Zynga CEO Mark Pincus steps down -- again

Former EA mobile chief Frank Gibeau will become the beleaguered game maker's fourth CEO in three years.

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Mark Pincus is stepping down as Zynga's CEO, his second departure from the beleaguered game maker's executive suite.

Rafe Needleman/CNET

FarmVille maker Zynga is harvesting a new crop of company leadership, a familiar occurrence at the game maker in recent years.

Zynga said Tuesday that Mark Pincus would step down as the CEO of the company after less than a year back at the helm of the online games maker he founded. Frank Gibeau, who joined Zynga last year after more than 20 years at rival game maker Electronic Arts, will take over as chief executive on March 7, when Pincus becomes executive chairman.

The move is reminiscent of executive shuffles the company has experienced over the past couple of years. Pincus returned to the San Francisco-based company's executive suite in April 2015, replacing Don Mattrick, who abruptly left the company after less than two years on the job. Mattrick became Zynga's CEO in July 2013 following Pincus' first resignation.

Pincus announced Gibeau's appointment on the company blog, noting that he recruited Gibeau seven months ago to mentor the company's teams in a turnaround effort and saying that he would "continue to work closely with Frank and our product teams day to day."

Zynga shares, which had lost a quarter of their value since Pincus returned in April 2015, closed up 5 cents to $2.16, an increase of 2.3 percent. After-hours trading added 15 cents, an increase of nearly 7 percent.

Zynga made its name by popularizing games made not for enthusiasts or war buffs, but for general audiences. One of its biggest hits was FarmVille, which encouraged players to tend to a farm in the game, plowing fields, minding cows and helping friends. The game became a hit, particularly on Facebook's website, where players could send messages to friends enticing them to play.

But the move to mobile devices -- a major shift within the video game industry to titles made for smartphones and tablets -- was faster than the pace at which Zynga's teams could make games. Ultimately, Zynga failed to garner as much influence as it did in its earliest days.

The appointment of Gibeau is designed to address the company's lack of progress in the mobile-gaming world. Before his abrupt departure from EA in May, Gibeau led the teams responsible for titles like the strategy games The Simpsons: Tapped Out and Plants vs. Zombies, as well as the car game Real Racing and the puzzle game Bejeweled.

Gibeau had been considered a contender for the role of chief executive at EA after John Riccitiello's sudden exit in March 2013. Six months later, the company tapped Andrew Wilson, then the head of its sports games division, as its new leader.

Zynga's lack of success in mobile gaming has led to significant belt-tightening in the past year. A month after returning to the company's helm, Pincus announced an 18 percent reduction in its workforce -- about 364 employees -- to help the company save $100 million. To raise more cash, Pincus said last month that the company was exploring the sale of its San Francisco headquarters with plans to lease it back.