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Don Mattrick Leaves Zynga, Founder and Chairman Mark Pincus Back as CEO

Zynga Inc. (NASDAQ: ZNGA) was supposed to have a new breath of fresh air when Don Mattrick left Microsoft to come joining the social game maker as its chief executive officer. Now it turns out that Mattrick will be leaving the company. Zynga said in a press release that founder and Chairman Mark Pincus would return to Zynga as the company’s chief executive officer.

UPDATE: Zynga shares tanked in the after-hours trading session after being halted for the news.

What stands out here is that Mattrick is leaving the company’s board of directors as well, and the effective date of April 8, 2015 means that the departure is effective immediately. Mattrick’s exit comments said that he plans to return to Canada to pursue his next challenge.

On July 1, 2013, it was confirmed that Mattrick was leaving Microsoft to join Zynga as CEO — effective July 8, 2013. The closing price of Zynga shares on July 1, 2013 was $3.07, followed by $3.27 the following day, and with a closing price of $2.90 on the day Mattrick is departing. During that time the S&P 500 has risen roughly 33%.

As far as the next chapter that Pincus will lead the company into, that is to continue as a mobile first company that will renew its focus on connecting the world through games with a vision of making play and social games a mass market activity. Zynga’s upcoming titles include Empires & Allies, Dawn of Titans and FarmVille: Harvest Swap.

Pincus will receive an annual salary of $1 in connection with his role as CEO. He said:

Don joined us in a very important time in our evolution. I sincerely thank him for his leadership in better serving our players in a mobile first world and for delivering world class quality and value to our consumers. … I am returning to the company that I love in order to accelerate innovation in the most popular categories like Action Strategy and strengthen our focus on our core areas like Invest and Express. I look forward to partnering with our leaders to intensify our focus on social experiences for the millions of consumers who play our games.

Zynga shares were halted for the news. The stock rose over 3% to $2.90 on Wednesday, against a 52-week range of $2.20 to $4.66, and it has a pre-news consensus analyst price target of $3.06.

UPDATE: Zynga’s $2.90 close ended up looking far worse in the after-hours session on Thursday. After the trading was resumed, Zynga shares were down close to 10% at $2.61 — with an after-hours volume of over 13 million shares as of 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

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