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Another day, another trade secrets leak for Machine Zone

Disgruntled employee Jing Zeng stole data to negotiate a severance package

Machine Zone is once again the victim of an alleged theft of its trade secrets, this time with a disgruntled former employee who stole sensitive information to use as a bargaining tool for his severance package.

Jing Zeng, 42, joined Machine Zone in November 2014, but he clashed with his managers after becoming dissatisfied and requesting to change teams. The two sides could not agree on a path forward, and Zeng was told he should leave the company.

At this point, the alleged theft occurred. According to court documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal, Zeng downloaded more than 100 files on player behaviour in Game of War: Fire Age to a company laptop. He transferred the files to an external hard-drive and formatted the laptop before returning it to the office.

Zeng then attempted to negotiate his severance package with the stolen files as leverage. Machine Zone contacted the FBI during these negotiations, and Zeng was arrested as he attempted to board a flight to China at San Francisco Airport on August 20.

The court documents said that the stolen data could, "provide valuable insight and a huge competitive advantage over other online game providers and competitors." If convicted, Zeng now faces a maximum sentence of ten years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

While Machine Zone is not involved in a lawsuit with Zeng, this is the second time in a week that a story has surfaced regarding the improper use of its trade secrets. At the start of this week, the company filed a lawsuit after comments made at a cocktail party alerted CEO Gabriel Leydon to the possibility that Kabam had obtained a copy of a "deck" circulated to potential investors.

Kabam has claimed that the document doesn't exist, calling the lawsuit "preposterous." Machine Zone responded by saying that it is now, "even more certain this action is necessary."

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Latest comments (2)

Ron Dippold Software/Firmware Engineer 6 years ago
Wow. This is all much more interesting than the game itself, which is just another terrible, terrible piece of generic F2P Evony (why yes, I tried it) that only gets traction through its extensive bosom and catapult-based advertising.

If there are really 'trade secrets' he stole it's like Rascher's data on how much cold a human body can take before it dies. Except in this case it's how much IAP and sociopathic mechanics you can cram down a virtual throat before the user chokes. I lasted 3 days! But this seems like the sort of data any Zynga would have.

Flippancy aside, this is all amazing, thank you.
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Kevin McIntosh Head of Production, Torus Games6 years ago
Funny you saw the Evony comparison too - when I checked out the game I thought it must have been made by the same group. It's not just the advertising connection, but some of the designed coercion which occurs in the game. I did play Evony for quite a few months and always thought the opening tutorial was really well paced for getting someone committed to the game. Even things like not allowing someone to join in with an existing conversation until they register a name, very clever design if you're looking to hook someone in and get them focused on your game. I was expecting a much higher quality of game when I downloaded it though. 3 days? I did 15 mins and saw the rabbit hole of Evony in my memory. :)

All that aside, stealing and blackmailing is a such a dirty move and I hope he's made an example of. People like him spoil it for everyone else, because security will be that much tighter due to one person's actions. We've had people steal from us before but fortunately it was intercepted before it got to FBI and jail sentence level. This should never be an option or tactic in anyone's books, no matter how jaded or disgruntled you get. Good moves by Machine Zone.
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