Operation Honeypot is working just as planned. Yesterday we got a nice big story planted in the Sunday New York Times about our patent application for our new EvilAd ™ technology, and within hours the calls started rolling in. Most just wanted to talk but this guy Mark Pincus (above) who is CEO of Zynga said he was ready to sign on the dotted line. FYI, this is the guy who got busted by TechCrunch for making money off scammy ads, then got further busted when TechCrunch dug up a video in which he talked about doing “every horrible thing” to make revenue, and finally relented and said Zynga would stop running “in-game offers,” but now may face lawsuits anyway.
So Pincus got put through to El Jobso and he tells me he just lost a huge chunk of his revenue stream and he needs to replace it, pronto. “What we’re looking for,” he says, “is a piece of software that we can insert into FarmVille and, like, when some idiot clicks on it, it shuts down their PC and won’t let them start up again unless they pay us some amount of money, like either ten bucks right now or some kind of long-term subscription to something really stupid like horoscopes or daily trivia. Can EvilAd ™ do that?”
Truth is I have no idea whether we can do that but I was like, Sure, it’s just a few lines of code, we could have that in a week. He’s like, “And you can lock down the PC, right? I mean shut the fucking thing down so it’s just totally fucking bricked? No way around it?” I go, Yeah, we can do that, but how are you going to send the ransom note demanding the payment to unfreeze the PC? He says they’ll get a cell phone number first and then text the ransom note to the cell phone, and that way you don’t even need them to have a credit card, they can just bill the ransom amount to their cell phone. I’m like, Okay, so you’ll only do this to Windows PCs, right? Not to Macs? He says that’s fine, he can live with that restriction. But he’d also like another feature which is that he wants to make it so that in addition to sending money, as part of the ransom you also have send over ten friends from your Facebook account, and they all get bricked and ransomed too. Or maybe the software can just get into your Facebook account by itself and start propagating out to your entire Facebook friends list.
Again, I have no idea if we can do this, but I tell him we can, and I’m like, So basically what you want is a virus that shuts down a PC and can only be removed if the user pays a ransom to you guys? He’s like, “Well, we won’t call it a virus. We’ll call it an offer. See? Much nicer. And they won’t pay the money to us. We’ll set up some shell companies and they’ll be the bad guys, and when they get busted we can say we don’t know anything about them, and we’ll just keep setting up new shell companies to collect the loot.”
I’m like, We can do this, but it’s not exactly what we had in mind for how EvilAd ™ would be used. I mean, this stuff you’re talking about, isn’t it kind of evil? He says it depends on how you define “evil,” and the definition he uses is the one he was taught at Harvard Business School which is that if the harm is only done to random strangers that you’ll never meet, like a bank that’s making money off time-bomb mortgages with exploding ARMs but never actually has contact with the frigtards who take out the dumbass exploding time-bomb mortgages, then strictly speaking it’s not evil.
Also, he says, in the current thinking about evil business models there’s a new concept in which the determination of evil is weighed in the context of the necessity of the evil scheme, such that the degree of evil is determined as an inverse function of the degree of necessity, such that if there is no other way for your company to generate revenues than to do something evil, then a scheme that might be considered evil in another context would in this case be deemed not evil.
“The thing is,” Pincus says, “we really, really, really need the revenue. So in our case it’s not evil. We have to do this kind of stuff. We have no choice.”
I’m like, Why? What’s the worst thing that could happen to you if you don’t do this? You’ll die or something? He goes, “No, worse than that. We won’t get rich. So we need the revenue. And we need it, like, right fucking now. Because we want to go public, and our valuation is going to be determined as a multiple of revenues and frankly, when we talked to Goldman and everybody else they said the same thing which is that they don’t calculate a multiple of just the nice revenues, it’s a multiple of revenues, period. Good, bad, pretty, ugly — doesn’t matter. Revenue is revenue. I’ve got kids out there now taking money out of tip jars at Starbucks. I’ve got another team breaking into houses and fencing the goods in the Mission. We’ve got another team running fake auctions on Ebay and shilling up the prices on items that don’t even exist. And these are not evil people. These are great young kids, really super smart and idealistic, who just got out of college and made huge sacrifices — like they gave up job offers at McKinsey and on Wall Street — because they wanted to move to the Bay Area and do something important with their lives. These are kids who want to change the world, Steve. What better way to do that than to develop online games that empower people to grow virtual farms and shoot people in virtual mafia gunfights? If nothing else, Steve, I owe it to these kids to make this all work.”
I told him fine, I want to make it work too, I’m totally on board, because I’m all about changing the world. Hell, I’m the one who invented that idea. He says let’s talk about licensing terms. I’m like, Sure, so, I want a piece of your company. He’s like, “Great, you mean you want to invest in the next round? That’s awesome!” I’m like, No, you didn’t hear me — I want you to give me a piece of your company. Doesn’t have to be a lot. Ten percent, maybe. He starts yammering about how that will have to go through the board and the lawyers and the venture guys and I’m like, No, you don’t understand. I want you, personally, to give me a chunk of your stock. Out of your pocket. Call it a gift. You give it to me. Also, I want a seat on the board.
“Oh,” he says, and I can hear the air going out of his balloon. “Yeah. I get it.”
Well, for now we’re still in negotiations. But I’m sure he’ll come around.
Meanwhile, if anyone has any other great ideas for how Zynga can generate revenue, please send them in, and I’ll post them here so that Mark and his board of directors can find them. Maybe we could organize a pledge drive — like that Jerry Lewis thing on Labor Day weekend. The Zyngathon. We can run photos of a bunch of Zynga employees, with the caption: “These kids just want to get rich. Won’t you help?”