Jing Zeng, a 42-year-old corporate manager, is facing as much as ten years in prison and $250,000 in fines for stealing sensitive information from Machine Zone, his one-time employer. Machine Zone is the publisher behind the wildly successful Game of War: Fire Age, a freemium, massively multiplayer online game made famous for its ad-campaigns featuring Kate Upton as the goddess Athena.
According to a unsealed federal complaint filed by Machine Zone, the problems with Zeng began earlier this spring when he first voiced an internal complaint about the team he was placed with. Zeng wanted to move within the company to another team, but his immediate superiors denied his request, opting instead to fire him.
Zeng panicked when he learned that Machine Zone planned on terminating his employment and, in retaliation, downloaded over 100 files containing pieces of the Palo Alto company’s proprietary code. It’s unclear what Zeng intended to do with the data he stole, but it appears as if Zeng specifically targeted data related to user behavior like time spent playing and what players’ spending habits.
Information like that can be crucial to the financial success of games like Game of War and highly valuable to competitors. Using a work-issued laptop, Zeng transferred the files from the company’s secure database onto a portable hard drive before wiping the computer and reformatting its hard drive.
From the complaint’s account, Zeng intended to leverage the stolen data to convince Machine Zone to give him a hefty severance package. Machine Zone initially offered Zeng three months’ severance; Zeng pushed for at least six. Zeng suggested that some of the information that he’d stolen had already been transferred to servers located in China, at which point Machine Zone contacted the FBI to file its formal complaint.
On August 20th, Zeng was apprehended by local authorities in a San Francisco airport as he attempted to board a flight destined for Beijing. Zeng immediately posted the $100,000 bond required to leave jail, though he is currently being monitored electronically and is awaiting trial later this year.