Zynga CEO change: Xbox head Don Mattrick replaces founder Mark Pincus

It’s not exactly a secret that Zynga isn’t as successful as it was just a few years ago. Yet the thought of someone other than outspoken founder Mark Pincus as CEO is strange, and the idea of a console gaming veteran replacing him stranger still.

The company’s “you can’t make this up” moment arrived on July 1, when multiple news outlets reported that Microsoft’s head of all things Xbox, Don Mattrick, was replacing Pincus as CEO of Zynga. Pincus will still be around, serving as both Chief Product Officer and Chairman of the Board. As Kim-Mai Cutler of TechCrunch mused, that could mean that Pincus reports to Mattrick who reports to Pincus, but however the chain of command works out, it still represents a big change to the status quo.

Mattrick has both hardware and software experience, having previously been at Electronic Arts as its president of worldwide studios. All of that knowledge could come in handy for Zynga, which has seen its core business of social games (mainly on Facebook, but also through its own web portal) stagnate while finding little success in its slow transition to mobile.

Perhaps the new CEO has a different path in mind than the company’s recent forays into real money gambling and midcore mobile and tablet games. There also seems to be a feeling among industry experts that Zynga could use a culture change as well, moving away from its prior focus on numbers and metrics above all else. Investors appear to enjoy the thought of new blood in charge, as Zynga’s stock rose on news of the leadership change.

It’s a big move for a company that needed one. Even if Zynga never returns to the full height of its powers, at least Pincus will be able to say he gave someone else a shot at trying.

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