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Can Microsoft's Xbox head save Zynga?

Zynga brings in head of Microsoft's Xbox business to replace founder Mark Pincus. Smart move?

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"I joined Zynga because I believe that Mark's pioneering vision and mission to connect the world through games is just getting started," Mattrick said.

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Pincus praised his successor without reservation.

"I've always said to Bing and our Board that, if I could find someone who could do a better job as our CEO, I'd do all I could to recruit and bring that person in," Pincus said in a statement. "I'm confident that Don is that leader."

STELLAR TRACK RECORD

News of Mattrick's appointment, reported first by AllThingsD, sent Zynga shares up more than 11 percent earlier in the day. The shares rose a further 3 percent to $3.17 when Zynga confirmed the appointment after the bell.

Over the past year, the company's value has fallen to just 25 percent of its $10 initial offering price in December 2011 as Pincus struggled keep his company out of free-fall despite multiple waves of layoffs.

Mattrick's new role leading a game maker that publishes social media-based titles and smartphone games will be a marked departure from the world of big-budget, packaged console games where he spent most of his career.

Mattrick headed successful franchises like "FIFA" in his 15 years at EA, where he first worked under Gordon before later supervising Gordon. He joined Microsoft in 2007.

Once there, Mattrick helped turn the Xbox business into a profitable venture after years of losses, eventually propelling it into the No.1 selling console in the United States.

MICROSOFT RESTRUCTURING

Mattrick's departure comes just as Microsoft gears up to launch the third version of its console, called the Xbox One. Unveiled in May and scheduled to hit stores later this year, the machine has already stirred controversy.

Gamers attacked the high price, Microsoft's plan to require an Internet connection at least once a day and attempts to limit the sharing of used games. Last month, Microsoft reversed its position on the Internet connection and said it would allow game sharing.

Mattrick was known to be very hard on his employees but still well-liked within the gaming division at Microsoft, said one former Xbox employee. Still, his power did not extend much beyond his own unit in a company that is still essentially driven by its two main businesses, Windows and Office, and that may have contributed to his desire to leave, observers said.

"He had a good sense of humor, a pretty compelling vision of gaming, and a hard-nosed business sense," said one former Xbox employee, who asked not to be named.

Mattrick had been rumored to be considering leaving for months. After EA's CEO stepped down in March, industry sources speculated he was in the running to lead the top games publisher, where he previously held numerous leadership roles.

Mattrick's departure takes place against the backdrop of a broader re-shaping of Microsoft.

Ballmer is expected to announce a broad restructuring in the next few weeks that moves the company closer to his previously stated vision of becoming a devices and services company - much like Apple - rather than primarily a software company. There has been talk that Ballmer will create a 'devices' unit, moving the Xbox, Surface tablets and possibly the phone unit into one business.

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