Facebook Empire: FarmVille & Mafia Wars

How the globalized worlds of FarmVille and Mafia Wars were created by brainiacs from our own backyard. PLUS, your chance to win FarmVille cash from Pittsburgh Magazine!



Illustration by Zynga / Photoillustration by Amber Creed

Justin Cinicolo is partly responsible for building an empire of more than 80 million farmers and 25 million mobsters. But he wasn’t trained by Mao or Gambino. His education started right here at Carnegie Mellon University, where he studied Human Computer Interaction and Entertainment Technology from 2001-2007.

Cinicolo, 28, is one of more than 15 CMU graduates who work for the San Francisco-based tech company Zynga, creators of social media games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars. More than 230 million people play Zynga’s games every month—the equivalent of about 3,000 football stadiums full of fans.

FarmVille, Zynga’s most popular offering, is a simulation game where players manage a virtual farm by harvesting crops and raising livestock. Played mostly through Facebook, users can invite friends and family members to be their “neighbors” on the digital pastures, where seeds, tools and labor can be shared. In addition to earning virtual cash from a good harvest—which can be reinvested in, say, a better tractor or more seeds (decisions, decisions)—users can also buy special items or gifts for friends with real money. (For your chance to win FarmVille Cash from Pittsburgh Magazine, click here.)

Since its release in June 2009, FarmVille has acquired
more than 82 million active users. That’s more than
the population of Germany.

Cinicolo, who was born in DuBois and spent part of his childhood living in the South Hills, started computer programming in the seventh grade on the monochrome screen of an Apple II series in his school’s computer lab. “I started by programming a workable calculator, but I made it so that a hippo would walk across the screen and munch the numbers. You do weird stuff in programming class,” Cinicolo laughs.

Fresh out of college in 2008, he joined a little-known start-up called Zynga, where he led the development of the Godfather-inspired game Mafia Wars. Now a general manager at the privately held company, which is valued between $3-5 billion by some analysts, Cinicolo is living his childhood dreams.

“We had a family Nintendo since the time I was four years old, and it was the one thing in our house that always brought the family together,” says Cinicolo. “It’s a joy to be working for a company that connects people and families across the world.”

In January, Zynga’s mega-community took FarmVille’s philosophy of “help thy neighbor” to a whole different level. In just five days, players of Zynga’s games raised $1.5 million to support relief efforts in earthquake-ravaged Haiti by purchasing special items within the game. Then this spring, FarmVille players raised an additional $110,000 through the purchase of special edition sweet yam seeds, which will be used to build a school for displaced Haitian children.

So much for “just a silly game.” The power of Zynga’s community to harness social good seems almost limitless.

“It’s been quite a roller coaster ride, especially considering the average age of our employees is around 25,” Cinicolo reflects. “It’s a bunch of young, talented folks who are ready to make their mark on the world and do a little good at the same time.”


Are you a proud FarmVille farmer? Send us a shot of your farm and you could win a $10 FarmVille gift card! We're looking for creativity, so send us your best. Even if you don't win, your farm might be featured on our site.

Not sure how to take a screenshot of your farm? Check out Zynga's instructions here.

Once you have your screenshot, email it to us here. Be sure to include your name, address and any additional comments.

We look forward to seeing your farm!

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best Restaurants 2016

Best Restaurants 2016

Which 33 Pittsburgh-area establishments did our independent Restaurant Review Panel include among its top picks this year? Find them here.
Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

In addition to awarding Best Restaurant honors this year, our Independent Restaurant Review Panel also voted to recognize six chefs for their contributions to Pittsburgh’s culinary community in 2015.
Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

German blends a collage of community activism and soul-searching artistry.
PittGirl to Wooers: ‘Not Today Satan, Not Today’

PittGirl to Wooers: ‘Not Today Satan, Not Today’

It only takes one person, one jagoff, one childish, attention-seeking, discourteous jerk to send a woo through PNC Park.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

5 Reasons PyroFest Will Light Up Your Memorial Day Weekend

5 Reasons PyroFest Will Light Up Your Memorial Day Weekend

PyroFest will also include live music, food, a Kids Zone and more.
8 Things You Might Not Know About Kennywood’s Jack Rabbit

8 Things You Might Not Know About Kennywood’s Jack Rabbit

When you compare what it cost to build the coaster in 1920 to what it would cost today, it's obvious Kennywood's owners got their money's worth.
Second New Restaurant Moving into Union Trust Building

Second New Restaurant Moving into Union Trust Building

The upscale seafood eatery is expected to open in late 2016 or early 2017.
Local Filmmaker Celebrates Pittsburgh Food

Local Filmmaker Celebrates Pittsburgh Food

Artist David Bernabo creates a series of films that track various aspects of Pittsburgh's food culture.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best Restaurants 2016

Best Restaurants 2016

Which 33 Pittsburgh-area establishments did our independent Restaurant Review Panel include among its top picks this year? Find them here.
Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

In addition to awarding Best Restaurant honors this year, our Independent Restaurant Review Panel also voted to recognize six chefs for their contributions to Pittsburgh’s culinary community in 2015.
Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

German blends a collage of community activism and soul-searching artistry.
PittGirl to Wooers: ‘Not Today Satan, Not Today’

PittGirl to Wooers: ‘Not Today Satan, Not Today’

It only takes one person, one jagoff, one childish, attention-seeking, discourteous jerk to send a woo through PNC Park.
Daytripping: Canonsburg is a City of Antiques

Daytripping: Canonsburg is a City of Antiques

Nearby Canonsburg is a rare find for antiques collectors.
U.S. Open at Oakmont: Will The Town Finally Be a Player?

U.S. Open at Oakmont: Will The Town Finally Be a Player?

The U.S. Open is returning to Oakmont — and unlike previous tournaments, this one could make the community a vital part of the action.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


5 Reasons PyroFest Will Light Up Your Memorial Day Weekend

5 Reasons PyroFest Will Light Up Your Memorial Day Weekend

PyroFest will also include live music, food, a Kids Zone and more.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Richard DeShantz Plans Two New Restaurants at Salt of the Earth Building

Richard DeShantz Plans Two New Restaurants at Salt of the Earth Building

DeShantz owns three other Pittsburgh restaurants and is about to open a fourth.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The quiet rise of Pittsburgh's tea scene gives us a few favorite gems.

Comments


Highmark Stadium Pub Wants Your Attention

Highmark Stadium Pub Wants Your Attention

The in-house tavern at the Riverhounds' home stadium is now welcoming guests during weekdays. But is it worth a dedicated stop?

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Resurrected Penguins Writing Their Story Their Way

Resurrected Penguins Writing Their Story Their Way

These Penguins have been downright unrecognizable, individually and collectively, on the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Flip the Switch: Industrial-Style Lighting Made in Pittsburgh

Flip the Switch: Industrial-Style Lighting Made in Pittsburgh

An electrician by trade, designer Thomas Verscharen creates custom lighting out of repurposed pieces.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The X-Men Would've Done Better in Wonderland

The X-Men Would've Done Better in Wonderland

Reviews of "X-Men: Apocalypse," "Alice Through the Looking Glass," "A Bigger Splash" and "Love and Friendship."

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Get with the (Wedding) Program

Get with the (Wedding) Program

Have you ever considered making programs for your wedding guests? If not, think again and get creative.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
A Tiny House that's Big on Energy Savings

A Tiny House that's Big on Energy Savings

Spread out across the city for these upcoming events, including a “Tiny House” exhibit at the Carnegie Science Center displayed by the FIY Network.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Duquesne University to Host Small Business Networking Event

Duquesne University to Host Small Business Networking Event

The event will connect hundreds of small business managers and owners and provide useful information to help them take their enterprises to the next level.

Comments