Zynga founder Mark Pincus is stepping down from an operational role at the huge social game publisher as his successor, CEO Don Mattrick, puts his own stamp on the company.
Pincus will give up his title of chief product officer, stepping away from day-to-day management, but he will remain chairman of the company that he founded almost seven years ago. Mattrick is taking on more responsibility and appointing more executives with extensive video game experience as part of an ongoing effort to turn around the $1 billion company’s growth in the multibillion-dollar casual- and social-game sectors.
The move is a big milestone in the history of casual social gaming, where executives with no gaming experience like Pincus paved the way to reach much broader audiences than industry executives ever imagined. With the sweeping changes today, Mattrick has put in place his own team of executives to take Zynga into the future.
Pincus will still play a role, and he is still the largest shareholder at Zynga with a controlling interest in the publicly traded company. Mattrick made the announcement today as Zynga reported better than expected earnings for the first quarter.
Among the new hires is Alex Garden, the former Microsoft Xbox Live executive and Relic Entertainment founder. He’ll be the head of Zynga Studios, reporting to Mattrick. Garden, 39, most recently was general manager of Xbox Live, Xbox Music, Video, and Reading. He worked with content partners like HBO, Netflix, and ESPN. He also worked at online publisher Nexon and made hardcore games at Relic, the developer of landmark games such as Homeworld and Company of Heroes.
“Alex Garden is an exciting hire for us as we focus on growing and sustaining our franchises, creating groundbreaking new entertainment experiences, and developing a more creative culture across Zynga,” said Mattrick. “As president of Zynga Studios, Alex will have an integral role on the management team overseeing all of our studios as well as our CTO division. On a personal note, I have known Alex for 25 years and I am confident that he will strengthen our creative and technical capabilities as well as nurture and mentor our existing teams.”
All of Zynga’s game studios will report to Garden.
In a statement, Garden said, “I joined Zynga because it has a unique opportunity to push the boundaries in mobile gaming and fundamentally shift the way consumers are entertained. Don Mattrick is an incredibly effective leader and working for him is a real privilege. He challenges the status quo, goes after bold ideas, champions innovation, nurtures great teams and, above all, puts the consumer first. I am looking forward to working with Don and the rest of the team on Zynga’s next growth chapter.”
Zynga also hired Academy Award-nominated visual artist Henry LaBounta as chief visual officer and Jennifer Nuckles as chief marketing officer. Earlier this month, Zynga appointed David Lee as chief financial officer and chief accounting officer.
Steve Chiang, who previously ran game teams related to Zynga’s Ville
series, is leaving the company.
LaBounta is a game veteran who has worked at Electronic Arts, DreamWorks, and Microsoft Studios. At EA, he worked on Need for Speed. He also worked on movies such as Mission Impossible 2, AI, and Twister, which earned him the Oscar nomination. He will report to Garden and help coach the creative teams to deliver “jaw-dropping, visually appealing games,” Mattrick said.
Nuckles, the former chief marketing officer of Plum District (an e-commerce platform for moms), will report to Clive Downie, Zynga’s chief operating officer.
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