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 ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Lace up your sneakers or hiking boots and head outdoors for 10 great walks for spring.
412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

Local nonprofit organization 412 Food Rescue is taking food that otherwise would be tossed aside and connecting it with those in need through-of-the-moment technology.
Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Fashion is white haute this spring with the best looks from local stores.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy's Meg Cheever To Step Down

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy's Meg Cheever To Step Down

The nonprofit's founding President and CEO will leave her position early next year.
Pittsburgh Pens' Spouse is ‘Hockey Wife’ On and Off Camera

Pittsburgh Pens' Spouse is ‘Hockey Wife’ On and Off Camera

After a Stanley Cup-winning season for the Pittsburgh Penguins, one player’s wife is working on her own claim to fame.
What to Do with Unused Churches in Pittsburgh

What to Do with Unused Churches in Pittsburgh

A Pittsburgh preservation group says there are approximately 30 unused churches in Allegheny County.
How Would You Make Pittsburgh's Liberty Avenue Better?

How Would You Make Pittsburgh's Liberty Avenue Better?

This week, your suggestions could have a significant impact on one of Downtown’s busiest streets.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Lace up your sneakers or hiking boots and head outdoors for 10 great walks for spring.
412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

Local nonprofit organization 412 Food Rescue is taking food that otherwise would be tossed aside and connecting it with those in need through-of-the-moment technology.
Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Fashion is white haute this spring with the best looks from local stores.
Restaurant Review: Pork & Beans

Restaurant Review: Pork & Beans

The latest restaurant from the Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group brings Texas-style smoked meats and more to Downtown.
Daytripping: Brave the Cave

Daytripping: Brave the Cave

Go subterranean at Laurel Caverns, the largest cave in Pennsylvania.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy's Meg Cheever To Step Down

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy's Meg Cheever To Step Down

The nonprofit's founding President and CEO will leave her position early next year.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Kamayan Feast Coming To Kaya in the Strip District

Kamayan Feast Coming To Kaya in the Strip District

Executive Chef Ben Sloan will offer a festive, eat-with-your-hands spread on Tuesday nights.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

These spots are tailored for couples who are looking for a simple, chill night out on Valentine’s Day (or any other day). If your significant other isn’t the type to be wooed by expensive wines and chocolates, this is the list for you.

Comments


The (Very Good) Brewery You Should Be Patronizing in Homestead

The (Very Good) Brewery You Should Be Patronizing in Homestead

Voodoo Brewery is an enticing alternative to the many chains in and around the Waterfront.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Steelers’ Philosophy Back on Display After Hightower Flirtation

Steelers’ Philosophy Back on Display After Hightower Flirtation

Even as they entertained Dont’a Hightower for nearly seven hours during a free-agent recruiting trip to the South Side, the Steelers never lost sight of who they are or what they’re all about.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Turn Your Bath into a Spa with These Oils

Turn Your Bath into a Spa with These Oils

The miniature bath- and shower-oil collection from Aromatherapy Associates makes every shower a luxury experience.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The CMU Film Fest Opens with One of 2016's Best

The CMU Film Fest Opens with One of 2016's Best

Reviews of two films appearing at the 2017 Carnegie Mellon International Film Festival: "I, Daniel Blake," and "The Eagle Huntress." Plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
#Wedding: What’s Trending in the Wedding World

#Wedding: What’s Trending in the Wedding World

Married couples talk hashtags — and why they used them at their weddings.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Get the Scoop Behind One of Pittsburgh’s Most Unique Condos

Get the Scoop Behind One of Pittsburgh’s Most Unique Condos

The Carnegie Museum of Art’s new exhibit features the works of architect Arthur Lubetz and Front Studio, including the vibrant Glass Lofts Building in Garfield.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
New Club is a Hit at Thiel College

New Club is a Hit at Thiel College

The Outdoor Recreation Club becomes the newest student organization at the college.

Comments