Mark Pincus returned to Zynga (NASDAQ:ZNGA) as CEO in April, taking the reigns back from Don Mattrick, the executive he hired to replace himself in 2013.
Nearly five months later, Zynga is still struggling. Shares of the social game maker rose following its earnings report earlier this month, but many of the company's key games continue to lose players, and it's not clear that its planned successors will be able to pick up the slack.
But on Zynga's most recent earnings call, Pincus reiterated his commitment to the company and explained how he plans to turn around the troubled firm.
Go back to targeting casuals
Pincus built Zynga's business around casual players -- the sort of individuals who enjoy video games but may not have the time or interest to dedicate themselves to the engrossing, high-budget titles that dominate dedicated gaming consoles. Most of Zynga's early flagship games -- Words with Friends, FarmVille, Zynga Poker -- fit this mold, with simplistic graphics and accessible game play.
Under Mattrick, Zynga appeared to be headed in a slightly different direction. The former Xbox head didn't bring Zynga's titles to the living room but did appear to be in the process of reorientating the firm, shifting Zynga's focus to games that more closely resembled those found on consoles.
Under Mattrick, Zynga acquired NaturalMotion, a mobile developer known mostly for Clumsy Ninja, one of the best-looking games available on the iTunes app store, and Euphoria, the software engine that underpins it. Dawn of Titans, NaturalMotion's upcoming strategy game, is almost indistinguishable from a console title, and appears to be aimed at a more core audience.
Pincus isn't giving up on Dawn of Titans (the game is slated to make its U.S. debut later this year) or NaturalMotion, but he intends to bring Zynga back to its original focus.
I think one thing that we pioneered on the web is introducing gaming to busy mass market adults, hopefully like all of you on [your smartphone]. And we found that, that was a blue ocean opportunity, and it was a great growth opportunity for us and for our industry. And so, I want us to get back to focusing on that market, on you guys and gals, and on innovating, in a different area -- innovating on how make those games more accessible to you and more social.
Put a greater emphasis on data
Pincus also plans to put a greater emphasis on data. This isn't a radical departure from Zynga's business model as it stands -- the company has long been known for using data to influence its design decisions -- but Pincus emphasized a renewed focus on data during the earnings call.
I came back to focus on ... an approach to the market that's player-centric and data-driven ... we're investing deeply in industry-leading data and analytics, and integrating a metrics driven approach to the way that we develop, and hopefully delivering on the promise that 80% of our engineering days should go toward something that our players will thank us for -- that are delivering clear obvious quality for our players. And I believe that by leveraging metrics, we can do a better job of making sure that we're building things that players want before we make huge investments of engineering days.
Be more innovative
Finally, Pincus plans to place a greater emphasis on innovation. Admittedly this is something of a platitude, but he did offer a few concrete examples: last month, for example, Zynga launched Mountain Goat Mountain, a quirky, experimental mobile game developed by just a handful of Zynga's employees. Pincus acknowledged that the game wouldn't move the company forward but held it up as an example of the sort of culture he's hoping to build.
Getting back to our founding values and culture around empowered entrepreneurs ... What I really mean is that, we have an amazing talent and ability across our company, and a lot of what we need to do as a leadership team is, is make the opportunity available to these creative terrific people to go and innovate. And we've seen a lot of examples, even in the last couple of months.