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At GDC Shindig, Don Mattrick Says Zynga Turnaround Is Halfway There

Interviewed mid-quiet period, the new(ish) Zynga CEO watched his words while dropping a few hints about the future.


Two years ago, Zynga’s stock began a now-notorious tumble, losing 86 percent of its value between February and November of 2012. After a leadership shakeup last year and a major acquisition last month, the company is showing some signs of vitality again — part of a turnaround that CEO Don Mattrick says is about halfway to where he wants it to be.

Mattrick was speaking at a Game Developers Conference party hosted by investment bank Covert & Co., his first public appearance since coming to Zynga from Microsoft last July. The company is in a quiet period until its Q1 2014 earnings come out next month, so Mattrick was careful to watch his words, but nonetheless dropped some hints about what’s ahead.

“To me, it feels like 1991 when EA was going public,” Mattrick said of longtime employer Electronic Arts, which acquired his first company Distinctive Software not long before its IPO. “We [EA] grew from 1 to 25 percent market share” by making “purposeful bets” like major sports licensing deals, he added.

For present-day Zynga, however, “purposeful bets” will mean not licensing but, instead, more original IP, in tune with its recent $527 million acquisition of Clumsy Ninja maker NaturalMotion. Indeed, NaturalMotion CEO Torsten Reil and FarmVille VP Jonathan Knight joined Mattrick onstage at the GDC party in taking questions from Benchmark general partner Mitch Lasky.

A few weeks ago, Knight and his counterparts in leading Words With Friends and Zynga Poker unveiled their plans for refreshing some of Zynga’s best-known games on mobile. For Mattrick’s turnaround to work, that platform transition has been key, but he pointedly said his old stomping ground of console gaming was still doing fine.

“People always try to think of the business in discrete terms and pure cannibalization occurring,” Mattrick said. “I think we’re going to see, in the console space, growth occurring. … I’m personally bullish on growth in all segments of the business.”

It’s been easy to temporarily forget about both console and mobile, if only for a second, at this year’s GDC. New virtual reality tech from Sony and Oculus VR has made the experimental technology a go-to icebreaker in seemingly every meeting room and party.

So, Lasky asked, will Zynga release a virtual reality FarmVille game?

“Not in Q2,” Mattrick joked.

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