Mafia Wars CEO Brags About Scamming Users From Day One

From the beginning, the profitability and viability of popular Facebook social networking games Mafia Wars and Farmville were predicated on the backs of scams, boasts Zynga CEO Mark Pincus in this video. “I did every horrible thing in the book just to get revenues,” he crows in the clip to a gathered bunch of fellow scumbag app developers.

In games like Mafia Wars, Farmville, YoVille and Vampires Live, you know, some of the major sources of all those garbage announcements cluttering up your Facebook, players compete to complete missions and level up. By leveling up, you can complete more difficult missions and fight off weaker opponents. You can wait for your various energies to regenerate naturally over time, or you can purchase with real money in-game boosts. Or, you can complete various lead generation offers, many of which are of the “answer page after page of questions and opt in and out of receiving various kinds of spam” variety. Some of them install malware and adware that is impossible to remove. And some of them secretly subscribe you to monthly recurring $9.99 credit card charges.

Couple this reckless profiteering with in-game incentives for recruiting more players into your network and a constant blast (if you let it) of promotional messages to your friends, and it’s like Amway discovered Facebook and threw a gangster-themed house party.

Here’s Mark’s spiel:Here’s the pertinent transcript of the talk the CEO gave to some other developers at a mixer:

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* We did anything possible just to just get revenues so that we could grow and be a real business…So control your destiny. So that was a big lesson, controlling your business. So by the time we raised money we were profitable.

I’m sorry, but if you need to scam people to keep your company going, you have a flawed business plan.

After getting reamed in an excellent multi-part TechCrunch investigation by Michael Arrington, Mark Pincus pledged to more aggressively remove scammy offers.

That’s great, but c’mon. Now that they’re funded and raking in the cash, they can act all contrite and go “oh! you caught us! you’re right, we’re bad, we’ll fix that. Lah dee dah.” How convenient that now you can afford morals.

By the way, nice work, TechCrunch! Now, if only we could get Arrington to apply the same level of discipline to re-evaluating his gushing praise for Cash4Gold.

Zynga CEO Mark Pincus: “I Did Every Horrible Thing In The Book Just To Get Revenues” [TechCrunch]
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Edit Your Comment

  1. amberlink says:

    What does the quote mean?

    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* We did anything possible just to just get revenues so that we could grow and be a real business…

    What does this mean? How is downloading a toolbar and being unable to get rid of it generating revenue? Very confused. IF I got a toolbar I couldn’t get rid of, i’d never go back to that company. This quote makes no sense.

    • sammy_b says:

      @amberlink: It means Zwinky paid them $1 (or whatever) each time it was downloaded. It is a poor user experience if the toolbar is impossible to remove, or if it scans the hard drive for sensitive information and steals it, etc. People will download it for an edge up in the game, and Mafia wars will profit from it.

    • ezacharyk says:

      @amberlink: 1. The toolbar is malware.
      2. Zwinky pays Zynga every time someone downloads the toolbar through their service.

    • ShariC says:

      @amberlink: The FB games allow people to get access to special in-game items or a bonus only if they pay cash or if they do something above and beyond. For instance, you fill out a survey and get “YoCash” or special poker chips, or you download a utility and install it.

      Zynga gets more money from advertisers and users get a leg up in the games compared to people who just play them without any external or paid bonuses.

      Casual players of these games don’t have anything to fear or to lose. It’s the people who get so invested in it that they’ll pay real money or put themselves at risk who may have issues. That being said, I don’t see how paying real money to play FB games is so different from paying a monthly fee for MMORPGs. It’s not unprecedented for people to spend real money on virtual entertainment. All we’re judging here is the types of games.

      To me, the FB games are very much not worth real money, but that’s an entirely subjective conclusion. I’m not going to judge what other people want to put money into. People flush their money down the crapper for pleasure everyday on pleasures that are of no lasting value – on beer, pizza, junk food, movies, cable television. Any pecking order we place on what is a “worthy” or “unworthy” use of money for entertainment is meaningless except to elevate our values above someone else’s in an attempt to feel superior.

  2. jpdanzig says:

    I must confess I have absolutely NO idea what this article is about, or who these scumbags are, or what their (dis)service was.

    I am obviously not the poorer for it either…

    • cash_da_pibble says:

      Or any social networking whatsoever.

    • fxsoap says:

      that retard program/game looked stupid and i’m glad i never touched it. fools

    • SteveZim1017 says:

      @jpdanzig: then why would you even post a comment?!?

      “Hay guys!! Wanna let yous know I gots no idea what cher talkin bout and ain’t got nuffin to say…”

    • DangerMouth says:

      @jpdanzig: I’m with you on this one, jp.

      I get that it’s a game you can play on your phone, and pay real money to level up or buy fake stuff? Or they sign you up for recurring charges you did not agree to? Oi.

      BTW, whatever happened to chargebacks? Do people really just let it go because it was ‘only’ $10 or whatever?

  3. Trai_Dep says:

    Sleazy. But at least in character for a game called Mafiawars.
    When PrancyUnicorns Paradeâ„¢ crashed my PC because of a Trojan Horse, something precious deep inside me died. Just a bit.

    • Snarkophagus says:


      With all the education available, it always saddens me to see people earning the hard way about letting unicorns prance without protection. Although given some of the folklore, I really have to wonder if that Trojan Horse had consent from the unicorn….

  4. Hate_Brian_Club_I'mNotOnlyThePresidentI'mAClient says:

    Scumbags and fellow scumbags might be a little harsh. Not everyone can be fortunate enough to be bought by Consumer Reports

  5. Doug Nelson says:

    What else can you expect from a culture that celebrates “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission”?

    • admiral_stabbin says:

      @Doug Nelson: Hey, what are you doing at my office? You know, I’ve heard so much bullshit over the many years where I work…I forgot about that one…pushed down from the very top.

      Speaking of culture, I always thought Zynga was a bunch of Russians (you know, in Russia), making that game…thus, the lack of scrupulous behavior on the InterWebs. Instead, it’s just a punk here in the states that believes the end most certainly justifies the means.

      I agree, let the criminal prosecution against them begin…

  6. gparlett says:

    This is AWESOME. I now have a legitimate reason to hate MafiaWars and Farmville. Are these the same guys who do Yoville? Please tell me these are the same guys who do Yoville.

  7. MrHacks says:

    You know, this sort of thing never happens in FARM TOWN.

  8. lukesdad says:

    Oooh, I’m gonna go post a link to this article in my Facebook status!

  9. Digigage says:

    This is intriguing considering this company is coming to my school on Wednesday to promote themselves as a great place to work. I guess I have a good reason to avoid going now.

  10. njb42 says:

    I’m glad this video surfaced. I stopped playing Mafia Wars months ago, but I just removed the app from my settings (so Zynga no longer has access to my profile or friends list) and warned all my Mafia Wars friends to do the same.

  11. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    From what I’ve heard, app development for Facebook is highly competitive. It really doesn’t surprise me that some people will resort to scammy tactics to get your clicks.

  12. Onion_Volcano says:

    Farmville rocks. I don’t care what anyone says.

  13. Newvox says:

    So, when is a scam an injustice (or crime) committed onto you, and when is it something I let in the door because you didn’t know better?

    Some scams are more intricate than others, but they all have the two key features: They offer you something for little or nothing, and they require you to step forward and take the bait.

    Individuals such as Pincus, and outfits like Zynga are predatory cheats looking for marks, but at what point does the willing marks bear responsibility for their misfortunes?

    • gcas says:

      @Newvox: I agree with you up to a point; but there are so many people out there that are UTTERLY ignorant when it comes to the internets, with no one to guide them (I’m looking at you, mom); they can hardly be blamed for wanting to play an innocent game on Facebook.

  14. TransitJohn says:

    Use Firefox. Install add-on Greasemonkey. Use script Facebook purity. Don’t fall for stupid spam on Facebook. Your Facebook experience is now like it should be.

  15. PsiCop says:

    The Mafia Wars and Farmville “announcements” that stream in from my Facebook friends have been an annoyance all along. That alone was incentive enough for me not to want to play them, despite numerous “recruitment” efforts (which as it turns out were largely scripted).

    Fortunately I figured out how to “hide” all these things so they don’t bother me any more. But I just found the practice of scripting broadcasts into the game itself, distasteful. I’m glad I didn’t break down and play any of these games.

  16. hi says:

    So he purposely misled consumers. Can someone in the law field dig up the fraud law for this guy and go after him with it.

  17. Dondegroovily says:

    It sounds like he was trying to make a fun game and desperate to stay afloat.

    And thus is a flaw in business school. They teach to stay afloat. Businesspeople need to realize that sometimes it’s better to just shut your business down in an orderly fashion, or to rack up debt if you think you’ll get thru it. Keeping your business alive isn’t worth it if you feel ashamed of how you did it. This is often what leads people to prison – a big factor in a lot of the Enron fraud – desperately trying to rake in profits to keep their job when they should have just quit.

    That’s what business people have to remember – their morals need to come before their business. A lost business is just that – you don’t go to prison for shutting it down.

  18. gerrycomo says:

    I’m glad I’m one of those Facebookers who never bothered playing those games.

  19. harrier666 says:

    In my job hunts, I found them hiring like crazy. I refused to apply even before I knew about this. It was obvious they were sneaky underhanded jerks.

    The interesting thing to this is that when I tell my top of the line techno friends this, they tell me the same thing. They skip right on by Zynga help wanted ads.

  20. PeterMc says:

    “I’m sorry, but if you need to scam people to keep your company going, you have a flawed business plan.”

    A rare miss – a business plan that makes money is never flawed. Morally questionable or objectionable… but not flawed.

  21. tankertodd says:

    I have been playing Mafia Wars and other Zynga games now for months. I haven’t paid a penny. Works for me. I saw the offers for free points, etc. Didn’t touch them. Downloading stuff like toolbars is highly verboten. Moose out front should have told you. That said, if he knew it was spyware/crapware/whateverware he should have to pay for that person to get a clean PC. You made a business decision – now pay for it. By entering into a business partnership he is partially accountable for its quality.

  22. prsiii says:

    Pincus is the founder (flounder) of Tribe was an awesome site which was mismanaged into the dirt. To find that my biggest pet peeves with FB (pretty much the only social site to which worth evacuating) is his doing makes me sick. The man really has little integrity especially to hear it in his own words.

    • theaverageguy says:

      @prsiii: pincus pretty much took users for a huge ride. he asked the users to pay for a membership which was supposed to fix the ailing site, and then turned around and spent that money on zynga. pincus is seriously bad news.

  23. cattrin says:

    I play farmville myself as a way to pass vital time, and sure enough bored and broke I looked at the offers… anyone who actually signs up for these things using their legitimate information couldn’t possibly expect any good to come out of it, can they?

    I agree, its a pretty scummy move on Zynga’s part (and probably why I haven’t really been feeling up to planting my next crop lately).

    At the same time I don’t feel so bad for the people who get scammed in the process. In fact, I’d love to hand them the free vacation they just won, and offer them to keep some of the money they help me transfer from Africa. Some people out there are legitimately scammed and cheated, but at some point you have to draw the line and admit you own stupidity.

  24. GarouDiams says:

    I got really into Mafia Wars and Vampire Wars until recently. I had 300 or so people in my Mafia, almost all for going on the groups and sending out invites to complete strangers. Last week I deleted all of those people. I took down the links to the applications. Now I can actually read my news feed. There is a major difference between the 500 “friends” I had sending me countless requests and “How many people I have killed.” updates to seeing what matters… birthdays… real achievements (I got a new job… I got engaged).

  25. theaverageguy says:

    pincus created, a social networking site. lots of people joined. they loved it, but then mark fired pretty much EVERYONE and left the site to ROT. then he had the nerve to ask it’s users to become paying members, and promised to fix the site. guess what? TRIBE.NET is crap, it malfunctions all the time, no one knows for sure when it will or won’t be working properly. it’s been a couple of years, and basically he just abandoned it. he said to users, ‘suffer hippies!!!’ took all the money that’s users gave him because he promised to fix tribe with it and started zynga with it instead.

    let there be no mistake, mark pincus is an scummy douchey guy, fer sure.

  26. pararescuejmper says:

    As an avid player of both Mafia Wars and Farmville this makes me a little angry at their general attitude. But at the same time the people who are paying for virtual dollars for a game need to feel a little foolish as well. Little bit of fool me once shame on you…fool me twice shame on me. Another commenter pointed out that if you just play the game its fun. If something sounds hinkey and smells hinkey it probably is hinkey.

  27. TessTalks says:

    What the hell ever happened to honest people? This country is a disgusting mess, no wonder every other country on the globe hates the USA.

  28. nacoran says:

    The Facebook app that I hate is the one that asks you to answer questions about your friends. They don’t even have to have the app. There doesn’t seem to be a way to prevent it sucking up all the info your friends want to share about you, except you defriending them. And then, to see what they said about you have to answer a question about one of your friends and violate their privacy.

  29. Ryan_W says:

    I greatly appreciate this article and its author, but if anyone thinks that scamming people is not an integral part of most business models, they need to take another look at for-profit business. It’s part and parcel!

  30. Francko says:

    Mark Pincus is not an honorable individual. If you know him, you understand. Buyer beware.

  31. fourclover says:

    My friends and I play Farmville and Cafe World (also owned by this guy) and I try not to harass the people who don’t play. But it was pretty obvious the offers you could complete to get more cash in game were complete scams. As far as I’m aware it never downloaded anything (and my anti-virus software agrees) but I won’t be doing those offers for sure now.

  32. RoxyAlexander says:

    I am one of the unfortunate morons that falls for these Zynga “scams”…justthis evening, while playing Vampires, I saw an ability for sale that I HAD to have. So i went over to the page that usually contains all of the offers (sign up for free points)…AND THEY WERE ALL GONE!!!

  33. sellers321 says:

    I tried the video professor and they stole money from my bank account and when I called them they pretty much told me that I would not get my money back. I told them I would call my bank to get the money back and their exact words were go ahead because we already have your money

  34. Brat2b4u says:

    Why is what Pincus did any different than what, say, Bill Gates did (and continues to do till this day)?

    Gates is now giving away most of his ill-gotten funds to charity, I suppose, in an attack of conscience?

    Nah. He is using most of his fortune to stall all the lawsuits which would put him in prison for a very long time, right alongside the likes of Conrad Black and David Radler and their ilk.

    He’s probably thinking up a new way to scam the unsuspecting public by putting out some new inferior product and (illegally) taking top market share.

  35. rapid1 says:

    This is quite funny really. Why would I pay real cash or give anyone my real cash for points or gear in a free game?

    The thing about this thats really quite hilarious though is those practices were first engineered by the likes of Dell, HP, AOL, Publishers Clearinghouse and the like.

    Have you ever got a computer with Norton antivirus and all those trial offers, microsoft office etc! Well after 30 days there on your computer, but do not work, and are still hogging resources. All of those companies also collect your information, and sell it. This is why you get spam regularly from websites you do not register on.

    These practices are different on the front end but the same in the back. You can remove this kind of stuff if you know how. However; a normal consumer at least to the greatest percentage has no clue how to remove these things. They are also on the backup or recovery CD so if you have to reinstall anything they will reinstall as well automatically.

  36. Username says:

    I’ll bet Marc Pincus is really regretting saying these things now that they are getting sued. With 350 million users on Facebook right now, this could easily be the largest class action lawsuit ever filed. Any guesses to how long it will take Facebook to kick Zynga off their network?