Zynga’s Mark Pincus on Becoming the Amazon of Social Games, Big Data Growth, & Recruiting Failures Spawning a Seattle Office

4/13/11Follow @curtwoodward

Zynga, the San Francisco-based maker of addictive online games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars, officially opened its new Seattle office with a reception last night that was aimed squarely at recruiting new tech talent. And there wasn’t anything coy about the hunt, echoing a pitch Seattle-area techies have heard from many Silicon Valley companies in recent months.

“We’ve envied the level of engineering talent up here in Seattle from a distance for a long time, and we’ve tried to recruit people from Seattle and get them to move to San Francisco with very limited success. I guess people like the weather and the coffee,” said founder and CEO Mark Pincus, drawing laughs from the crowd.

“I think you can see, there’s a lot more space in this office than engineers we have working in this office,” added Neil Roseman, an Amazon.com veteran who is heading up Zynga’s Seattle office. “So we hope that you’ll pick a nice spot that you’d like to work in and talk to us about joining Zynga.”

Roseman was one of several Amazon alums whom Pincus pointed out as part of the team, and the connections didn’t stop there. “Just like Amazon built out ‘shop’ on the Internet and made that a verb, that it seems like we can’t remember life before we shopped through Amazon, we want to build out ‘play,’” Pincus said.

That’s where the technical task comes into play. Pincus said Zynga games have about 250 million active users per month, and those users generate something like 5 terabytes of click data every day—a haul of information that’s grown about 500 percent since last fall.

Analyzing and mining that data so that Zynga can make the most engaging games possible is what Pincus means when he talks about an Amazon model—having a game that knows what you’re doing, what you like, and what else you might need or want. “I like to say, have the equivalent of the Walmart greeter who, as you come to the game, knows something about you,” Pincus said.

“So if we do our job right at Zynga, just like Amazon, playing and games seems simple and available, and it seems like your friends are just there waiting for you. But behind the scenes, there’s a ton of innovation that we have to do to make that a reality,” he said.

Zynga’s one of the latest Silicon Valley companies to set up shop in Seattle, and it probably won’t be the last—market prices for just about everything are cheaper than the Bay Area, people included. But it also makes a lot of sense for a company like Zynga to be here, with the wealth of knowledge and experience that Seattle-area workers have in gaming, commerce, and mobile.

Many in the Seattle area are watching the uptick in Silicon Valley talent raiders with a mix of pride and trepidation. One one hand, there’s a sense of validation that talented people up in the Northwest are drawing the big names to town. But that also brings up worries about how long the region can sustain the pipeline of new talent, which currently relies heavily on big companies like Amazon and Microsoft to do large-scale recruiting and training. If that model truly won’t work over the long haul, it seems like now is a perfect time to start re-examining  ways of supplying the talent market from the bottom up.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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