Exclusive: Zynga’s Chief Creative Officer Mike Verdu Exits to Start a New Company

Mike Verdu confirmed to AllThingsD that he is leaving Zynga to start his own game company in which Zynga will be an investor.

As Chief Creative Officer at Zynga, Verdu oversaw a number of the company’s game studios in L.A., Dallas, Baltimore, New York, Boston and San Francisco. During his three-plus years at the company, the EA veteran also managed the company’s creative process, working closely on such games and Empires & Allies, FrontierVille and CastleVille.

Verdu’s departure closely follows a handful of other exits, including a recent restructuring that led to the departure of the company’s Chief Operating Officer John Schappert.

Other recent employees to leave include Alan Patmore, general manager of CityVille, who left to work at Kixeye. Bloomberg also reported that Erik Bethke, a general manager who oversaw Mafia Wars 2; Ya-Bing Chu, a VP in Zynga’s mobile division; and Jeremy Strauser, a general manager, had also left the company.

Earlier this month, I reported that morale was sinking at the company as its stock hit an all-time low. Shares continue to bounce along the bottom, valuing the company at a mere $2.3 billion.

Verdu says his exit is bad timing, but that he’s leaving for different reasons.

“I personally don’t want to add to the noise level,” he said. “I think this will be a good thing for me and for Zynga. … I’m concerned about how this might be viewed with what else is going on, but it’s not a function of anything else going on at the company.”

Verdu said he will be leaving Zynga effective today to start his new venture. He declined to disclose the name of the company, but said that Zynga will both invest in it and that Zynga will be the publisher of his games on its third-party platform.

He’ll be focusing on developing mobile games, he says, which is one of Zynga’s weak spots.

Verdu said one of Zynga’s challenges is in navigating the shift in player behavior from the Web to mobile, and coming up with games — from a creative point of view — in which people use touch and swipe, rather than the mouse.

While Verdu will obviously continue to work closely with Zynga, his presence will undoubtedly be missed as what he calls the company’s “creative conscience.”

“I represented the creatives at the senior management level and I was always careful to make sure their voices were heard, so when the company made the decision about products, I made sure the creatives had a role,” Verdu said, adding that it can be a delicate balancing act, given the company’s metrics-driven approach.

Three of the company’s other creative types — Brian Reynolds, Tim LeTourneau and Bill Jackson — will take over some of Verdu’s responsibilities along with other people.

In parting, Verdu had nothing but good things to say about his colleagues, including CEO Mark Pincus: “I love the guys that I work with; I would go to war with these guys at my side anytime. Leaving them is hard.”

In a statement, Pincus said: “Mike has been a good friend to me personally as well as professionally, and has been an influential creative leader to us all. I’m proud of the legacy that Mike has helped build and the deep bench of creative talent and leaders who will carry the torch and shape the next wave of creativity at Zynga. Zynga will be on the ground floor with Mike on his next venture as an investor in his new start-up. We are excited for Mike in this next chapter in his distinguished career and we are grateful for his contributions to Zynga.”

Here is the full text of Verdu’s goodbye post

During my three years at Zynga, I’ve seen the company grow from a small, scrappy start-up on the frontier of interactive entertainment to a large, world-class organization with 20 development studios around the world and a deep well of amazing talent. With just the right mix of Web 2.0 and game DNA, Zynga blends art and science to deliver game experiences that are played by tens of millions of people every day on their computers and mobile devices.

I’m very proud of my part in building this remarkable company, especially in growing and nurturing what has become a vibrant community of game designers, producers, and creative leaders. These are the people who will create the entertainment experiences of the future.

Now, however, it’s time for me to try something new. Being at Zynga in the early days reminded me of how much I love being an entrepreneur. After a lot of soul-searching, I have decided to go back to my roots and start a new company.

It’s tough to leave people I admire and respect - and something that I have helped to build. I thank Mark for his leadership, friendship, and unwavering support. And I thank the people of Zynga for making my time at the company some of the best years of my career.


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