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Owen Van Natta lands executive post at Zynga

The tech exec who reportedly departed his role at Facebook because it was unlikely that he'd succeed Mark Zuckerberg has joined the FarmVille parent company as an executive vice president.


Owen Van Natta, who went from an executive role at Facebook to a short-lived start-up-gig to an almost-as-short-lived stint as the CEO of MySpace, has been hired at social-gaming powerhouse Zynga as "executive vice president of business operations." He will report directly to Mark Pincus, the founder and CEO.

The official job description for Van Natta's role explains that he is "responsible for the company's revenue strategy, corporate development, international expansion, and brand" and also serves on the company's board of directors.

Zynga, which manufactures a portfolio of games like Mafia Wars and FarmVille that made it the biggest breakout sensation on Facebook's developer platform, is rumored to be mulling an IPO. Last month, AllThingsD pointed out that Van Natta had become close to Pincus and appeared to already be in some kind of advisory role at Zynga. The bio for Van Natta on Zynga's site confirms that, saying that he was "consulting."

Van Natta's boardroom romp around Silicon Valley has been well-documented. He had been a vice president at Amazon when he was hired as chief operating officer at Facebook in 2005; an executive reshuffling later moved him to chief revenue officer in what some critics pegged as a demotion, and in early 2008 departed the company. He was vocal about seeking specifically a CEO role; some speculated that he left Facebook when it became clear that he would not be a successor to founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Later that year, Van Natta took the CEO role at Project Playlist, then a hyped-up music streaming start-up. Less than six months later, MySpace lured him to join them as CEO following the departure of co-founder Chris DeWolfe (who is now, oddly enough, trying to forge together smaller social-gaming companies in an attempt to rival Zynga). But MySpace's traffic continued to falter and the News Corp.-owned social network's attempts to refocus as a music hub failed to catch on, and Van Natta departed after less than a year once again.

Meanwhile, Project Playlist, now known as, hasn't been doing so well either--it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this month, yet another sign that the profitability of free streaming music was largely an illusion.

Social gaming, however, is another story. Thanks to the astonishing amount of real money being spent on virtual goods in games like FarmVille, Zynga has been growing fast. The company recently received $150 million in funding to start a joint venture with SoftBank in Japan, and hired a former Allen & Co. investment banker as chief financial officer in one of those personnel moves that seemed to signal an IPO on the horizon.

But Zynga's relationship with Facebook, on whose platform the majority of gameplay takes place, has reportedly been off-and-on chilly. Part of Van Natta's job, undoubtedly, will be striking deals and negotiations with his old boss.