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Zynga sues two former employees over data theft

Both creators now at rival firm Scopely

Social games giant Zynga has sued two former employees for allegedly stealing confidential information.

As observed by Arstechnica, Zynga has issued a 28-page civil complaint against Massimo Maietti and Ehud Barlach, who are now employed by rival social gaming firm Scopely.

Maietti had been creative director on an unannounced title codenamed Project Mars (a role he held for over a year), described as 'one of Zynga's most ambitious soon-to-be-released games' and left the firm in July. Barlach was general manager for Hit It Rich! Slots and left in September.

Maietti is accused of taking private data, while Zynga suggests Barlach may have adopted similar measures. Both are additionally accused of recruiting former Zynga staff, which is a violation of their employment contract. Zynga discovered the theft after investigating why former talent was leaving the business.

Zynga alleges: "On July 4, 2016 - during the Independence Day holiday and just one day before he gave notice of his resignation of employment from Zynga - Maietti's internet history shows that Maietti used the Google Chrome browser on his Zynga-issued laptop to access a Zynga-owned Google Drive account. His browser history shows that he proceeded to download ten Google Drive folders that he had permission to access, but only as necessary to perform his duties for Zynga. The Google Chrome browser "zipped" those ten files and downloaded them to his File Downloads folder. Once downloaded, forensic analysis shows that Maietti copied nine of those folders to a connected external USB device. The external USB device was disconnected from the computer, and Maietti then placed the zip files in the Trash, while they remained on the USB device.

"On July 7, 2016, over 20,000 files and folders were located within the Trash but were subsequently deleted in a failed attempt by Maietti to cover his tracks.

"The nine zipped folders taken by Maietti have identical names to those in Zynga's Google Drive account, but Maietti appended the date those files were stolen to the name of each folder. An analysis of the corresponding Google Drive folders reveals that Maietti took over 14,000 files and approximately 26 GB of extremely sensitive, highly confidential Zynga information.

"Particularly egregious was Maietti's apparent wholesale copying of the Project Mars folder. This folder contains the work of the entire Project Mars team in developing a game that pushes the standards of social gaming to a new level."

Other information taken, according to Zynga, included design specifications for the likes of FarmVille 2 and CastleVille, unreleased game design documents, best practice sheets, play test results and financial information,

As for Barlach, Zynga accuses him of soliciting away employees - which contravenes his contract. The firm refers to a text message that was sent from Barlach to Scopely where he offered to help Scopely attract more Zynga staff. Scopley apparently replied: ""Thanks!! I was saving that for your first day! LOL I would be happy to hear about anyone you think I should be trying to speak with. Obviously I know you have the clause about not taking people so I am always careful :-)."

Zynga then observes that four further Zynga employees then been solicited by Scopely: Chuck Hess, Matthew Copeland, Derek Heck and Evan Hou. Hess and Copeland remained at Zynga.

Maietti is also accused of the same thing. Zynga refers to lead product manager Joshua Park attending an interview at Scopely after he was head-hunted. His interview was with Maietti where it was claimed he tried to encourage Park to join Scopely and share details on Zynga's games and plans.

Zynga also says it will investigate Heck and Hou, as they also attached USB drivers to their computers and looked up articles on how to delete hard drives.

We've approached Scopely for comment.

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Christopher Dring avatar
Christopher Dring: Chris is a 17-year media veteran specialising in the business of video games. And, erm, Doctor Who
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