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Zynga names Xbox exec Don Mattrick as CEO, Pincus shifts role

Zynga names Xbox exec Don Mattrick as CEO, Pincus shifts role

July 1, 2013 | By Christian Nutt

As it searches for direction, major social game developer Zynga is bringing on Microsoft and Electronic Arts veteran Don Mattrick as CEO, in a surprise move announced today.

The San Francisco-based social game firm (Words With Friends, FarmVille) has tapped Mattrick to lead it in its search for the right path, while its founder, Mark Pincus, will continue to serve the company as both the chairman of its board of directors and chief product officer.

While the company was the original big winner of the Facebook game boom, Zynga has run into multiple roadblocks in recent times, as its main audience of casual players shifts to other companies' titles and mobile platforms.

Long by far the top player in the space, it has recently been eclipsed by King, whose Candy Crush Saga is Facebook's current top game by monthly active users. In addition, its inability to gain a firm foothold in the mobile game space has meant it's been eclipsed by a number of other upstarts, including Supercell (Clash Of Clans).

Zynga recently laid off 18 percent of its workforce and shuttered several studios, as well as shutting down many of its once-popular games.

For his part, Pincus' statement suggests that he's thrilled with the Mattrick hire:

"Don is unique in the game business," Pincus said. "He can execute in multiple domains -- hardware, software and network, and he's been the person responsible for game franchises like Need for Speed, FIFA and The Sims." Prior to his stint at Microsoft, Mattrick served as president of worldwide studios at Electronic Arts.

In an internal email obtained by Polygon, Pincus is quoted as saying "I've always said to Bing and our Board that if I could find someone who could do a better job as our CEO I'd do all I could to recruit and bring that person in. I'm confident that Don is that leader."

"I joined Zynga because I believe that Mark's pioneering vision and mission to connect the world through games is just getting started. Zynga is a great business that has yet to realize its full potential," Mattrick said in a statement.

For the last six years, Mattrick has been at Microsoft; for the last three, he's been president of its Interactive Entertainment Business unit, which includes the Xbox. He was the frontman for the company's rocky PR push for its new Xbox One console and notably recently walked back its unpopular DRM policy. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's internal email about Mattrick's move is available on its official blog.

In the announcement, Zynga strongly emphasized how overjoyed its board of directors is with the Mattrick hire -- calling attention to its unanimous decision to appoint him and offering quotes such as "Don Mattrick joining Zynga as its CEO is a spectacular coup for the company" from board member and DreamWorks Animation SKG CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg.

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