News Item

Don Mattrick

Internet’s most hated games executive taking new job at internet’s most hated games studio

By Matt Gerardi • July 1, 2013

Update 4:05 p.m.: Zynga has announced that Don Mattrick is their new CEO. He will also join the Zynga board. Outgoing CEO Mark Pincus, one of Zynga’s co-founders, will remain the company’s chairman and “Chief Product Officer.”

Original story: Don Mattrick, president of Microsoft’s Xbox division and maligned Xbox One envoy, is leaving the company for a “top role,” possibly CEO, at the social-game studio Zynga, according to Kara Swisher at All Things D. Swisher’s report cites “multiple sources close to the situation,” who also note that Zynga, the creator of online games like FarmVille, has been courting Mattrick for “some time.”

This is the kind of situation for which the phrase “out of the frying pan and into the fire” was coined. You might remember Mattrick as the floppy-haired suit who revealed the Xbox One, delivered a number of embarrassing quotes regarding its more controversial features, and acted as the hand performing the corporate seppuku that was Microsoft’s used game and always-online policy reversal.

If this report turns out to be true, Mattrick will be jumping into a position atop one of the industry’s most disdained companies at a time when all of its virtual farm-based capital is drying up fast. Just one month ago, Zynga closed two studios and laid off more than 500 people. Not exactly the kind of place I’d want to pack my bags and leave for, especially with a major console launch just months away. The All Things D report attributes Mattrick’s desire to move back to California’s Bay area as a factor in the transfer. Geoff Keighley, games press frontman extraordinaire, offered another tie between Mattrick and Zynga on Twitter:

Maybe the Microsoft higher-ups were unhappy with how this whole Xbox One debacle played out and gave him the squeeze. Or maybe Mattrick just loves a challenge. Either way, Zynga does make a lot of sense as a destination if you think about it. All its games require an internet connection to play.

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  • GaryX

    Forced or not, this doesn’t seem like an ideal image to be cultivating around the launch of one of your big products. You would think he would at least wait until after Xbox One shipped.

    • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

      That’s a good point, but the “ideal image” ship has sailed for the Xbox One. And when I say “sailed,” I mean that it ran into a reef and sank while it caught on fire and was bombarded with lasers from space aliens. There were also electric eels.

      • GaryX

        Oh I don’t disagree with that. This just seems like it would make it even worse, but maybe MS just thinks “Ah, fuck it. Could it get any worse?”

        • Effigy_Power

          I have the disquieting feeling that Microsoft is totally aware of the hordes of undiscerning fanboys who will clearly buy the XBone, even if it came wrapped in the soiled rags of a leper colony. So they honestly might just not care.

        • OldeFortran77

          I can’t help but think Mattrick’s last act at MS was greenlighting one final fiasco like “Paula Deen’s Klassy Kookin’ with Kinect!”, no one having bothered to suss out the inevitable acronym for said game.

        • DanWhitehead

          They’ve got a few months before launch. Better to clear the deck now and put forward a fresh image before, than keep the bad PR going. Think of it like Walter White opting to have chemo before the baby was born. In this analogy, Mattrick is Walter’s lung cancer, the gaming press is Skylar, Xbox One is crystal meth and Zynga is Jesse’s junkie girlfriend. I think.

        • Effigy_Power

          Well, let’s hope Zynga finally chokes to death on its own vomit, rather than making millions of hapless drones pay to swallow it for them.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/mattman-begins,89632 Mattman Begins

          “You can’t really dust for vomit, can you?”

        • Rick Joyce

          @Effigy: Last I checked, nobody was “making” the hordes pay.

        • Effigy_Power

          @rickjoyce:disqus: I suppose that’s true. But then nobody makes heroin addicts buy heroin.

      • http://twitter.com/zhandlen Zack Handlen

        oh god

        DO THE ELECTRIC EELS EAT THE X-BOX JOHN
        oh god oh god oh god

        • HobbesMkii

          Phhsst. Anyone who knows anything about marine biology knows eels always go for Sony products.

      • http://mrglitchsreviews.blogspot.com/ Mr. Glitch

        There’s just gonna be a big middle finger on the Xbone’s box, isn’t there? 

        “Here’s your ONE, you bunch of sweaty nerds!”

    • Fluka

      Maybe it’s a weird kind of reverse psychology thing?  Like, “This console is so fucking amazing, we don’t even need a halfway-competent PR strategy!”

      • GaryX

        Maybe they just have something even more forward thinking:

        “In order to fully appreciate the power of the Xbox One, just center your forehead on the Kinect and wait for the lobo-sync to begin!”

        • Fluka

          “Haha, look at Sony still using advertising and free will to convince people to buy their product!”

        • Effigy_Power

          @Fluka:disqus : That is so 1997, whereas Microsoft has clearly embraced 1984.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        It worked the last time!  Remember, Jeff Bell putting on an entirely different (and patronizing) accent and vocabulary when Reggie Bush showed up at E3 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lh59t5uUrxU#t=27m30s and then getting mad at NeoGAF posters and sending them private messages http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?p=7092644#post7092644 ?  Obviously, his tenure was short, but he was corporate vice president of marketing and Microsoft gained a video game foothold!  Amazing and terrifying, all in 1.  http://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffbell801

      • Mr_Propellerhead

         ”This console is so fucking amazing, we don’t even need a halfway-competent PR strategy!”

        Halfway?!?

    • http://disqus.com/Dikachu Dikachu

      If I used the expression “rat deserting the sinking ship”, would I get deleted since the guy really looks like a rat?

      • WelcomeShaqKotter

        Only if you said he smelled like a rat.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        He shares the same rodent-y visage and terrible mullet-flirtation hairstyle as Minnesota’s former heat rash of a Governor, Tim Pawlenty.
           I don’t want to give any credence to physiognomy, but apparently if you look like Grima Wormtongue, you behave like Grima Wormtongue.

        • neodocT

          Woah there, Sauron. 

        • Citric

          Tim Pawlenty sounds like the name of a character from a children’s story about greedy kittens.

      • Effigy_Power

        According to my phrenology chart he also has the sloping cranial rim and jutting brow of a common apple-thief.

        • Electric Dragon

          “Uh, sir, phrenology was dismissed as quackery a hundred sixty years ago.”

        • WELCOME_THRILLHO

           Of course you’d say that, Electric Dragon: you have the brain pan of a stage coach tilter!

        • Electric Dragon

          Maybe I need to visit Zorgo the Retrophrenologist*.

          *In the city of Ankh Morpork, retrophrenologists claim to be able to change your personality by altering the shape of of your skull. What you actually get, of course, is hit on the head with a carefully graded set of hammers, but it keeps the money circulating and that’s the main thing.

      • http://twitter.com/MikoSquiz Miko the Squiz

        Deserting a sinking ship onto another sinking ship. Nice move!

        • http://disqus.com/Dikachu Dikachu

          Well, maybe he’s hoping that one of those sinking ships will be near a shoreline.  Then again, he can always just sail off in his gold-plated lifeboat whenever he gets bored.

        • Citric

          It’s like jumping off the Stockholm onto the Andrea Doria.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          It’s just like a video game where the platforms keep falling from beneath you when you jump on them.

    • Phillip Collector

       I hear what you’re saying but to Microsoft they’re probably thinking Mattrick is toxic and the quicker they can distance themselves from his stank before launch the better.

      • Effigy_Power

        Whereas Zynga is so toxic on ever level, it’ll be like dropping a vial of poison in a lake of acid.
        I think you’re on to something.

        • Phillip Collector

           Plus he probably won’t be at Zynga for long. It’s a rest stop until something else pops up. He’ll probably leave after six months to a year.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          Anecdote:

          I was recently at a conference called the Games & Learning Conference, which was a big conference about…games & learning. The keynot speaker on the first day was Steve Schoettler, co-founder of Zynga, who basically spent his whole talk discussing how great Zynga’s “steal an idea, then constantly data mine and iterate it until it become super effective” philosophy was, and how we should totally apply that methodology to education. And just in case he didn’t already alienate all of the game devs in the room by touting his toxic game-creation methodology, and alienate all of the teachers in the room by recommending a scheme even more insanely data-driven than the high-stakes testing that is already killing American education, he proceeded to, appropros of nothing, take a big ol’ rhetorical shit on teachers’ unions, comparing them to the Tea Party and accusing them of being hopeless regressive and hampering American education.

          Needless to say he drew a lot of ire in the ensuing Q&A. However, according to some dev folks there, typically he draws even more anger at GDC, where there is actually audible jeering and booing…

  • DrFlimFlam

    Goes to show that your Reggie Fils-Aimes don’t grow on trees.

    • Fluka

      Some people’s bodies just aren’t ready.

      • Effigy_Power

        Or their minds! -mind blown-
        (I don’t actually know who that is)

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          Reggie Fils-Aime is the President and COO of Nintendo of America. “My body is ready” comes from this E3 2007 Nintendo demo.

  • Effigy_Power

    So, isn’t this how evil empires are formed?

    • ObliqueStrategy

      This is how empires fall.

      • CyberneticOrganism

        …with thunderous applause?

        • Electric Dragon

          Not with a bang but with a whimper.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1676468548 Pixie Solanas

          No, with only the brain addled and infirmed still playing your shit Facebook games.

          Fuck off and die already, Zynga.  You rancid piece of shit company.

  • Randy Miller III

    He’s working for LJN?

    • JohnnyLongtorso

      I had to look it up to be sure, but they were just a publisher, not a developer. Either way, it gave me flashbacks to Spider Man and the X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge. Fuck you, Cyclops levels. And the Storm levels. And the second Wolverine level. Basically just fuck you, game.

      • Citric

        LJN was there to push titles to get around a Nintendo rule that a company couldn’t release more than a certain number of games per year. They were used as the sister brand to Acclaim, and usually got the second tier titles for the company. As a result, its mission was to publish titles that were too crappy for Acclaim. Ponder that one for a second.

        • George_Liquor

          Wow. Yarg!

          Incidentally, Atari & Konami created Tengen & Ultra Games, respectively, to get around that same publishing limitation.

        • Citric

          @George_Liquor:disqus I thought Tengen was created because Atari didn’t want to have Atari-branded games on non-Atari consoles? The history of the company is convoluted and a bit confusing.

        • DrFlimFlam

          Citric is correct. Per Stephen Kent in The Ultimate history of Video Games.

        • George_Liquor

          @Citric:disqus You’re right; my bad. I like that Tengen snaked a copy of the 10NES chip’s specs from the US Copyright Office. I miss the days when video game manufacturers were content to just screw each other over.

  • PhilWal0

    “Internet’s most hated games executive taking new job at internet’s most hated games studio”
    But I thought Bobby Kotick already worked at Activision???

    • OldeFortran77

       ”internet’s most hated games studio” A shocked Electronic Arts breathes sigh of relief and/or vows to double down on annoying their customers.

      • DrFlimFlam

        I loved Peter Moore’s response to that “Most Hated Companies in America” survey. It was such a tired and flabbergasted response to people’s absolute hatred of a company that, yes, is kind of anti-consumer, but they’re not the antichrist.

      • Mike Wolf

         Apparently, Mattrick was being courted by EA to be their new chief boss king* as well. “Guy everyone on the internet hates given job offers at companies everyone on the internet hates”, I guess.

        *I do not understand corporate hierarchy very well.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      Man, internet gamer outrage is probably my favorite source of entertainment online these days. 

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        But…but…the new Dante is…EMO! (Even though I have no clue what “emo” actually means!)

        • http://tmaiblog.wordpress.com/ Chalkdust

          An emo is a large, flightless, socially outcast bird.

  • PaganPoet

    Surely this signals the breaking of the seals of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

    • Matt Gerardi

      According to the Gameological book of revelations, it’s the third out of the seven seals. We’ve got Xbox Pizza Hut app, Nintendo making a free-to-play game, and now this. Apocalypse here we come!

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        4.  Half-Life 3, iOS exclusive

        5.  XBONE visited by three spirits on Christmas eve; upon waking, drops ads and lets Tiny Tim watch Netflix without a Gold subscription, but still has to pay for multiplayer.

        6.  Rebooted Sonic the Hedgehog game playable, enjoyable.

        7.  Ghost of Paul Lynde returns to take back sport coats from John Teti. 

        • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

          6 and 7 are looking more and more likely every day. I’m scared too!

  • KHalleron

    “Zynga, the creator of online games like Farmville” 

    Or rather, the plagiarist of online games like FarmTown.

    • Effigy_Power

      Don’t you dare speak ill of the maker of “Words with Friends – The Boardgame”, which clearly has no inspiration in any other game nobody has ever heard of!

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        Don’t worry: Hasbro’s in on it too.

        • DrFlimFlam

          There are people out there who think Scrabble ripped off Words With Friends.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          I find that crazy hard to believe @drflimflam:disqus unless you mean, like, 8 year olds or something.

        • Effigy_Power

          @Douchetoevsky:disqus: Sadly I have absolutely no problem believing that at all. A picture of me standing in front of Big Ben in London was commented on by a friend as: “Pennsylvania is so nice, isn’t it?”

  • Thomas Crane

    I think he saw the writing on the wall and didn’t want to stick around. Much like Jeff Van Gundy in 2001. He just resigned out of nowhere from the New York Knicks. At least Zynga doesn’t hold massive pressers for their products. He can restructure and plot without scrutiny.

    • DrFlimFlam

      I don’t think the future is so dire for the XBox One, but I think he would be happy to just walk away from it just the same.

      • Thomas Crane

        A job at Zynga does take him out of the spotlight, and gives him a spot as a CEO. I hope whomever replaces him is either a fantastic communicator and passionate about the product.

  • OldeFortran77

    “Hi, I’m executive Don Mattrick. You might remember me from such companies as Electronic Arts and Microsoft.”

    • Effigy_Power

      “Won’t you let me hold your small child and maybe let me have a go on your smartphone?”

      • ProfFarnsworth

        “look over there!”–Quickly drinks all your beer and runs out, while not paying the bill.

  • http://www.facebook.com/RaadM7 Ra’ad Mahmoud

    Was sure this would be Peter Molyneaux taking a job at EA. Burn them with fire.

    • Ghostfucker

      Uh Peter Molyneaux isn’t the most hated games executive; he’s the least reliable futurist prophet.

    • Aurora Boreanaz

      Those are the first two names I thought of as well.

    • Matt Gerardi

      I never really got the impression that people hated Peter Molyneux until we wrote about that video where he reviewed fart apps. Where’s all this hate coming from? I get the whole, “he over-promises” thing, but hatred? 

      • Aurora Boreanaz

        Probably more annoyance than hatred, yes.  He’s like your friend my father affectionately referred to as “The Bullshit Artist”.  He just lies so much that eventually you stop giving a shit about anything he has to say.

        “Hey, guess where I went this summer?”
        “Don’t care.”

  • spinachleaf

    Oh. I thought this story would announce that John Smedley was being appointed the CEO of EA.

  • TheKingandIRobot

    Okay but will he be my neighbor because I seriously need one more neighbor for my farm or whatever I can’t do this joke because those online chore simulators hold no interest for me.

    • neodocT

       At least you were online, @TheKingandIRobot:disqus. At least you were online…

  • http://www.facebook.com/andy.tuttle.79 Andy Tuttle

    As much as I’d like to say it’s because he’s a rat jumping ship while it sinks to the bottom of the ocean, it really just sounds like he wants to work with his friend and live in San Francisco. If you’ve ever spent any long period of time in Washington then you’ll know how miserable the weather is. San Francisco will be a godsend of sunshine compared to Seattle.

    • uselessyss

      Now I’m imaging Mattrick sitting in his office in Redmond, the glass wall behind him vibrating from the pelting rain.

      He swivels in his swiveling chair to look out through the glass at ominous skies. The dark grey of huge cumulonimbus clouds contrasts with small patches of clear sky, evoking the two-tone aesthetic of the Xbox One.

      He gets a message on his Windows 8 phone. He’s set the ringtone so that it sounds just like the beeper he had back at EA.

      The good ol’ days…

      He takes a quick glance at the message. It begins: “Got some bad news.” In one swift, violent jerk he throws his phone at the glass pane before him. It doesn’t quite crack the window, but it definitely leaves a mark. Glowing satisfaction is quickly overcome by pangs of regret, and he hitches up his pants and reaches for the phone.

      He pauses in mid-reach, his lanky limb hovering over the phone.

      What’s happened to you, Mattrick? You use to be big. You used to flip that hair with conviction. Now it just hangs there, a useless accessory.

      He grabs the phone and starts browsing stock prices, to get his mind off things. Zynga’s prices have plummeted.

      Well, at least we’re better off than – wait a minute.

      His eyes alight, for the first time in six months. Like an electric charge, the realization of the possibilities before him surges through his body and animates the ends of his hair-flop.

      There is more than one path. I can go to a place where I will be respected, where the sun will shine on my face and I can be who I am without anyone judging me. I could be with people who understand me, who could relate to the way people always seem to have it out for me. I could make a difference. I could…I could retreat from the terrible spotlight and continue my fight against consumers on less pressure-laden grounds! And I could do it all with my friend Bing… I’ll do it. I’m going to sunny San Francisco, and I’m never coming back!

      Giddy, and with a toothy grin on his face, he turns to the Xbox One console at the end of his desk, a fixture on every Microsoft employee’s desk (for morale and team spirit).

      “Xbox…go fuck yourself.”

      He swings his jacket over his shoulder and flips open a pair of 80′s-era Ray-Bans, sounding a bit like Goofy as he chuckles out of his office.

      On top of the Xbox One, the Kinect camera follows Mattrick as he saunters out of the room.

      The calming green light embedded into the sensor becomes an angry red.

      • http://www.facebook.com/andy.tuttle.79 Andy Tuttle

        Yeah, I was thinking that too.

  • stepped_pyramids

    “The Conquest of Origin” also specifically blames Mattrick for, among other things, rushing Ultima VIII to market, cancelling Wing Commander Online, starving Ultima IX of resources, and demanding and then botching the development of Ultima Online 2 while UO was still running strong.