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Owen Van Natta is back in the game. He’s back in business. And he’s back in the games business.
Zynga, the maker of FarmVille, Mafia Wars, and other popular Facebook games, is hiring the social-networking veteran as executive vice president of business operations. Van Natta, who’d been consulting for the company, starts work on Monday, and is also joining Zynga’s board of directors.
It’s the latest in a string of high-profile hires and business deals for Zynga, which is widely believed to be gearing up for an IPO.
Van Natta most recently ran MySpace, but was ousted from his job as CEO in February amid a high-profile conflict with Jonathan Miller, the chief digital officer at MySpace’s parent company, News Corp. Before that he briefly ran Project Playlist, a now-defunct music startup based in Palo Alto.
He’s best known for his role as chief operating officer of Facebook, where he was known for his aggressive dealmaking, a career capped by Microsoft’s investment in the social network at a breathtaking valuation of $15 billion.
Van Natta will oversee the company’s “revenue strategy, corporate development, internal expansion, and brand,” according to a company biography, and reports to Zynga founder and chief executive Mark Pincus.
That Van Natta took a non-CEO job following MySpace will likely raise eyebrows. Van Natta had been vocal in the past about his ambitions to run a major Internet company — an ambition which contributed to his departure at Facebook, where founder Mark Zuckerberg is firmly ensconced as CEO. But Zynga is one of the hottest companies in Silicon Valley right now, with huge plans for international expansion, and Van Natta is getting not just a broad portfolio of responsibility for the business but a seat on the board as well.
Zynga recently hired a new CFO, Dave Wehner, a former managing director at boutique investment bank Allen & Co. Robert Goldberg, previously the company’s vice president of business development, is taking a new position as CEO of Zynga Japan. The company has formed a joint venture in that country with SoftBank, the Japanese Internet giant, and is expanding elsewhere in Asia through acquisitions and its SoftBank relationship.
Google has also reportedly invested in Zynga and partnered with the company to bring its popular games to Google Me, a social network Google is developing to compete with Facebook.