Don Mattrick has quit his role as Microsoft’s IEB president and head of Xbox to become the new CEO of Zynga.

don mattrick

The story was first reported by AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher, quoting “multiple sources close to the situation”, earlier this evening. The CEO role was held beforehand by the company’s co-founder Mark Pincus, who will now focus on his roles as chairman and Chief Product Officer. The social gaming company has been in turmoil for a while, but Pincus giving up the role to Mattrick may show he’s willing to do whatever it takes to have the company back in a dominating position.

“In its short history, Zynga has redefined entertainment and brought social gaming to the mainstream. More than 1 billion people across web and mobile have installed Zynga games, and franchises like FarmVille and Words With Friends have become a part of people’s daily lives,” said Mattrick.

“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.”

Pincus added: “Don is unique in the game business. 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.’ He’s one of the top executives in the overall entertainment business and he’s a great coach who has inspired people to do their best work and build strong, productive teams. He deeply understands the value of a network and the importance of creating lifelong consumer relationships.

“He turned Xbox into the world’s largest console-gaming network, growing its installed base from 10 to 80 million and transformed that business from deep losses to substantial profits. And he has grown the Xbox Live player network from 6 to 50 million active members in 41 countries.”

Mattrick joined Microsoft in 2007 from EA as its then Head of Worldwide Studios and recently headed the Xbox One reveal in May. He’s not been the most popular guy in the industry as of late (on the internet at least), noting that those without a decent connection for Xbox One, there was a product “for people who aren’t able to get some form of connectivity, it’s called Xbox 360.” This was before its sensational turnaround on the always-on DRM and second-hand issues, through which he wrote an open letter on.

It was widely assumed he was set to join EA once again, this time as its CEO following John Riccitiello’s vacancy earlier this year. That said, it wouldn’t have been the first time Mattrick would have been on EA’s CEO shortlist at the time, though if past history is a pointer, it’s a post that, as it now turns out, he most likely wouldn’t have taken anyway.

“Don would have been on a short list of internal candidates that might move into the CEO role,” EA’s then ex-CEO now currently executive chariman Larry Probst said to the San Jose Mercury back in 2005. “Don came to the conclusion that he was not interested in running a public company. And that he did not want to be doing the same job in five years or 10 years.”

Peter Moore now looks set to be once again the favourite to be the chosen one within EA to take the big chair in the company.

Mattrick’s departure comes at a time where CEO Steve Ballmer is getting set to have a major reorganisational exec rejig at Microsoft. In fact, at the start of June, AllThingsD reported that Mattrick was set to have a bigger role within Microsoft in the wake of the restructure. However, ATD is reporting tonight the Ballmer reorganisation has nothing to do with his departure: Swisher’s claiming, via sources, that talks on the role have been ongoing for “some time”.

For who could take on the role as head of Interactive Entertainment and president of Xbox, Microsoft hasn’t named a replacement, but one big name comes to mind: Microsoft Studios GM Phil Spencer. Whilst Mattrick spent about two-to-three minutes on stage at the Microsoft press conference during E3 at its very beginning, Spencer was present for a good chunk of the show’s 90 minutes, as well as announcing Xbox One’s release month and prices. Not many people who aren’t in the top role get to do that. One recent example is SCE president and group CEO Andy House announcing the price for PS4 over SCEA president Jack Tretton.

And assuming Spencer gets the top job at Xbox, who could then take over as the head of Microsoft Studios? This is where it gets a touch less predictable, but the likely favorite for this could be Microsoft Studios Europe boss Phil Harrison. Harrison has more than capable experience, having been an EVP of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe before heading up Sony’s first-party Worldwide Studios group between its formation in September 2005 and February 2008. Shuhei Yoshida now runs that department.

It’s a big gamble on Pincus’s part that will echo around at least three companies, especially at Microsoft ahead of Xbox One’s release this November. But if it works, Mattrick could bring glory days back to Zynga once again.

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