A surprising hire yesterday grabbed headlines across the game industry and in the mass media, as Zynga announced that industry veteran Don Mattrick had accepted the position of CEO at Zynga. Earlier in the day, the Wall Street Journal broke the story, and Zynga confirmed it.
Don Mattrick is a veteran of Electronic Arts, having sold his company Distinctive Studios to EA back in 1991, and eventually Mattrick became president of Worldwide Studios for EA. He left EA and joined Microsoft, heading up the entertainment division for Microsoft and driving the Xbox 360 to its current status as number one console in the USA. Mattrick’s departure is surprising to many because the new Xbox One is still several months away from launch.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer addressed the change in a note to employees: “This is a great opportunity for Don, and I wish him success. Don’s directs will report to me and will continue to drive the day-to-day business as a team, particularly focused on shipping Xbox One this holiday…Thank you, Don, for setting us on a path to completely redefine the entertainment industry. The strong leadership team at [Interactive Entertainment Business] and their teams are well positioned to deliver the next-generation entertainment console, as well as transformative entertainment experiences, long into the future.”
The change is also surprising for Zynga, which has remained firmly in the control of founder Mark Pincus, who has served as CEO and chairman of the board since the company’s beginning. Pincus has now left his CEO position to Mattrick and instead will become Zynga chief product officer, which from the sound of it would indicate that Pincus will focus on games instead of overall management.
“I’ve always said to Bing [Gordon] 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,” Pincus said. “I’m confident that Don is that leader.”
There are many questions left to be answered about both Microsoft and Zynga as this change is absorbed. Effective immediately, though, Mattrick is beginning his new role at Zynga, and we’ll be watching to see what changes take place.