing out on this lucrative package. His reasons were simple, and based largely off the idea that he didn't trust Zynga not to attempt to subjugate his creative vision and to attain control of his personal project (Connectrode) and put it all under that red dog logo. That is not to say he didn't attempt to get Zynga's lawyers to put into the contract that Connectrode would remain his property. He did. Zynga just flat out rejected the proposition. It was around this time that he came to a realisation:
It's not easy to pass up a lucrative salary and solid benefits, of course. But I realized that ultimately I was letting myself be guided by simple inertia. I was part of a herd, and that herd was all going in one direction (and doing so with great urgency). I would really only be doing it for the sake of going with the flow, and responding to pressure to either conform to corporate expectations, or be left behind. (source)
When I originally read the article, it was a fascinating piece that touched at something important in the curious debates that are happening about the nature of games. Are they art? Are they a business? How much should a developer give or compromise? For Pierce, Zynga demanded too much. For Pierce, there was something intrinsically and philosophically wrong with the organization.
Pierce goes on to talk about the questionable culture of Zynga, which Zynga remained mostly mum about... until Dan Porter decided it was just about time to make sure everyone remembered the sort of people that Zynga liked to make into millionaires.
The fact remains that Zynga's track record with employee satisfaction, blatant rip-offs of other games, and questionable business practices made me less than excited to hear about OMGPop's sale. I saw OMGPop as the plucky upstarts that stumbled onto a goldmine, and lauded their achievements. However, it seems like my congratulations came too soon. If Dan Porter's tweets are any indication of what the OMGPop team is actually like, they're simply a less successful homunculus of Zynga -- the henchman sitting in the sidecar of the villian's deathbike -- and with people like Dan Porter in charge, I doubt he ever wanted to be anything more.