There are certain headlines you don't expect to see on a regular basis. "BMW Executives Prefer Driving Kia." "Ryan Gosling Weds Dowdy, Middle-Aged Housewife." "Game Industry Leaders Agree: Industry Peaked With Colecovision."
Or, in this case: "Microsoft Entertainment Head Don Mattrick Leaves For Zynga
This is clearly fallout from the disastrous debut of the Xbone
at Microsoft's unveil in May, the used game lockout, throwing military gamers under a bus at E3, and the $100 price premium compared to the PS4. Toss in the terrible way Microsoft communicated on virtually all these points and it's hard to find much good to say about the man's performance. Even the pivot of several weeks ago, in which MS dropped many of the Xbone's negative points, was delivered in the most passive-aggressive way possible.
After announcing that the Xbox team "imagined a new set of benefits such as easier roaming, family sharing, and new ways to try and buy games. We believe in the benefits of a connected, digital future," Mattrick declared that because Xbox users had dared to demand used games and resale capabilities, the entire digital loaner idea was going away. This, despite the fact that there was no technical reason why MS couldn't create a flag that denoted a title as either disc-based or purchased directly, with the latter games still able to be loaned online.
Having dug himself a hole on the initial, Mattrick filled it with dynamite and blew the reversal. The digital loaning library was one of the few initial innovations that the Xbox One
offered; a compelling concept that not even Steam could match. It should have been positioned as a perk of buying digital rather than going with used copies; a reason to stay online and connect with friends. Instead, by first mandating the connection and then blocking a two-tiered digital/physical system, Mattrick managed to piss off everyone.
The problem with the Xbox One isn't that Mattrick had bad ideas, but that he clung to them as unilateral concepts rather than flexible implementations. When your product message, at any point, boils down to "Buy an Xbox 360!" you've failed. When your message is "Buy an Xbox 360" when your competition is rolling out a new console with none of the same restrictions, you've blown your legs off with a shotgun.
But of all the places to flee, Zynga is probably the strangest. Microsoft fumbled the Xbox One terribly, but after a decade in the business, it's proven that it can deliver strong hardware and software. It's got franchises, fans, and a devoted slice of gamer culture. Zynga has annoying pop-up games that go through players faster than water through cholera patients. It openly celebrates a culture of "See what other people are doing, than copy it. And gouge them for money."
It recently closed studios in New York, Los Angeles, Austin, and Dallas. Supposedly Mattrick may have been tapped for the CEO position, which might be interesting -- at the very least, it suggests that the company might transition from Facebook-fueled parasitism to actual independent IP development. It's still an odd and humiliating move for Mattrick, who has moved from the proverbial head of an industry titan to working for -- or possibly heading up -- the Zytanic.
Regarding Mattrick, all we can say is that we hope his Microsoft departure has cleaned the wax out of his ears. A more nuanced approach to the Xbox One would have left it as a major winner coming out of E3 rather than the whipping boy for everything that's wrong with the modern game industry.
As of late this afternoon, Zynga has confirmed that Don Mattrick is now the CEO of Zynga. Mark Pingus remains chairman and Chief Product Office.