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Zynga was conflicted about its direction

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Casual games giant Zynga was uncertain about which direction to take, former Zynga East employee and lead designer of Sid Meier's Civilization 4 Soren Johnson told GamesIndustry International, explaining that the company often debated the "business side" versus game design.

"Zynga has taken a lot of criticism within the game development community for the types of games it makes and how it treats its customers and so on and so forth and the classic dilemma of the business side versus the game design side," he said of the company's culture before its IPO. "One thing I found very interesting inside Zynga is that the exact same questions that were being asked externally were absolutely being asked internally and perhaps even more stridently internally. There was a lot of open debate and arguments about these types of issues. The company itself was often uncertain about in what direction it should go."

During that period Zynga started tapping into other genres which was when Johnson joined Zynga East to develop a strategy title, he said. The company retracted its experimental tendrils when it began to experience financial troubles and "some of the more speculative projects became not as important."

The Civilization 4 designer recently formed a new indie studio "dedicated to building core strategy games" called Mohawk Games, where he is now the studio's CEO. Serving as president, Stardock president and CEO Brad Wardell will oversee day-to-day business operations. Codenamed Mars, Mohawk's first game is an economic strategy title that will run Oxide's 64-bit Nitrous engine.

"An economic game is not an easy sell from a marketing point of view," he told GamesIndustry. "You make a game about modern conflict — tanks and planes and battleships or even Starcraft — it's very easy to imagine what you put on the cover of the box. You make a game about a business, how do you sell that exactly? That's a challenge right there."