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New Zynga CEO plans to take Candy Crush's sweet spot

Don Mattrick sets his agenda during the company's earnings call and talks about why he loves Candy Crush, why he took the job, and how the company will dominate social gaming again.

Don Mattrick
Don Mattrick James Martin/CNET

Zynga's new CEO Don Mattrick made it clear during the company's earnings call Thursday that he has high expectations for the company, despite its struggle to retain players and stay relevant in social gaming.

A self-professed Candy Crush fan, Mattrick plans to knock the hit game -- and every other non-Zynga game on the top ten Facebook games list -- off the leaderboard.

"My aspirations is 10 out of 10. It's probably going to take us longer than four quarters to get to that, but I think it's the long-term vision," he said. Zynga reported having three of the top ten Facebook games as of June 30. These games were Words with Friends, Zynga Poker, and FarmVille 2.

Mattrick said Candy Crush, which is the No. 1 app on Facebook, has all the qualities of a good mobile game -- quick access, a fun experience, and the ability to share it with friends. Winning on Facebook continues to be important for Zynga; 68 percent of the company's bookings revenues came from Facebook this last quarter.

"I'll fess up. I'm a Candy Crush player. I've enjoyed it, evangelized it and it lives up to the expectations," he said, adding that he thinks Zynga can achieve the same kind of success eventually.

It will be a long road for Zynga. Mattrick, along with Zynga's other top executives, profusely acknowledged the company's failures during the 45-minute earnings call. The company beat expectations in the second quarter, but still has declining revenues and is loosing players. Mattrick said it would take the company two to four quarters to get back on track, but he plans to study the company's business and product plans closely in the next 90 days.

"There's no denying we're not where we want to be," he said. "We've not met our investors' expectations, we've not met our own expectations and most importantly, we've not met our players' expectations. But there's also no denying that we can get back to being a winner."

When asked why he took on the challenging role at Zynga, the former Microsoft executive said he's used to companies in transition. He added that he sees Zynga as a company with a great advertising model in a rapidly growing market, good talent among its 2,300 employees, and a headquarters located in vibrant tech community.

"When companies have hits, great people, viewing an expanding growth market, it frequently just takes a little bit of extra attention to detail, a little more focus, to unlock the potential," Mattrick said.

Mattrick started at Zynga earlier this month, so he hasn't been CEO for very long. But the news of his arrival seemed to boost Wall Street's confidence in the struggling gaming company. Mattrick's move surprised -- he was in the mist of a successful run at Microsoft, leading the strategy for the Xbox. The industry is now waiting to seeif he can turn the company around.

Initially, there was concern that founder and former Zynga CEO Mark Pincus wouldn't be able to loosen his reins enough to let Mattrick work his magic. While Pincus did kick off Thursday's earning call, he effectively handed off control to Mattrick, who confidently took on questions about Zynga's future while leaning on COO David Ko and CFO Mark Vranesh to handle questions about the company's Q2 performance.

When questioned on Zynga's slow move to mobile, particularly to capitalize on the popularity of Zynga's hit game FarmVille, Ko acknowledged the company's mobile weak spot.

"We need to think about moving to mobile and that platform. I would say 'stay tuned' there, and I would say the opportunity continues to grow. As we move to thinking about how those experiences translate to mobile and to tablets, we realize that we need to think different, we need to have a mobile mindset," he said.