Zynga snags Microsoft game chief
ZYNGA co-founder Mark Pincus said on Monday that he is handing over the helm of the struggling social-game company to Microsoft's entertainment-division chief, Mr Don Mattrick.
"I've always said (to the Zynga board) that if I could find someone who could do a better job as our chief executive officer, I'd do all I could to recruit and bring that person in," Mr Pincus said in a letter to employees. "I'm confident that Don is that leader."
Last month, Zynga announced that it was cutting nearly a fifth of its staff as it refocuses on games for mobile devices.
It has been pulling the plug on unpopular games and investing in titles for play on smartphones or tablets, as well as its own online arena at zynga.com.
It rose to stardom by tailoring games for play by friends on Facebook. But the two firms have grown apart in the past year as Facebook develops new revenue streams and Zynga seeks new consumers.
Mr Mattrick was at the centre of a backlash against Microsoft recently, over plans for new-generation Xbox One consoles to require Internet connections and putting restrictions on playing second-hand game disks.
About two weeks ago, he announced in a blog post that the United States technology titan had aborted the plan in the face of outrage by gamers.
Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter deemed it "bad timing" for Microsoft to have Mr Mattrick leave just months before the release of a new-generation Xbox console out to be the heart of Internet-age home entertainment.
Microsoft said it will charge US$499 (S$632) for an Xbox One console when it is released in the US and Europe in November.
That is the same month that Japan-based rival Sony will release new-generation PlayStation 4 consoles at US$399 each.
Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer said that he will directly oversee Mr Mattrick's team, in what many considered a sign that the departure was unexpected.
"It's a big deal for Zynga; it's a big deal for Microsoft, and it's a big deal that Electronic Arts is not getting him," Mr Pachter said. "Mr Mattrick is a great hire; I think he will work fine."
Industry had suspected that Mr Mattrick was going to move to US video-game titan Electronic Arts.
Mr Ballmer praised Mr Mattrick and bade him good fortune in an internal memo sent to workers and posted online.
Since Mr Mattrick joined Microsoft's interactive-entertainment team more than six years ago, Xbox 360 has become the top-selling console in North America and membership in the Xbox Live service has grown eightfold to 48 million.
Mr Mattrick said in an e-mail message to Zynga workers that was shared online: "I joined Zynga because I believe that Mark's pioneering vision and mission to connect the world through games are just getting started.
"Zynga is a great business that has yet to realise its full potential."
Zynga, which was founded in 2007, launched games such as CityVille, Words With Friends and Zynga Poker that run on Facebook and other platforms.
Its games are free to play but the company makes money by selling virtual in-game goods to players and serving up advertisements.
"Zynga is in need of some fresh blood to invigorate its leadership team and Mr Mattrick would certainly make a formidable fit," said Tech Savvy analyst Scott Steinberg.
"Zynga acquires a name-brand executive with proven experience to expand in the increasingly online and mobile game world."