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The departure of Microsoft executive Don Mattrick to become the CEO of Zynga brings a leadership transition to the Xbox division at a less-than-ideal moment, as the company prepares to launch the Xbox One this fall.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. (Microsoft photo)
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. (Microsoft photo)

Microsoft didn’t name a successor yesterday. In a memo to all Microsoft employees, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer wrote, “Don’s directs will report to me and will continue to drive the day-to-day business as a team, particularly focused on shipping Xbox One this holiday.”

Day-to-day business aside, that means Ballmer will have a more direct role in strategic decisions in the build-up to the Xbox One debut. I have a hunch we’ve already seen the impact of this, as Microsoft — less than two weeks before Mattrick’s departure — decided to change course on some of its most controversial Xbox One policies in the face of intense opposition from gamers. For better or worse, Ballmer is known for listening intently to customers.

The Xbox group has veteran leadership, including Xbox One chief product officer Mark Whitten; Microsoft Studios chief Phil Spencer; and Yusuf Mehdi, the chief marketing and strategy officer, all of whom have been with the company for many years in a variety of positions.

But the wild card is the company’s impending reorg, which could see the Xbox become part of a broader hardware group under different leadership at higher levels of the company.

Meanwhile, FastCompany has an in-depth profile of Mattrick. Also see this Financial Times piece about Mattrick’s prospects for turning around Zynga.

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