John Schappert, widely credited for helping Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) gain traction in video gaming, is returning to Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:ERTS), where he spent years overseeing its game development studios and online infrastructure, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Color me surprised. Mr. Softy has been a hard-core competitor when it comes to gaming. Halo is an unqualified winner, and the Xbox outsold Sony's (NYSE:SNE) PS3 in 2008, says researcher NPD Group. A savvy tie-up with Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) for broadcasting movies via the Xbox 360 hasn't hurt, either.

So, why is Schappert returning to EA? He's filling a vacancy. Last week, John Pleasants resigned from EA to become CEO of Playdom, a self-described "social game developer" whose products are found on MySpace and similar services. Pleasants had been leading EA's online video game efforts, the Journal reports.

Schappert will take over where Pleasants left off, trying to carve out a bigger slice of the online gaming pie that Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI) and China's The9 (NASDAQ:NCTY) profit from via World of Warcraft.

In fact, thanks to Sino superstar (NASDAQ:SOHU) and its mainland peers, digital gaming has never been bigger. Lazard Capital Markets analyst Colin Sebastian estimates that online video games now account for $11 billion in revenue, equal to one quarter of the global gaming market.

Under Schappert's leadership, Mr. Softy has enjoyed eating at that table. EA, apparently, would rather it didn't.

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