Zynga Hires Top Digital Executive Away From Electronic Arts

Zynga has hired away Barry Cottle, the EVP of Electronic Arts’ interactive division, marking the third such high-profile steal it’s made from the rival videogame maker over the past year.

Last year, Zynga hired Electronic Arts’ COO John Schappert, who now holds the same title at the social games company. It also picked up EA Play’s EVP Jeff Karp, who is now Chief Marketing and Revenue Officer.

Most recently, Cottle was overseeing EA Mobile, Playfish, Pogo, Hasbro and PopCap, and had been one of the key driving forces behind transforming the company from primarily a packaged goods company to a digital company.

At Zynga, Cottle will serve as EVP of business and corporate development in charge of new global partnerships, acquisitions and other development roles.

In a letter sent to employees today, Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello downplayed the departure of Cottle, and said it was going to fold EA Interactive into the entire organization now that “everyone and everything is digital.”

Four years ago, when it originally set up EA Interactive, it was to oversee mobile, social and Pogo, he explained. But today, those initiatives are part of every group within the company.

“It’s abundantly clear that the digital transformation is not confined to one group,” he wrote. “Therefore, we have decided to begin 2012 by folding EAi into the organizations noted below. This reflects our new reality: everyone and everything is digital.”

Executives now leading the charge include EA Labels President Frank Gibeau, COO Peter Moore, CTO Rajat Taneja and EVP of digital Kristian Segerstrale.

Riccitiello provided further evidence of EA’s digital transformation by announcing that the company had achieved more than $1 billion in digital revenues in 2011.

The loss of another high-profile executive to Zynga represents a signficant blow to the company, which has been clear about its attempt to challenge Zynga’s dominance in social gaming. Last year, it paid $750 million to acquire PopCap to become the second-largest social game maker on Facebook.

Cottle, who was at EA for the past five years, previously worked at Palm, where he held the position of COO, and at the Walt Disney Company, where he was he was an SVP and chief marketing officer.

“It’s rare that you find someone who possesses a deep operational background and also has the vision to see where your business and your industry are headed,” said Zynga’s CEO Mark Pincus in a release. “His skill set, combined with his deep understanding of the games, technology and entertainment spaces will help us accelerate our mission of connecting the world through games.”

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work