Social gaming company behind FarmVille is also closing offices in New York, Dallas and Los Angeles to save $80m a year
Zynga, the social gaming company behind CityVille, Words With Friends and Draw Something, is laying off 580 people and closing offices in New York, Dallas and Los Angeles.
The gaming firm shares have fallen 64% since it went public at the end of December 2011 as investors have worried about its ability to make money from mobile game players. The company said the cuts represent 18% of its workforce and will save it $80m a year.
Zynga grew rapidly as its games took off on Facebook and now has over 240m active users a month. But like the social network giant the gaming company has found it harder to make money as its players migrated to mobile. The company said it expected to make a net loss in the range of $39m to $28.5m in the second quarter of 2013, restructuring will cost the company $24m-$26m.
In an email to staff Mark Pincus, founder and chief executive, wrote: “Today is a hard day for Zynga and an emotional one for every employee of our company. We are saying painful goodbyes to about 18% of our Zynga brothers and sisters. The impact of these layoffs will be felt across every group in the company.
“None of us ever expected to face a day like today, especially when so much of our culture has been about growth. But I think we all know this is necessary to move forward. The scale that served us so well in building and delivering the leading social gaming service on the web is now making it hard to successfully lead across mobile and multiplatform, which is where social games are going to be played.”
Pincus said the company was “offering generous severance packages that reflect our appreciation for all of their work and we hope this will provide a foundation as they pursue their next professional steps.”
Zynga has been dropping games in recent months and witnessed the departure of many of its senior executives. In April Dan Porter, chief executive of Draw Something company OMGPOP, became the latest to leave. Zynga bought OMGPOP for $180m in 2012 and wrote off $95m of that acquisition months later.
Woman, 63, was running in rural Los Angeles when dogs attacked and mauled her to death, witness and police say
A pack of up to four pit bull terriers has been blamed for the death of a jogger in rural Los Angeles, with officials warning on Thursday that the dogs remained on the loose.
Sheriff’s Lieutenant John Corina said a woman in a car saw the dogs attacking the female jogger, 63, on Thursday morning. The witness called police and blew her car horn to try to get the dogs to stop.
“When the first deputy on scene saw one dog still attacking the woman, he tried to chase the dog away,” Corina said. “The dog ran off into the desert, then turned around and attacked the deputy, the deputy fired a round at the dog and tried to kill the dog, and the dog took off into the desert.”
The woman died while she was in an ambulance on the way to a hospital, said Evelina Villa, county animal control spokeswoman.
The coroner’s office was investigating to determine the cause of death.
Sheriff’s officials were alerting people in the area to watch for four tan-coloured dogs and were were using a helicopter to search for them. It was unclear whether the dogs had collars or owners.
“In these areas you might have a situation where people dump animals out in rural areas,” said John Mlynar, a spokesman for the nearby city of Palmdale. He haad never heard of an attack like Thursday’s, Mlynar said.
Residents near the site of the attack said stray dogs were constantly roaming the area and had attacked people before. “It’s really scary,” Diane Huffman, of Littlerock, told KABC-TV. “I don’t know what to think. I really think I’m going to be getting a gun to protect myself.”
The prizewinning pooch travels in a ‘dog buggy’, with six bodyguards
And so to Los Angeles, the better to answer the question that has doubtless been plaguing your every waking hour. What’s been happening in the career of Pudsey, the dog that triumphed over a scarcely believable array of gifted individuals – including a man who could do an impersonation of a Dalek – to win the last series of Britain’s Got Talent? The answer appears to be: stuff that will blow even the most jaded of minds.
According to an article in Hello! magazine, Pudsey and his owner Ashleigh were recently flown to the US on Simon Cowell’s private jet. There, fearful of a dognapping, his owner has been forced to “up security”. She now employs an entourage of six who act as the dog’s bodyguards, presumably before going home, standing in front of the mirror and crying and crying and crying: “My job involves being part of a team of six who act as bodyguards to a dog that walks on its hind legs to the theme tune from The Flintstones, dear God please tell me I’ve reached some kind of nadir here.”
So popular is the dog that it can no longer be taken out for a walk and instead has to be transported everywhere in something called a “dog buggy”; to keep fit, it exercises indoors on a treadmill, before being massaged. Most importantly, the dog is about to release its autobiography. “This is Pudsey’s remarkable life story, straight from the dog’s mouth,” offers the publisher’s website. “Here are all the exclusive stories from Britain’s favourite dancing dog.”
There are obviously those who will view this book – like so much of the output of Simon Cowell’s global media empire – as an entity aimed solely at the lucrative “irredeemable half-wit” market. Lost in Showbiz, however, thinks this could genuinely be a taboo-busting, boundary-pushing game-changer. What we have here is a celebrity memoir written by a celebrity who has almost undoubtedly rolled around in excrement and vigorously licked their own genitals in public.
With the best will in the world, Cheryl Cole’s forthcoming “tell-all” autobiography won’t match that.
Emails indicate Virgin Atlantic supervisor passed information about eight celebrities to Big Pictures agency
A senior employee at Virgin Atlantic has resigned after allegations that she passed private flight details of celebrities, including Ashley Cole and Sienna Miller, to a global paparazzi agency.
Emails seen by the Guardian indicate that a Virgin Atlantic supervisor of Upper Class customers passed detailed flight information for at least eight celebrities to the London-based firm Big Pictures.
The Virgin Atlantic employee, who resigned on Thursday after the Guardian raised the claims, appears to have been told in an email from Big Pictures that the agency was “trying to sort you out some money with accounts”.
The allegations will intensify scrutiny by politicians and the courts over the alleged illicit trade of private information by some media companies in the UK. Solicitors for Cole and Miller, two of those named in the email, said they were taking legal instructions over the alleged leak.
The email to Big Pictures says: “Got a few more for you!” then lists celebrity flights from London for Miller, Cole, his former wife Cheryl, the Tottenham footballer Jermaine Defoe, actors Scarlett Johansson and Gwyneth Paltrow, and singers Robbie Williams and Nicole Scherzinger.
Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic said it was taking the apparent leak “extremely seriously” and launched an urgent inquiry into the affair. The company said in a statement: “The allegations that have been raised are extremely serious and we have launched an immediate investigation.
“The security of customer information is our highest priority and we have robust processes in place to ensure that passenger information is protected. The incident that has been alleged concerns eight customers’ flights booked in 2010 and we are in contact with all of those people. It is too early to draw conclusions on this matter but of course we would deeply regret any concern that these allegations may cause the individuals involved.”
The airline employee, who looked after high-profile customers on Virgin Atlantic flights, is understood to have resigned on Thursday yesterday but denies passing the information to Big Pictures. The employee said she was “not going to comment on that at all” and hung up the phone when contacted on Wednesday morning.
Checks by the Guardian confirm that, where known, the whereabouts of the celebrities matched the details apparently disclosed by the Virgin Atlantic employee.
Cole, the Chelsea and England defender, was pictured at Heathrow by a Big Pictures photographer on the date given in the correspondence. Miller was pictured arriving at Los Angeles airport from Heathrow on the correct dates. Defoe was reported to be in St Lucia for his children’s charity between the dates listed in the email.
Sources at the airline said that four of the eight celebrities flew on the dates given, but the other four cancelled their bookings. The flight codes given in the correspondence – such as VS7 for Heathrow to JFK flights – also match information published on Virgin Atlantic’s website.
The exchange suggests a longstanding and friendly relationship between Big Pictures and its apparent airline source. In one email, headed “Hello …”, the picture agency asks for holiday advice after saying that it was “trying to sort you out some money with accounts”.
The reply goes on to say “Got a few more for you!” and lists celebrity bookings on Virgin Atlantic flights to and from London airports. “Talk soon!” the message ends.
The Virgin Atlantic employee behind the apparent leak is understood to have told colleagues that she was recently a victim of identity theft. The employee, whom the Guardian has chosen not to name, is also understood to have cited other reasons for her sudden resignation on Thursday.
Virgin Atlantic was attempting to contact the celebrities involved last night. The company is trawling email archives and investigating who has access to its booking system. Sources at the airline indicated that other travel firms may have had partial access to its bookings system.
Big Pictures is also understood to have launched an investigation into affair. The agency and its lawyer had not returned repeated requests for comment at the time of publication.
Legal experts said the disclosure may not necessarily be a criminal offence, but appears to be prima facie evidence of a breach of the Data Protection Act and a breach of the individuals’ right to privacy.
“This could just be the beginning: this could be the tip of the iceberg,” said Gerald Shamash, the privacy lawyer who founded the firm Steel & Shamash. “It’s extremely worrying but nothing in the whole of this saga has surprised me, with everything that is coming out.”
Shamash said advance knowledge of the whereabouts of celebrities was the “bread and butter” of life as a picture agency or tabloid newspaper. “This has got to be private information. It has to be. There’s no public interest in this whatsoever.
“Once it has these details, the agency does one or two things: it keeps [the information] to sell it or phones a newspaper to say this person has gone to Los Angeles. It’s a symbiotic relationship with newspapers.”
The Leveson inquiry into press standards has heard a string of claims of illicit trade of private information by media companies. Big Pictures’ founder, Darryn Lyons, told the inquiry in February that his company, famous for its dogged pursuit of celebrities and public figures, does not have a formal code of practice but “photographers are informed what is expected from them”.
The agency, which employs 29 members of staff and 152 freelance photographers, paid £53,000 in damages to Miller in November 2008 over harassment and invasion of privacy. Big Pictures also agreed not to photograph the actor in public.
“I don’t agree that people should be hounded up and down the street all day in any shape or form,” Lyons told the Leveson inquiry.
“But I do agree that people … as a part of history, should be photographed in public places, absolutely, and I’m avid about it. We have a free press and a free press should be able to work in public places.”
He added: “We live in a world of voyeurism. It is a business where young people look up to … 50% of celebrities want to be photographed and they love it for their own self-gain in terms of financial back pocket, and to make them more famous.”
Twelve more Fresh & Easy stores to close as British parent company is accused of failing to understand the US market
When Tesco was planning its foray into the US grocery market five years ago, the unlovely box of a building it took over in Hemet, in the far eastern suburbs of Los Angeles near the Mojave desert, seemed the embodiment of everything it hoped to achieve.
The plan was that Fresh & Easy, the brand Tesco launched in America, would spearhead economic revival in a ruggedly unfashionable stretch of exurban boulevard known mostly for its panhandlers and streetwalkers. The closest competitor was a couple of miles away.
At the same time, Tesco would put itself on the map across the western United States, its chosen market, as a new force to be reckoned with.
It has not worked out that way. Fresh & Easy has since dropped its plans to move into California’s “food deserts”: mostly struggling communities without easy access to food stores. The fanfare the company hoped for became an impossibility as the economy first faltered, then melted down in late 2008.
The Hemet store is now slated for closure. The company announced last week that it was “temporarily” closing 12 stores across California, Nevada and Arizona – to add to the 13 it closed in late 2010 – because they were losing too much money to keep operating.
The news is not all bad. Separately, Fresh & Easy is opening in 25 new locations before the end of March, some of them full-size stores and some Express outlets similar to the Express and Metro stores Tesco operates in Britain. These are, for the most part, in more obviously affluent areas.
One site is Hermosa Beach, a mecca for surfers and young professionals about 10 miles south of Los Angeles airport where such offerings as largegrain couscous, pre-prepared chicken and broccoli alfredo, and $30 (£20) bottles of pinot noir from the Santa Rita hills near Santa Barbara have a more obvious customer base.
The company’s line is that it is fine-tuning its path to profitability and market visibility in what has been an undeniably tough economic environment. “We’re constantly refining and changing,” a spokesman, Roberto Munoz, said.
But the picture is challenged by retail trade analysts and union activists who say Tesco has never properly understood the market, has alienated the communities it seeks to serve and has done a poor job of providing something that is both different and appealing.
They also accuse it of taking a high-handed if not arrogant attitude to its workforce that has prompted a flurry of formal complaints to the National Labour Relations Board (NLRB).
“Tesco has such a strong reputation in England for being an industry leader in workplace standards and overall operations, but you can’t say remotely the same thing about the way they’ve operated in the US,” said Jill Cashen, director of communications for the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW). “They are not leading in terms of standards or operations or even the kind of outlet they’ve created.”
Jim Hertel, a retail analyst with Chicago-based consultants Willard Bishop, said he was surprised at how little Fresh & Easy appeared to have learned from its extensive pre-opening market research.
He found the cellophane-wrapped sandwiches and fruit and vegetables anything but fresh, and was surprised at how little the product lineup varied between neighbourhoods. In many locations, local churches vehemently opposed Fresh & Easy’s extensive alcoholic drink selection but said it was difficult to have their objections heard.
In other words, if Fresh & Easy had half-empty stores, it was not just the fault of the 2008 meltdown on Wall Street.
“I still don’t see what the big idea is,” Hertel said. “I thought they would be about a superior offering at competitive prices. But that’s not what I found, or what shoppers have found.”
Munoz and other company spokesmen say the criticism is outdated. Many branches now have unwrapped fruit and vegetables and fresh bread and flowers up front, Munoz said. He pointed out that Christmas sales were extremely healthy this year, suggesting the corner has been turned, even if the company is still a year or two away from even the most optimistic break-even forecasts.
Labour activists say Fresh & Easy’s treatment of its workforce remains just as problematic, however, and note that the company has responded to a flurry of complaints about relatively minor workplace violations not by fixing the problems but by taking almost all of them to appeal at the NLRB in Washington.
The UFCW has never liked Fresh & Easy and has objected – for example – to its reliance on self-checkout rather than human cashiers. But it has also highlighted how one thriving store near downtown Los Angeles was denied a majority vote in favour of unionisation – which the company ostensibly does not oppose – because several new employees were brought in on 24 hours’ notice who tipped the numbers in the other direction. In the following months, the worker count then dropped back to its original level.
“When the company first came to us, they talked a lot about their values,” said Jeff Ferro, who leads the UFCW’s campaign against Fresh & Easy.
“They said they would do whatever the workers wanted. But when the workers asked for union representation, they changed their tune and said they would follow the law. Since then we’ve seen a repeated breaking of US labour laws, which are not the strongest in the world to begin with.”
Along with the bad feelings have come big losses. A recent analysis by investment bank Shore Capital forecast accumulated losses of around £700m in the US, on capital expenditure of more than £1bn.
And while it remained cautiously optimistic about the long-term prospects – assuming the right formula will be found eventually – the report described Fresh & Easy as a “reasonably sustained drag on Tesco’s earnings” that needed to be addressed with some urgency.
At the Hermosa Beach store opening, Fresh & Easy was clearly on a mission to please, filling the store with customer service representatives, organising a raffle of store vouchers and giving away fabric shopping bags.
In Hemet, meanwhile, employees were told they would be relocated to other stores in the area and customers were reminded the next Fresh & Easy was just in the next town, a short drive away.
But shopper Bob Pratte, for one, felt a sense of loss. “A long stretch of Florida Avenue will be void of a grocery store,” he said. “It is an area of Hemet where retirees and people of limited means reside. Plenty of people walk or ride scooters for the disabled to buy groceries.”
Hertel made the same point even more bluntly. “How can you be a food retailer and not sell food to people who have no other options?” he said. “If you can’t sell food without any competition, that’s a problematic state of affairs.”
Fresh & Easy has been an expensive US road trip for Tesco, with the chain racking up losses of £700m since the first stores opened in the autumn of 2007.
To date Tesco has ploughed more than £1bn into establishing the US venture, a decision considered one of the most daring taken by its former chief executive Sir Terry Leahy during his 14-year reign. For Leahy and Tim Mason, below, the marketing whiz who relocated to Los Angeles to head up the business, it was high risk but also potentially highly rewarding (at least at the start).
In 2009 Leahy received some £10m in pay and cheap or free shares while Mason received about £7m. The payday sparked a row about executive pay with one US investment group accusing Tesco of giving excessive rewards that its performance did not merit.
The row did not go away and iI 2010 the retailer faced embarrassment at the annual meeting when almost half of shareholders failed to back the pay deal.
To avoid a repeat of the showdown, Tesco overhauled directors’ pay last year with Mason’s bonus scheme dropped and new targets set for directors based on wider group performance measures.
Analysts think Fresh & Easy will make a loss of at least £125m in the year to February with Tesco aiming to break even in the coming financial year.
The US chain’s improving performance was a small detail that got lost within last week’s Christmas trading update, which contained its first profit warning in 20 years, wiping £5bn off the company’s stock market value.
Tesco said that unlike its UK stores Fresh & Easy had a very successful Christmas and New Year with underlying sales up nearly 20%. Zoe Wood
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