Zynga: A True Story.

Posted by Mike Parisi 
How about a little levity folks. My own personal disaster porn maybe? I've been a just tad bit heavy lately so here's TBDX exclusive that you all might find entertaining. I say exclusive because, well, you guys might be the only peeps in the world really interested in hearing this story. It's about the social media game juggernaut Zynga. Does that name ring a bell at? C'mon, think about the name for a sec, y'all know exactly what I'm talking about, and, you're RIGHT.

While 98% of you have heard of Zynga by now, here's a quick historical summery: Back in 2007 Zynga was founded by entrepreneur Mark Pincus. To his credit, Mark had the insight and vision to see the potential of Facebook as a new gaming platform, and his gamble paid off in spades as the dude was just listed by Forbes as one of America's newest billionaires. Good for him ya? Well, Mark has a bad rep for disreputable business practices, and he's actually admitted to doing some pretty awful things to get where he is. This is an interesting hit piece on Mark, but certainly not the whole story:


Ok, enough of the douchenozzle (for the moment). Rewind to 1996. I've just landed my first job in the video game industry and am STOKED to be working with one of the founders of EA, Trip Hawkins, in his new company 3DO. Now, the fact that Trip's latest venture, Digital Chocolate, is suing Zynga for stealing ideas is sort of an unrelated tangent to the story, but let's just say, Mark Pincus will steal ANYTHING...even a name (more on that later).

The first job I had at 3DO was to produce this:

My animation skills at that point were SHIT, but I guess the overall presentation was effective 'cause the game promo got people *really* excited. "Yeah, I'm ready": My voice even!

So there I am, getting paid to make games, beer parties on site at 5 o'clock, playing Quake in a 3DO clan, living the frikin' life. Oh...my name in the Quake clan: Mazinga, of course. My cube is STACKED with Mazinga toys and I pretty quickly get the somewhat well-deserved reputation of being the local Japanese toy super-geek. Not to mention, this is right about the time I acquire (and subsequently can't stop talking about) the BIG Great Mazinger store display, you know the one stolen from the Tokyo Toy Museum when it was used by Macy's New York to promote a brand new toy line called "Shogun Warriors"? But that's a whole other story.

Anyway, within a few months my co-workers forgot "Mike" and just called me "Mazinga" and I adopted that nickname with pride and aplomb. For years, pretty much as long as I was in the video game industry, more people new me as Mazinga than Mike. And I liked it.

Ok, fast forward to 2003 and I'm working at a local game company in Santa Cruz, where nobody ever has called me Mike or Michael. I'm single at the time, but just starting to date this lovely ex-American Gladiator woman named "Red". She stops by the office one day for a lunch date, and of course, as I introduce her to my coworkers, everyone calls me Mazinga.

"Mazinga? Hmmm....I like Zinga better", she says. "I'm going to call you Zinga."

So why not, I've been "Mazinga" for quite awhile, let's try this new name (and girl) on for size and see what's up. Well, the girl ended up losing her job and had to move out of town, and NOBODY at work took her suggestion, so Mazinga pretty much stuck. However, I did make one little change right about then that, I believe, make an impression on one particular future billionaire. I changed my name to Zinga on the only social networking site worth a crap at the time, Tribe.net.

Now, don't get me wrong, just because my Tribe.net name was Zinga, and the CEO/Founder of Tribe.net was Mark Pincus, I don't just automatically think I was on his radar...I know I was. Mark was way into the Burningman scene and we had numerous overlapping connections, but even more so than that, I was a fairly high-profile artist/designer that used Tribe every day, and, was actively participating in the site's third logo redesign. I submitted to Mark several proposed designs, although ultimately he chose the original logo, which was always my first suggestion (cuz it was really good).

Now, normally I don't gripe about such things. I completely get the fluid nature of universe, and in no small way, I'm sort of proud that my favorite Japanese Super Alloy Robot ended up having some influence on the "next big thing".

But what rankles me is how Zynga got funded, and how I am not only the unrecognized inspiration for the name, but an unrecognized investor in Zynga as well. In the last months of Mark's ownership of Tribe.net, he sent an urgent plea to all users to voluntarily sign up for a monthly subscription to keep the site alive. We got some special site privileges and a t-shirt for doing so, and really, I was very happy to support something that I used every single day. The problem is, he didn't use the money to keep Tribe alive, he used it to start his next business venture, Zynga.

Tribe.net was sold to Cisco around that time, and Facebook was just starting to hit it's stride, so yeah, the rest is social networking history. As for the name Zynga, Mark proudly proclaims he named the company after his dog. Timeline: Zinga appears on Tribe.net. Mark gets a dog. Mark starts new game company.

There you have it, the true story behind the name.

And the bitch of it all, I didn't even get that damned t-shirt he promised.

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 03/17/2011 02:42PM by Mike Parisi.
Great story. but from all this, the most important thing I garnered is that you played Quake. ;) Ask Ed about my addiction. You still play? I'm on Quakelive every day. EVERY day.
Having kids pushes one over the edge in so many ways. Sad to say it's been several years since I played. But yeah, back in the day...when I first started at 3DO we were all about Duke Nukem, and then came Quake: A fucking masterpiece of gameplay technology that has never been surpassed, only imitated IMHO.
Sanjeev (Admin)
I don't know shit about video games. Before reading the above, I hadn't heard of this "Zynga". And come to think of it, I'm also about as savvy about social networking sites as the average USer is about nuclear power. Har!

What I took away from the article: that you dated an ex-American Gladiator. AWESOME.
She really was awesome. Not a true redhead, but completely awesome nonetheless.
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