Pincus will be replaced by Don Mattrick, the current head of Microsoft's Xbox division. He will remain as chairman of the company and chief product officer. "Don is unique in the game business," Pincus said in a statement. "He can execute in multiple domains – hardware, software and network."
The move comes amid a period of turmoil for Zynga, whose hit games include Words With Friends, Farmville and Draw Something. The company was one of the first social media companies to go public but its share price has collapsed as sales have slumped. Like many of it peers, Zynga has struggled as games have moved from desktops to mobile devices, where advertising rates are lower and harder to sell. Zynga recently announced it is closing offices in New York and other major cities and shedding 18% of its workforce.
Zynga's shares soared 11% in anticipation of news that Pincus was stepping down from day-to-day running of the company. They closed the day at over $3, up 10.43%, but down from a high of $14.63 in March 2012 and well below the $10 they sold for when the company launched its initial public offering in December 2011.
Clark Fredricksen, vice-president of analyst eMarketer said Zynga had some trouble recently acquiring and maintaining users, but the number of people in US who play games online, through their phones or on social networks, continues to grow.
The number of people who play games on their phones is expected to grow 18.4% to 125.9 million in 2013, according to eMarketer, up from 106.3 million last year. Just over half of US mobile phone users will become active game users this year.
In an email to staff, Mattick, who will start work on June 8, wrote: "More than 1 billion people have installed a Zynga game across web and mobile and popular franchises like Farmville, Running With Friends and Words With Friends are a daily habit for millions of people. It's a staggering milestone that speaks to the mass market opportunity ahead of all of us.
"I joined Zynga because I believe that Mark's pioneering vision and mission to connect the world through games is just getting started. As Mark was recruiting me to come here, I was impressed by his creativity, drive and the clarity in which he sees the future of games and entertainment as a core consumer experience."
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image: © Sabrina Dent