New Zynga CEO cleans house; study probes links between social media, gambling

zynga-execs-purgeFloundering social gaming outfit Zynga has shed three top executives as new CEO Don Mattrick struggles to right the seriously listing corporate ship. This latest cull included chief operating officer David Ko, chief technology officer Cadir Lee and chief people officer Colleen McCreary. Ko had only been promoted to COO in November. In an email to Zynga staff, Mattrick described the purge as “taking layers out of the executive ranks to get senior leaders closer to important product initiatives.”

Mattrick’s ongoing reorganization of the mess left by Zynga founder/former CEO Mark Pincus included a rejection of the company’s oft-promised real-money gambling plans, so where does that leave former 888 exec Maytal Ginzburg Olsha, who joined Zynga a year ago with a mandate to prepare the company for the real-money gambling switch? Zynga has said it intends to continue to “evaluate” the “test” of its UK-facing real-money tie-up with digital entertainment, but with Mattrick focusing elsewhere and promising to “properly densify talent,” how long will Ginzburg Olsha last?

On the other side of the Pacific Ocean from Zynga’s San Francisco headquarters, researchers at Australia’s Southern Cross University have launched a new study “investigating the promotion of and access to gambling and social casino game opportunities through social media and mobile platforms.” Calls for further social media scrutiny first surfaced last November, and perennial gambling scolds like Independent Sen. Nick Xenophon have fingered social casino apps as the newest pointy prong on the devil’s digital trident.

The study – funded by a $456k grant from Gambling Research Australia – will be led by Southern Cross researcher Dr. Sally Gainsbury, who said it was “unclear whether social media acts as a stimulus to exacerbate gambling problems or encourages gambling in vulnerable populations, including adolescents.” Gainsbury said the sheer volume of social casino players – estimated at three times the number of real-money online gamblers – meant there was “substantial interest” by gambling operators in the growing social gaming industry.

The two-year study will include input from researchers at the University of Adelaide as well as Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky, a youth gambling expert at Canada’s McGill University, As part of the study, an online survey will be conducted in 2014. Stakeholders wishing to participate in the study are invited to contact Dr. Gainsbury at [email protected].