Farmville publisher Zynga has announced that former Xbox head Don Mattrick will be stepping down from his position as CEO. He will be replaced by Mark Pincus, Zynga’s founder and former CEO and the person who hired Mattrick in late 2013.
“The team’s hard work for our mobile players has resulted in bookings growing from 27% mobile bookings when Don joined to 60% by the end of last year,” Pincus said in a statement. “Further, to deliver unique and differentiated value to our mobile players, Don and the team acquired NaturalMotion. NaturalMotion has surprised and delighted the world with Clumsy Ninja and CSR Racing resulting in more than 160 million installs to date.”
“I am returning to the company that I love in order to accelerate innovation in the most popular categories like Action Strategy and strengthen our focus on our core areas like Invest and Express,” he added.
Mattrick noted that he was proud of the progress that he and Pincus made together, but thought that now was the right time to step down and plans to return to Canada in order to begin his next venture. He did not comment on what that venture might be. “When I joined the company in July 2013, Mark and I shared a vision of building a meaningful company that redefines entertainment in an increasingly mobile world. I am proud of the progress we have made together. I believe the timing is now right for me to leave as CEO and let Mark lead the company into its next chapter given his passion for the founding vision and his ability to couple our mobile progress with Zynga’s unique strengths,” he said in the same statement.
Pincus founded Zynga in 2009 and managed to drive the company’s revenues up to an impressive $1 billion in 2011 after riding the wave of casual gaming on Facebook – notably with the phenomenal success of games like Farmville and Mafia Wars.
Despite Zynga’s early success however, the rise of mobile gaming led to Zynga’s revenue from social media games declining and the company was slow to capitalize on the new trend, resulting in a steep fall in company revenue. Pincus eventually stepped aside in late 2013, appointing Mattrick – fresh from a controversial stint as Microsoft’s head of its Xbox division. It was Mattrick who made the disastrous reveal of Xbox One at E3 in May 2013.
Back then, the Xbox One was to be online-only, prevent users from selling their games on the second-hand market, and the initial reveal was noted for its emphasis on films, social networking and the console’s use as a device to watch television. Mattrick is regarded by many as being responsible for the Xbox brand losing so much of its market share to Sony’s PlayStation in the current generation, and the immediate negative backlash to the reveal was followed by an embarrassing series of U-turns in the before and after the console’s release. Mattrick was eventually replaced by current Xbox head Phil Spencer, who wasted no time implementing a series of measures designed to turn around public perception of Microsoft’s latest games console.
Mattrick’s luck didn’t get much better after he joined Zynga, however – despite repositioning the company’s focus away from social media and towards mobile gaming, the company’s fortunes continue to be in decline. Zynga closed its 2014 fiscal year by posting $225 million in losses.
Pincus says that the decision for Mattrick to step down was an amicable one, and that despite the previous year’s losses he has no plans to remove the staff hired by Mattrick from Zynga: “I consider them to be our people. No immediate changes. Don and his team have done great work on strategy and plans.”
“I looked at where we are, and we agreed for the next chapter [that] we need to layer on some of the special sauce on top of that.”
Pincus has requested that his new-old-job come with an annual salary of $1,000,000, matching the pay of the departing CEO. The $1m paycheck isn’t likely to be all he’ll get, however – in 2014 Mattrick earned around $15m in total, with bonuses and other “buffs” inflating his final take-home pay for the year.