In a move that could boost the fortunes of the social gaming company, Zynga has hired Don Mattrick, former head of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business, as its new CEO and a member of its board. Mattrick will take over operation duties from Zynga founder Mark Pincus, who will remain chairman of the board and Zynga’s chief product officer.
The appointment has come at a critical time for Zynga, which has begun to make inroads into real-money casino gaming in the U.K., just as its social media games continue to lose players. Under a partnership with experienced online casino operator bwin.party, Zynga in April launched two real-money online games, ZyngaPlusPoker and ZyngaPlusCasino.
In addition, the company recently bought the Chicago-based Spooky Cool Labs, a leading developer of social, free-to-play online casino games—including the popular social media game Wizard of Oz. With its partnership with bwin and the acquisition of Spooky, Zynga is creating an infrastructure that will expand its reach in the real-money casino world.
But as the company continues to pursue new revenue sources in real-money games, its domination of the social media world has been steadily crumbling. Zynga Poker was once the most popular free-to-play casino-type game on the web, but players have been dropping out as new competition has come on the market. Caesars Interactive Entertainment, the social casino arm of the world’s largest gaming company, Caesars Entertainment, has surpassed Zynga as the No. 1 publisher of social casino games, according to a report by research firm Eilers Research.
Due to its poor showing and its lag in shifting into mobile games, the San Francisco-based firm was forced to close three offices and fire 18 percent of its workforce, as well as terminate some of its games.
That’s why Mattrick’s hiring could be critical to Zynga’s future. Mattrick, head of the Microsoft division that produces Xbox, will bring his much-needed interpersonal skills and industry knowledge to the table, and could strengthen the company in the social games department.
What Mattrick has in store for Zynga and how that company will evolve remains to be seen.
After his appointment, Mattrick told employees in an email, “Zynga is a great business that has yet to realize its full potential.”