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Xbox chief Don Mattrick jumps to Zynga

Xbox chief Don Mattrick jumps to Zynga

Mon 01 Jul 2013 5:19pm GMT / 1:19pm EDT / 10:19am PDT
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Microsoft's Xbox head leaving to replace Mark Pincus as Zynga's CEO; Pincus to stay with company in other roles

[UPDATE]: Microsoft and Zynga have both confirmed that Don Mattrick is leaving the Xbox maker to become the FarmVille publisher's CEO, replacing founder Mark Pincus in that position. Pincus will remain with the company as the Chairman of the Board and Chief Product Officer. In a note to employees, Pincus explained the reasons for the shift.

"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," Pincus said. "I'm confident that Don is that leader."

Pincus said he was particularly impressed with Mattrick's pedigree. Before he was head of Microsoft's Xbox business, Mattrick served as Electronic Arts' president of worldwide studios.

"Don is unique in the game business," Pincus said. "He can execute in multiple domains - hardware, software and network - and he's been the person responsible for game franchises like Need for Speed, FIFA, and The Sims."

As for Mattrick's interest in Zynga, he said, "I joined Zynga because I believe that Mark's pioneering vision and mission to connect the world through games is just getting started. Zynga is a great business that has yet to realize its full potential. I'm proud to partner with Mark to deliver high-quality, fun, social games wherever people want to play."

In a note to employees, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer addressed the change.

"This is a great opportunity for Don, and I wish him success," Ballmer said. "Don's directs will report to me and will continue to drive the day-to-day business as a team, particularly focused on shipping Xbox One this holiday...Thank you, Don, for setting us on a path to completely redefine the entertainment industry. The strong leadership team at [Interactive Entertainment Business] and their teams are well positioned to deliver the next-generation entertainment console, as well as transformative entertainment experiences, long into the future."

(The original version of this story appears below.)

Although the news is not yet official, Kara Swisher of AllThingsD is reporting that Don Mattrick, Microsoft's head of the Interactive Entertainment Business, is on his way out. Citing "multiple sources close to the situation," AllThingsD says that Mattrick is close to joining social games firm Zynga. In fact, Mattrick may be working in close partnership with Mark Pincus, becoming the new CEO (apparently meaning Pincus would take another executive role at the company).

"While it is not unusual for a founder to give up such power, it certainly underscores Pincus' commitment to reviving Zynga," says Swisher.

Although there's been much talk of management reshuffling and overall restructuring at Microsoft, this move does not appear to be part of that plan. Of course, it's easy to assume that Mattrick is moving on following the major heat that his Xbox division took after severely fumbling the ball at E3, allowing SCEA boss Jack Tretton to enjoy a massive PR victory. The Xbox One policy reversal may have helped calm the waters, but Microsoft clearly has much PR work to do still in navigating the stormy next-gen seas. Whether Mattrick's moving on is at all related to the Xbox One reception is unclear at this point.

The word is that the news could be officially announced today after the markets close. We'll keep you posted.

As investors catch word of the news, Zynga's shares have been climbing significantly. As of this writing, the stock has climbed 11.5 percent. Microsoft, meanwhile, is trading down slightly (0.25 percent).

35 Comments

Thomas Dolby Project Manager / Lead Programmer, Ai Solve

340 292 0.9
Popular Comment
From one train-wreck to another?

Posted:A year ago

#1

Wojciech Mroczek Awesome Content Specialist, GOG.com

18 10 0.6
Possibly not the best move for either Zynga or Don Mattrick.

Posted:A year ago

#2
Seems that my last statement proved very prescient!

Those MS investors were not happy, and I do not expect this to be the last high profile departure as each executive has to vindicate the reason for their high-paid position (and why they have made so many mistakes).

Also remember a number of these executives were hired because of their association with those that are now jumping before they are (f*red) restructured !

Edited 1 times. Last edit by kevin williams on 1st July 2013 8:34pm

Posted:A year ago

#3

Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus

453 724 1.6
Popular Comment
Those two deserve each other.

Posted:A year ago

#4

Axel Cushing Writer / Blogger

104 130 1.3
I think I'm genuinely shocked. I sort of expected him to get the chop after E3, and I'm still expecting the next shareholder's meeting to involve some sacrificial lambs that aren't Ballmer, but this is unexpected in the extreme.

On the other hand, Zynga? Really?

Posted:A year ago

#5

Todd Weidner Founder, Big Daddy Game Studio

412 981 2.4
corporate bubble

Posted:A year ago

#6

Paul Shirley Programmers

178 150 0.8
Favourite comment seen elsewhere:"Another one jumps to save the monkeyboy"

I'm conflicted. I want to see Ballmer pay for all this incompetence but my natural dislike for Microsoft means I also want him to stay and screw up some more ;)

Ultimately though he needs to go soon, before XBone launces, before it's too late to give Sony any competition. Because a Sony working on it's own terms is just as bad as the worst excesses of Microsoft on the PC.

Posted:A year ago

#7

Joel Hruska Analyst/Journalist

24 122 5.1
Popular Comment
This is a plan to come out with Zynga's next-generation entertainment device that combines gambling, poker, sex streams, and Farmville.

The Zexbone.

I'll, um, let myself out.

Posted:A year ago

#8

Roman Margold Rendering Software Engineer, Sucker Punch Productions

24 34 1.4
Popular Comment
I always find it intriguing how these big fish immediately get a new high-profile job after screwing at one.

Posted:A year ago

#9

Benjamin Crause Supervisor Central Support, Nintendo of Europe

82 38 0.5
This sounds like there was an easy and diplomatic way out.

Posted:A year ago

#10
@Roman -
Its a high-stakes game of 'Frogger' - as a high profile executive you have to keep hopping, ensuring your progression up into a nice bolt hole that will accommodate (pay) you the way you perceive (unfairly) your worth over others. However when you smell blood in the water you have to hop faster forward, but also avoid getting squashed (as you are only as good as your last position!)

The current incumbent felt that after E3 the investors were looking for a scapegoat and had sped up the Xbox restructuring plan that cuts a lot of overhead, and before that "restructuring" hit he looked at options to "parachute" into a post his association with MS could not mess up for him - Zynga was the only bolt hole available (and personal contacts that helped getting the MS gig allowed him to slip into this one clean..ish!)

We have to remember that many of those that hoisted this failed state of the XBone on the MS board baled back in 2011/12 - so many of the executives now having to smile on stage and trying to sell this mess had it dropped in their lap, rather than shaped it themselves. It is set in stone so there is no way to add a personal touch, so people like Mattrick do not want to go under with a plan they signed up to but did not shape in the first place!

Now back to that game of 'XBone Executive Bingo' I started back in March - I know who I have as the next target! You?

Posted:A year ago

#11

Kevin Hillary writer/videographer

8 7 0.9
certainly not Phil Harrison. I feel sorry for the guy actually.

Posted:A year ago

#12

Paolo Davide Lumia Editor in Chief, MMORPGITALIA

3 1 0.3
Let the fight begin between whom predicted this earlier.

My call was on 6/14 (my E3 conclusive article).

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paolo Davide Lumia on 1st July 2013 9:04pm

Posted:A year ago

#13

Leigh Pankhurst Studying Animator, Train2Game

7 4 0.6
If there's one thing I can't stand it's people who get paid vast salaries to get things spectacularly wrong. Sometimes I think it's because no-one has the balls to tell them to their face that they are talking a lot of crap.

Posted:A year ago

#14

Adam Campbell Associate Producer, Miniclip Ltd

1,182 972 0.8
I disagree with everyone, this challenge will be perfect for Mattick. Money's not an issue so clearly turning around a big but shaky company needs an strong ambitious mind, preferably from another successful business.

I also don't see what E3 has to do with anything, the Xbox business though questionable financially in some years, has become by far one of the strongest brands out there. Not a bad background to come from.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 1st July 2013 9:16pm

Posted:A year ago

#15

Christopher McCraken CEO/Production Director, Double Cluepon Software

111 257 2.3
Hey remember that time Gil Amelio was CEO of Apple?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Christopher McCraken on 1st July 2013 9:34pm

Posted:A year ago

#16

Joel Hruska Analyst/Journalist

24 122 5.1
E3 was a disaster.

Going into E3, what was the drumbeat? "Show us the games." Everyone wanted to see games. There were a lot of fans saying that MS made a big mistake in not talking more about games at the unveil.

So at E3, MS did what it said it was going to do. It showed games. And that fact was completely overshadowed by the unit's price and the reveal on the restrictions that occurred right before E3. Sony "won" the E3 story when one executive handed a game to another. E3 is also where Mattrick told the US military to go buy Xbox 360s, though that didn't trickle out right away.

Everything MS showed was overshadowed by $499 and no used games. And pre-order data showed the PS4 flying off the shelves with Xbox (reportedly) lagging. Conversations about who won E3 may be gauche, but there's no denying that the story that emerged around the Xbox One was far different than the story MS wanted.

Posted:A year ago

#17

Christopher Thigpen Lead Producer, Kiz Studios

47 92 2.0
Failure hopping is the new trend in corporate gaming!

Posted:A year ago

#18

Aleksi Ranta Product Manager - Hardware

276 127 0.5
@Adam "I also don't see what E3 has to do with anything, the Xbox business though questionable financially in some years, has become by far one of the strongest brands out there. Not a bad background to come from."

E3 has everything to do with it, and what happened before that. However profitable and valuable the xbox business has been
for Microsoft in the past few years, someone is seeing that value/brand being corroded away potentially by some disasterous business decisions and utterly failed communication. And at the end of the day, the buck stops at Mattrick. Shareholders wanted him to go for sure, shareholders wanted Pincus to go....and here we are.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Aleksi Ranta on 1st July 2013 10:06pm

Posted:A year ago

#19

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

888 1,324 1.5
"I've had enough of the flak. Who can we find with a proven even thicker skin..." :)

Posted:A year ago

#20
Seems like a massive vote of no confidence in Microsoft and Xbox to me.

Posted:A year ago

#21

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
Mattrick's introductory note to Zynga staff: http://blog.zynga.com/2013/07/01/excited-to-be-here/

Posted:A year ago

#22

Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 942 0.7
I dont think Zynga could do anything worse than what it has been doing. One cant blame Don with everything wrong with Microsoft. After all he has to work in the interest of the company. he never came off to me as a bad guy, so i cant really think ill of him. So i wish him success wherever he may go. However I do despise Zynga. I really dont think that company is about making games. Its about using games to make money for a handfull of people at the expense of using and disposing of others when they have no use for them.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 1st July 2013 11:31pm

Posted:A year ago

#23

Paul Jace Merchandiser

939 1,420 1.5
Atleast he had a secure future with Microsoft. But now he kind of reminds me of Jason Rubin going to THQ during the last hurrah.

Posted:A year ago

#24

Axel Cushing Writer / Blogger

104 130 1.3
@Rick
I can't quite be as generous. Mattrick was the head of the Xbox Division. Not "Head of Xbox Design" or "Head of Xbox Marketing", but the whole division. The degree of separation between him and Ballmer could probably be counted on one hand. If the buck stopped at him, then every decision, every strategic goal, every single talking point that got you, me, and half the Internet looking on torchesnpitchforks.com had his input at the very least, and unquestionably his explicit approval. If he was a helpless prisoner of circumstance, and he had no great love for the XBone as it was revealed in May, there were any number of ways he could have registered that displeasure and still kept working at Redmond. Or he could have taken a job at Zynga. It would have been just as baffling to people, but a smaller number of people would have known.

Likewise, I can't quite buy into the idea of Mattrick as "yes-man to Ballmer" or "earnest but naive pointy-haired boss" either. To be a yes-man, that would suggest Ballmer was dictating the feature set for the XBone, and that gives Ballmer far too much credit for knowing the first thing about the technology he's pimping. Likewise, being earnest but naive would mean that his engineers somehow came up with a feature set that he completely failed to research as to the degree of acceptance it would have in the market, which seems rather at odds with his "You'll get the digital future we decide for you and you'll like it!" attitude.

You are correct that we can't blame him for everything at Microsoft, but we can blame him for what was supposedly his balliwick, and we can only wonder if Zynga has somehow become designated as Microsoft's version of Siberia.

Posted:A year ago

#25
The one fundamental aspect of his departure before launch is the creation of a new "image" for Mr. Mattrick, able to try and paint a myth that he was against the XBone from the start - that it was forced on him, it was not his fault and he knew it was bound to fail. If it dose not fail he can claim his departure was the turning point.

Either way - he has left at a time where the project has been crippled below the water line - under his direction! That's the fact - and if in May he could not stomach the ride, he could have got off cleanly and allowed new direction before his plane crash of a E3!

UPDATE - http://www.mcvuk.com/news/read/no-immediate-replacement-for-mattrick-says-microsoft/0117978

Seems the restructuring has been accelerated to the point that his position would have been embracing and untenable! So we wonder if this has been done to be seen to be doing something before the MS investor meeting in the coming months?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by kevin williams on 2nd July 2013 12:56am

Posted:A year ago

#26

Saehoon Lee Founder & CEO, Pixellore

60 41 0.7
Now this is career move that people can talk about. Very interesting move for Don and Zynga. Maybe there will be a console specifically designed for a social gaming.

Posted:A year ago

#27

Axel Cushing Writer / Blogger

104 130 1.3
@Saehoon
I shudder at the thought of a "ZBox" console.

Posted:A year ago

#28

Christopher Ingram Editor-at-Large, Digitally Downloaded

52 45 0.9
I have to agree with you Adam. I will not say that the policies that Mattrick and Microsoft were pushing with the Xbox One were a good thing; in fact, some of them were very much on the anti-consumer side of the spectrum. Still, the "Xbox" brand is one of the strongest brands in the entertainment industry and the mishaps for the Xbox One don't undercut all of the highlights on his resume.

Still, I think his job had to be cut after Sony undercut them so severely with the PS4. It made Microsoft and the "Xbox" brand look weak, which had to be rectified before the system's launch.

I think Zynga will be a good fit for Mattrick though. While the policies for the Xbox One were questionable, they potentially were the building blocks for the future of the gaming industry. While the Xbox brand might not have been a good fit for this - Zynga is a much more risk adverse company, seeing how it can test new things with smaller mobile titles.

Posted:A year ago

#29

Martyn Brown Managing Director, Insight For Hire

140 51 0.4
Popular Comment
Someone on a forum I frequent described it as "Jumping off the Hindenburg and landing on the Titanic".

Posted:A year ago

#30

Dan Howdle Head of Content, Existent

280 810 2.9
Don may very well be a great businessman. He has a proven track record at both EA and Microsoft. He'll do a great job at Zynga, of that I have no doubt. What concerns me is the hole he leaves at Xbox, and whether Microsoft elects to fill that hole with another 'great businessman', when what it needs is somebody who understands Xbox's audience. Who gets the gamer psyche. Don Mattrick was so far from getting it, it was uncomfortable to watch.

That's what Don was missing, as proven by the confounding set of policies initially laid out for the Xbox One. As proven by the fixation with non-selling point TV, UI, and motion control features. No one with enough say stepped in to say, 'Wait. Guys, guys, guys; I know gamers, I know the Xbox audience, and they are going to frickin' puke when they hear all this.' And that no one did - no one with a loud or important enough voice at any rate - is what irritates and confounds most with an eye on these events.

It may seem like common sense to us, but if you're Don, you're looking at all aspects of the Microsoft business and trying to find some middle ground. What Microsoft needs is someone with a lot of say and who understands the gamer mindset well enough to feed it with effective messaging. Xbox used to be cool. Used to show TV ads with people fired out of vaginas and into their graves. Now what do we have? Plastic nuclear families in trendy, squeaky clean living-podules dancing with Jabba the Hutt? This picture bears resemblance neither to the physical reality of its customers, nor to the way in which we primarily use our console. How are we supposed to connect with that messaging? With that brand?

If James Hetfield announced publicly that Metallica's future records would be cupcake-focused and played on a kazoo, its fans would feel similarly. Hey Metallica, you just don't get who we are anymore.

Similarly, Microsoft no longer understands its primary audience: the core gamer. It's not quite at cupcake/kazoo levels yet, but we can all see where it's headed. It no longer understands that core gamers are the acorn from which all Xbox's other audiences branch. So Microsoft spends its time, its effort and its budget polishing the leaves instead of watering the root. If Don is not replaced by a person with a deep-level understanding of the core gamer mindset, this will only be the beginning.

I have next week free, by the way. Just putting that out there.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Dan Howdle on 2nd July 2013 7:51am

Posted:A year ago

#31

James Prendergast Research Chemist

735 432 0.6
@ Dan

"Don may very well be a great businessman. He has a proven track record at both EA and Microsoft. He'll do a great job at Zynga, of that I have no doubt. What concerns me is the hole he leaves at Xbox, and whether Microsoft elects to fill that hole with another 'great businessman', when what it needs is somebody who understands Xbox's audience."

I think I'd add to this that one of the problems I have with publicly traded companies is that people who make mistakes do not get the chance to rectify those mistakes. Interestingly enough, in the USA if your business fails it's generally considered a learning experience and you have limited issues getting investment for a follow-up business compared to the UK at least (according to statistics I think I saw on the BBC months ago) where failure is a much bigger issue to overcome.

Don Mattrick appeared to be changing tack and, IMO, whilst I wasn't on-board with the announced XBO direction, the division - under his leadership - was moving away from that heading. To continue on with the analogy: you don't throw the captain overboard after he's started coordinating the maneouvre to avoid the iceberg...

I also think that people focus too much on the idea of "core" gamers. XBO (and PS4/WiiU) needs to focus on gaming - full stop. Being a TV pass-through isn't really much of a feature when people have smart phones and tablets that can and do get all the benefits of the UI and information overlays which don't take up valuable screen real estate - and those devices and that content is generally country agnostic, making it a non-feature for the XBO. It's not going to help the non-gamer appeal of the product very much and it's barely going to affect the gamer appeal of the product either.

IMO, what MS needed to do was have Mattrick stand by his division and the collective decisions that they made and slowly adjust course to meet the demands of the consumer audience that they had failed to capture. Now that's going to happen with a nebulous "somebody" who will probably have zero investment in the division and product and zero connection to it and the media and consumers that it is targetting. It's just more evidence of the "we're untouchable" hubris that MS trotted out before, during and after E3 because their mindset hasn't changed with this action; they weren't brave - they were craven.

Posted:A year ago

#32
@Dan
@James



I will not argue with your comments about his -
nor will I get embroiled in the comment about being -
Fundamentally, he was retained at great expense to do a job, failed to navigate the rocks and issues, and even though he may have been handed a business plan he later came to be concerned of, still takes responsibility for its implementation. Was he simply promoted beyond his ability, and that charm, charisma and associations with other executives, could not avoid the situation that his
[was] Writing Cheques [his]
The real question is not the speculation of what he failed to do, but the question of who were those responsible that thought he was capable of the job and hired him; those that managed and oversaw his progression and did not raise flags; and the level of mess he has left behind with only some five months before the Xbone goes to market!

Edited 1 times. Last edit by kevin williams on 2nd July 2013 9:46am

Posted:A year ago

#33

James Prendergast Research Chemist

735 432 0.6
@ Kevin

"Are we talking about business mistakes, or a fundamental inability to manage a high-level business plan, suggesting major limitation in experience? I wonder if a more accurate assessment would be that an individual has been promoted above and beyond their abilities, unable to address failings when realized"

I guess that, unless we get some sort of insider knowledge we have no idea which is true and we're only speculating. :)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by James Prendergast on 2nd July 2013 2:18pm

Posted:A year ago

#34

Paul Shirley Programmers

178 150 0.8
Ballmer announced he's taken direct control of the Interactive Entertainment Business. Clearly there was no planned exit (or Mattrick didn't tell Microsoft it was coming) and with Ballmer pulling the strings EIB is about to die, XBone likely DOA.

[link url=""]https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/news/Press/2013/Jul13/07-01steveb-mail.aspx[/link]

Posted:A year ago

#35

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