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Nexon Names New CEO: Ex-EA Exec Owen Mahoney

Mahoney will become the first-ever American CEO of the Asian free-to-play gaming company.

Free-to-play gaming company Nexon has promoted Owen Mahoney, worldwide CFO and chief administrative officer, to be CEO and president, effective on approval from a general shareholders’ meeting on March 25.

After joining the company in 2010, Mahoney guided Nexon through its $1.2 billion IPO on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2011. From 2000 to 2009 he oversaw M&A, equity investments and business development at EA.

He will be the Tokyo-based publisher’s first-ever American CEO, originally hailing from San Francisco. In an interview with Re/code, Mahoney said the company needs to do better outside of its current core countries: China, Korea and Japan.

“I and we believe that there is a huge market opportunity in the West,” Mahoney said. “And the industry is moving in our direction, which is online, synchronous free-to-play games.”

Ninety percent of Nexon’s users don’t pay anything to play its games, which continue to make money years after launch thanks to regular content updates. Mahoney said gamers are “rightfully suspicious” of how Western games monetize.

“I can’t tell you the number of conversations I’ve had in the West where people say, ‘I get free to play; you hook ’em and then they have to buy stuff,'” he said. That notion, often called “pay-to-win” by critics, is not true of Nexon’s games, he added.

The new CEO-to-be also stressed the importance of mobile to his near-term plans, but said he expects gaming on PCs and mobile devices to converge more and more in coming years.

Since its IPO, the company has invested aggressively across the industry. It bought Japanese mobile games studio Gloops for $486 million. It paid $685 million for a stake in Korean online games company NCSoft. It has also invested in ex-Zynga COO John Schappert’s Shiver Entertainment, former EA exec Greg Richardson’s Rumble Games and former Zynga chief game designer Brian Reynolds’s SecretNewCo.

Nexon also announced its earnings for the fourth quarter and the full year of fiscal 2013, with quarterly revenue up 12 percent year over year to $336 million. However, the company recorded a net loss of $4.3 million in Q4 due to a $92.6 million impairment loss at Nexon subsidiary Ndoors and a $24 million impairment loss from affiliates of 6waves, in which Nexon invested pre-IPO in 2011.

Total revenue in 2013 increased 43 percent year over year, to $1.5 billion, with net income of $293.5 million and earnings per share of $0.68. The company expects revenue to be flat year over year in Q1 2014, with operating income, net income and EPS below 2013’s results.

More comings and goings included in today’s announcement: Current CEO Seungwoo Choi will retire after the March 25 meeting and assume an advisory position. Accounting and Shiro Uemura, finance general manager, will replace Mahoney as CFO, while General Counsel Koji Abe will assume his CAO role.

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