Can Xbox boss Don Mattrick save Zynga and social gaming?

Mattrick will become new CEO as founder Mark Pincus steps down

Don Mattrick, head of the Microsoft division responsible for the Xbox, has been hired as CEO by Farmville creators Zynga. The company’s founder and current CEO, Mark Pincus, will be stepping down to let Mattrick take his position.

The decision is unexpected but there are plenty of possible causes. Poor reactions to the new Xbox after E3 and Microsoft’s series of U-turns over game DRM and online connection have led to an unpleasant amount of press scrutiny for Mattrick, leaving to avoid that might make sense.

The 49-year-old Mattrick also has a reputation for moving “into organisations that have challenges” – and none could be more troubled than Zynga.

The company that made its money from Facebook-based games such as Farmville recently laid off more than 500 employees, with company revenue falling 18 per cent last quarter. In 2011 the company went public with 100 million shares at $10 each (the largest IPO since Google’s in 2004), whilst shares are now less than $3.

Shares in the company jumped after the news of Mattrick’s appointment, and the decision of Zynga’s founder Pincus to step aside from the top position indicates his strong commitment to turning the company around.

On a blog post on Zynga’s website titled ‘Big Day’, Pincus said: “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. I’m confident that Don is that leader.”

Despite Mattrick’s recent trouble with the Xbox One, his successes in transforming Microsoft’s Xbox division are undoubted. He joined in 2007 when the console was challenged by both the Wii and the PS2, and introduced the Kinect – which would become the fastest selling consumer electronic device of all time.

Under his leadership the userbase of Xbox Live members grew from 6 to 48 million, the Xbox became the top selling console in the US over the last two years and the entire division finally stopped making a loss.

In an open letter responding to the move, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said: “Thank you, Don, for setting us on a path to completely redefine the entertainment industry.” 

Ballmer's letter was notable for describing the greatest achievement of the Xbox division not as games, or even the Kinect - but as "expanding Xbox to go beyond great gaming to deliver all the entertainment people want."

Bloomberg described the transfer as "moving from steak to Skittles" but there's more similarities than that. As with Xbox Mattrick will be looking at the gaming market from a new vantage. It won't involve creating a new multimedia experience, but will be about tapping an equally misunderstood sector of the industry - social gaming.

As Tim Bradshaw for the Financial Times has noted, Mattrick will have to work hard to turn around Zynga, focusing on two key areas: moving the company's games into the mobile sphere and reducing their dependence on Facebook. If these problems can be tackled though, Mattrick might find just as much steak at Zynga as Microsoft could ever offer.

Update: Don Mattrick has addressed his new employees for the first time, sending out an email to the company's 2,000-plus staff. In it he praises Zynga's combination of "engineering, industry-leading product management and analytics to deliver products that strike a chord with consumers and add real value in their lives."

Read the letter in full over at All Things D.

ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

    £13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

    Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

    £20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

    SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Do you want to get in...

    SThree: Recruitment Consultant - IT

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking fo...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever