Amazon and Zynga just went to war with the launch of Amazon’s first social game.The companies share a board member: Kleiner Perkins venture capitalist Bing Gordon, the voluble and beloved former chief creative officer of Electronic Arts.
Gordon joined Amazon’s board in 2003. He joined Zynga’s board in 2008.
This has to be an incredibly awkward situation. Boards have rules for handling conflicts of interest, of course. Gordon can simply recuse himself from conversations when Amazon’s board discusses its games efforts.
A recent example: Google CEO Eric Schmidt served on Apple’s board even as its Android division started to compete more and more directly with the iPhone.
But that ended poorly, with Schmidt quitting his board seat and Jobs threatening “thermonuclear war” on Google over charges that Android was too similar to the iPhone’s software.
Another example Gordon is very familiar with: His Kleiner colleague John Doerr had previously served on the boards of both Google and Amazon. In 2003, Doerr stepped down from the Amazon board in favour of Gordon.
The visible evidence suggests that both Amazon and Zynga may have somehow gotten comfortable with the idea of Gordon continuing to serve on both boards. Here’s why.
For some time, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos had been advising Zynga CEO Mark Pincus, Pincus said in an interview with PandoDaily’s Sarah Lacy last month. He abruptly stopped a year ago, with no explanation.
Meanwhile, Amazon has been trying to hire experienced game developers and executives who have run game studios—in some cases competing directly with Zynga for talent.
So the company had to have known something was up. And there’s been plenty of time to make a change if any of the people involved wanted one.
We don’t know what methods, if any, Amazon will use to monetise its social games, and if there will be any head-to-head competition with Zynga fiscally speaking. Meanwhile, Gordon is brilliant and an incredibly valuable advisor to both companies.
There’s an apocryphal saying that’s widely attributed to Doerr: “No conflict, no interest.”
Things have officially gotten really interesting for Gordon.
Zynga declined to comment. Amazon and Kleiner did not respond to requests for comment.