As one of the few Microsoft executives always counted on to make appearances when new hardware is on the horizon, it seems the company’s President of Interactive Entertainment Don Mattrick has left the company.

After unveiling Microsoft‘s next console, the Xbox One, official word has arrived that Mattrick’s time with Microsoft is over, taking the role of Chief Executive Officer of social games publisher Zynga, with founder (and former CEO) Mark Pincus claiming he’s just what’s needed to right the ship for the company’s future.

The news first originated from sources of AllThingsD, claiming that Mattrick’s departure could be announced after the markets had closed later today. Since then, Pincus took to Zynga’s official blog to confirm Mattrick’s hiring, with Microsoft’s Major Nelson confirming that Mattrick had, indeed, departed the games division of which he had become the public face.

Don Mattrick at the Xbox One Reveal

Pincus explained the decision to step aside from leading the company he had founded, and had encountered significant stock falls since its IPO in 2011:

“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. I’m confident that Don is that leader.”

“He deeply understands the value of a network and the importance of creating lifelong consumer relationships. He turned Xbox into the world’s largest console gaming network, growing its installed base from 10 to 80 million and transformed that business from deep losses to substantial profits.  And he has grown the Xbox Live player network from 6 to 50 million active members.”

“Don officially starts next week; however he’ll be joining me tomorrow to host an All-Hands meeting so you can all have an opportunity to meet him and ask any questions.”

Mattrick reiterated Pincus’ enthusiasm in a statement of his own:

“I joined Zynga because I believe that Mark’s pioneering vision and mission to connect the world through games is just getting started. Zynga is a great business that has yet to realize its full potential.”

Xbox One Price Don Mattrick

The news comes as a surprise to the public, but given the recent rumblings of internal restructuring at Microsoft, Mattrick has been in the conversation for nearly every high-ranking job opening in the video game publishing industry. When John Riccitiello left EA, Mattrick was apparently one of several in the running, yet his desire to leave Microsoft for a new enterprise was not known to the public.

The timing of Mattrick’s departure will certainly raise some eyebrows, having most recently attached his name to the company’s complete reversal on the Xbox One DRM policies. The requirement of always-on internet access and regular check-ins, as well as an increased shift towards digital media over disc-based proved too controversial among consumers, and the development team responded.

While the last time gamers had heard Mattrick’s name wasn’t in a positive light, this move has most certainly been in the works for some time, even long before the public learned exactly what the Xbox One’s policies allowed and forbid. With his work on the Xbox 360’s successor seemingly over, it remains to be seen who among Microsoft’s executives will take over his responsibilities. As such, expect a statement from the company in the near future.

What do you make of Mattrick’s departure? Does the fact that his work on the Xbox One’s development is almost complete make the timing fit? Or do you sense something else in the works? Zynga’s stock has already taken a 10% bump following the report. Who knows what the future could hold for both Microsoft and the troubled social games publisher?


Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.

Source: Major Nelson, AllThingsD (via Forbes), Zynga