New Zynga CEO Don Mattrick left his position as President of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment unit just months before the Xbox One release date, a surprising move considering the favorable market position of his former employer. After leading the Xbox 360 to its 30th consecutive month atop U.S. sales charts, Mattrick left a Microsoft division that’s poised to sell out of its entire launch allocations of Xbox One consoles in spite of some lingering discontent over the company’s flip-flop over used-game policies and DRM. Mattrick must like a challenge, because he left that favorable position to lead Zynga, a mobile-gaming company in desperate need of a turnaround.
The mobile gaming arena certainly represents a greenfield for publishers who can find the right formula. Contrary to popular opinion, several publishers not named “Rovio” with games not called “Angry Birds” have done well. Mobile gaming is even on the radar of Mattrick’s former employer, as Microsoft has devoted significant R&D resources to extending the Xbox One gaming experience to tablets, mobile phones and other off-TV vehicles via SmartGlass integration.
However, the challenges Mattrick faces as Zynga CEO are significant, which he acknowledged to investors during Zynga’s recent earnings call and press release. As with all great challenges, though, the rewards for Zynga may far outweigh the tough road ahead.
In a statement to investors, Mattrick said “The next few years will be a time of phenomenal growth in our space and Zynga has incredible assets to take advantage of the market opportunity. … We have a lot of hard work in front of us and as we reset, we expect to see more volatility in our business than we would like over the next two to four quarters.”
In light of the post-E3 backlash for Xbox One, Mattrick would’ve certainly faced adversity going against Sony and the PS4 this November, including but not limited to the PS4’s price point being $100 lower than the Xbox One. Yet by Mattrick’s own admission, Zynga faces more challenge and adversity than Microsoft’s Xbox division. What could compel him, then, to leave one challenge for an admittedly larger one? Other than pay and title, which certainly shouldn’t be discounted, it could be Mattrick’s long-term forecast for the gaming industry as a whole.
Was Mattrick’s move to Zynga CEO a sign that he feels the console industry has already achieved what it’s possible of achieving? A quiet statement by him that Microsoft’s aggressive push into entertainment isn’t a gamble he’s willing to take? An indicator that he feels the challenge of making mobile gaming work with Zynga will, over the long haul, be less of a challenge than Microsoft’s venture to take over the living room once and for all? Why do you think Mattrick would so readily leave his gig with Xbox to take a self-admitted flogging for the better part of a year with a mobile-game publisher like Zynga that’s losing users by the millions? Leave your thoughts below in the comments section.