Zynga COO John Schappert is leaving the company and resigning his seat on the social game maker’s board of directors, according to an SEC filing.It’s not a total shock. Zynga just did a big reorg that elevated executives Steve Chiang and David Ko, who now report directly to CEO Mark Pincus.
It is nevertheless a painful loss that Pincus couldn’t find a way to keep Schappert, who only joined the company 16 months ago. Industry insiders described the veteran of rival game maker Electronic Arts as a “unicorn”—the incredibly rare executive who knows the creative side of the business but can also manage large game-studio operations.
“We can confirm that John Schappert has left Zynga and its Board of Directors effective immediately,” Zynga CEO Mark Pincus said in a statement. “John has made significant contributions to the games industry throughout his career and we appreciate all that he has done for Zynga. John leaves as a friend of the company and we wish him all the best.”
One way to look at this is that Schappert is taking the fall for Zynga’s slowing growth, which has hammered the stock. Wall Street views Zynga as too dependent on Facebook games played on regular PCs, and not skilled enough at developing mobile games in-house.
But Zynga no longer sees itself as a company that makes Facebook games and mobile games—the way it was organised under Schappert. And once it erased that line, it wasn’t clear where to put Schappert.
Ko, a rising star, has the title of chief mobile officer. But that’s no longer really his job. He has responsibility for a portfolio of games that run on both mobile and desktop, including Zynga’s arcade and casino titles.
Chiang, meanwhile, oversees Zynga’s core “Ville” franchise games, like FarmVille and CityVille—both mobile and desktop versions. Some of Zynga’s key mobile talent, like Sean Kelly, whose formal title is VP of mobile games, now reports to Chiang, not Ko.
In other words, Zynga’s new structure is something of a Web-mobile mashup that may not make sense to outsiders but sends a strong message to employees that there’s no longer a line between the two.
As Ko recently put it to employees in remarks reported by the Wall Street Journal, “There’s one division. That’s called Zynga.”
Zynga is betting that its strength in Facebook games will bolster it against purely mobile competitors who can’t connect players across Facebook and mobile versions of the same games—for example, letting people play Words With Friends, a popular Zynga word-spelling game, on both platforms.
Building that multiplatform approach is the responsibility of a third executive, Cadir Lee, Zynga’s CTO.
But that bet is going to take time to pay off. And Zynga has to show that it can make money as effectively on mobile as it does by selling virtual goods on Facebook.