From Wharton to 'Words with Friends' for Zynga CEO
1988 Wharton alumnus Mark Pincus created games played by millions
March 20, 2012, 9:43 pm · Updated March 22, 2012, 12:00 am·
The next time Penn students find themselves playing Farmville or Words With Friends, they have a Wharton graduate to thank.
Mark Pincus, a 1988 Wharton alumnus, is the co-founder of the online social gaming company Zynga, and currently serves as its CEO.
Though Pincus has gained national recognition since Zynga’s launch in July 2007, he has not forgotten his college roots.
“Penn and Wharton gave me an amazing foundation,” he wrote in an email. “I learned to have an intense work ethic and how to combine hard work with fun and play.”
Pincus added that Penn helped develop his “intellectual curiosity, which still drives [him] today, to want to learn and grow in new industries and as a CEO.”
In addition, Pincus highlighted the camaraderie he experienced while he was at Penn.
“I found an amazing group of friends at Penn. We shared a house at 4046 Spruce Street, and to this day, we still refer to our 4046 crew,” he said, adding that the “feeling after you finished finals and got in your car to drive away for summer break” was one of his most memorable experiences.
For Pincus, witnessing the impact of Zynga’s games has been one of the most rewarding aspects as CEO of the company. Pincus wrote that he feels lucky to experience a similar sense of community at Zynga as he did at Penn.
“It’s incredibly fulfilling to turn an idea into a product enjoyed by millions,” he said. “Three-thousand people working towards the same mission can feel like 30,000. Being a part of world-class teams is a feeling I can’t describe.”
Today, thousands of college students on campuses like Penn’s have played — or at least heard of — a Zynga-produced game.
At Penn, for example, the “With Friends” series has proven to be a popular one.
“I like Words With Friends because you can play with your friends on your smartphone,” College freshman Doreen Chang said. “It’s convenient, doesn’t take up a lot of time and gives you something to do when you’re trying to procrastinate.”
Engineering senior Kevin Conley noted the ingenuity of the “With Friends” game structure.
“They rely on the idea that you don’t have to play a game in one sitting — you can play it over a course of many days,” he said. “That is kind of interesting.”
Though Zynga has experienced much success since its creation, the company has also experienced some controversy.
For instance, some have accused the company of copying competitors’ games, such as Buffalo Studios’ “Bingo Blitz” and NimbleBit’s “Tiny Tower.”
Conley, however, believes that Zynga’s gameplay format is the element that distinguishes it from other options on the market.
“I would agree that a lot of their games are similar to what we know, but the innovation is with the gameplay model,” he said.
Pincus wrote that having a strong internal drive is one of the most important characteristics that a student needs in order to experience success after graduation.
“Find industries and roles that you’re passionate about,” he wrote. “Look for brutal honesty. Always play offense, never defense. Always seek out real meritocracies.”