This afternoon Zynga announced that CEO Don Mattrick, who joined the company less than two years ago from Microsoft, is immediately departing. Founder and former CEO Mark Pincus is taking the reins back and will be reinstated as CEO of the struggling game company -- one that's still in the midst of a transition to mobile products.
"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," Mattrick said in a statement provided to Gamasutra by Zynga.
Mattrick's not just out as CEO -- he's also leaving its board of directors. "I am excited about the company’s trajectory and wish the best for Mark, Zynga and NaturalMotion as I plan to return to Canada to pursue my next challenge," he also said in the statement.
In an interview with Re/code, Pincus shed some more light on the decision-making process that led to this: “Don and I and board [sic] came to this together and it was super amicable. [But] it’s been two years and we are still not winning as a company on the level we had hoped and think we can be. We need to move fast and we need to act a little bit more as a startup, by focusing more on entrepreneuring and speed than on structure and management.”
Mattrick has spent his tenure at the company trying to turn it around: cleaning house (exec after exec left), aligning its products into genres that (so the company maintains) track with customer demand on mobile, and pushing forward projects that will turn the company's fortunes around.
He's been candid that the company needed to change. He's also spent some time remaking the company somewhat in the image of EA, his longtime pre-Microsoft haunt.
Zynga acquired middleware and game developer NaturalMotion for $527 million during Mattrick's tenure -- its upcoming Dawn of Titans will mark the company's entry into the white-hot mobile strategy genre.
Unfortunately, the company's financials have continued to lag despite the changes. Clearly, Pincus isn't happy with his strategy.
Pincus' internal email to staff, provided alongside the press release, sheds little light on the situation:
I am writing to you today to share some significant news. Don is departing the company and I am returning to Zynga as CEO effective immediately.
I want to thank Don for his incredible efforts and leadership. He has laid groundwork that will benefit our players and company into the future.
Don joined us at a very important time in our evolution. In less than two years under his guidance, our teams have worked hard to better serve our mobile players and deliver world class quality and value to our consumers.
This hard work for our mobile players has resulted in bookings growing from 27% mobile when Don joined to 60% by the end of last year. 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.
Now that we are a mobile first company, it’s time to renew our focus on our vision to make play and social games a mass market activity.
I am inspired by our upcoming products – it is the most exciting slate of mobile games in Zynga’s history with titles like Empires & Allies, Dawn of Titans and FarmVille: Harvest Swap. These games are coming on the heels of one of the most successful mobile launches in our history with Wizard of Oz Slots, which was launched this past November by our Spooky Cool team in Chicago.
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. I look forward to partnering with our leaders to intensify our focus on social experiences for the millions of consumers who play our games.
Zynga pioneered social gaming for the mass market and our mission to connect the world through games has never wavered. We will be sharing more details on the plan that I believe will help us win together and engage more players on mobile when we announce our Q1 Earnings on May 7.
Later today, I will be hosting a flash All-Hands in the Café at 4:00 pm PT. We will be making the session available via vidcon to our global studios and teams in Austin, Chicago, Eugene, Orlando, San Diego and Toronto. For our teams at NaturalMotion and in Dublin, I’ll be hosting a vidcon meeting tomorrow morning at 8:00 am PT, and another at 9 am PT for our employees at Studio-I – details to follow.
Finally, I know many of you across the company globally are heads down focused on readying new player experiences and supporting our evergreen, live games. I want to thank you all for continuing to dedicate yourselves to our mission and what’s best for our consumers.
If you have questions about today’s announcement please feel free ask them at our All-Hands or send them in advance to Dani [email protected] and I’ll read them live on a “no names” basis.