The casual gaming giant's former CMO tells Develop why he left and joined multimedia firm GSN

Why Jeff Karp left Zynga

Zynga’s chief marketing officer shocked the industry when he announced his decision to resign from the company earlier this month.

Jeff Karp was one of a number of high profile exits from the casual gaming giant in the last few months, with 12 executives including the likes of John Schappert, Mike Verdu and Alan Patmore also departing.

And despite only leaving Zynga on September 22nd, Karp quickly joined up with multimedia entertainment company GSN two days later on September 24th as executive VP for mobile and social games.

As part of his role at GSN, which has more than 70 million subscribers to its online games and television network, the former Zynga marketing chief will be responsible for overseeing GSN Digital’s virtual currency business across its mobile, social and gaming platforms.

Develop spoke to Jeff Karp to ask what his plans are for GSN and why he and so many others have left Zynga.

Why did you join GSN? What does it have to offer the industry?
The landscape in social gaming right now is changing quite dramatically as we speak in the transition [to mobile and social], and I’m very excited about what GSN has to offer. The uniqueness in the marketplace with skill-based gaming, the strength and momentum they have with social casino and some of the great brands they represent and support like Wheel of Fortune.

As things continue to progress and move forward I think GSN is in a great position to continue to grow and develop in the months and years ahead.

What exactly is unique about the games and services GSN offers?
I think if you look at skill-based gaming there is no one else in the marketplace that has the same amount success and momentum as GSN. I think Social Casino, in its early stages, is doing quite well.

We believe, along with Peter Blacklow [head of GSN Digital], that there is some great momentum in the trajectory ahead and we’re excited about some of the unique things that we’re looking at and exploring to create a unique place in the marketplace.

What plans do you have to grow? What are you hoping to do over the next few years?
Well, 48 hours in it’s pretty hard to tell you the distinct plan. In early talks and discussions we just think that there’s an opportunity to leverage the assets that we have such as skill-based gaming – there are very few companies that offer and do it successfully.

We have some great licensing deals as well as ones that were pending as well. And as you see the ecosystem in social games changing I think brands and uniqueness in the marketplace are really going to be the properties of the companies that will be successful.

Why do you think skill-based gaming in particular has room to really grow? Why do you think it is going to be really popular?
I think there are probably a lot of people that have never been exposed to skill-based gaming, so it’s a pretty small ecosystem.

But I think if you look at more and more people – there’s going to be a billion people that are going to be playing social games over the next few years – I think a percentage of those people will be highly enthused about participating in skill-based gaming because it’s essentially validating a lot of the games they play and giving them an opportunity to compete at a different level.

It’s the core gamers that are going to continue to grow and scale as more and more players come into social games.

Now that you’ve joined GSN, what exactly is your role going to be?
We’re still sorting out the details, but essentially I’ll be partnering with and reporting to Peter Blacklow to look at the social and mobile games specifically and the opportunities of growth ahead of that.

What I’m excited about is there’s a great baseline here today, but we have some strong plans going forward to really scale and leverage that and connect the dots between what’s going on in skill based gaming, connect the dots with what’s going on in dotcom and then how on we leverage, grow and scale a lot of the mobile and social games that are happening today.

I’m fortunate enough that there’s a great baseline in place on iOS and tablet. As the transition takes place we feel we can leverage all of these different elements that we have into one cohesive strategy.

I read on App Data that the number of DAUs for GSN has actually fallen by one million on Facebook over the last year. So what are those plans that you’re talking of to grow that again and also grow it beyond what it use to be as well?

I think you have to look at it at a baseline to start with. If you look at the ecosystem on Facebook, essentially that ecosystem is in decline.

I think GSN has been relatively on par with a lot of other companies that have declined over the past year. And like I said, there is definitely a transition beyond just Facebook into mobile and social games as well.

I definitely believe personally that there is a strong opportunity to grow and scale on Facebook as there are still close to a billion people that are on Facebook.

350 million plus are gamers, and as we continue to come out with new content we believe there is opportunity to grow and scale our market share, and like I was saying earlier, I think there is an opportunity to grow cross-platform and leverage all our assets and all of our games.

With 350 million gamers and 1 billion users, why do you think there are less people playing games now?
I think there’s a transition going on, and there’s a transition going on for a multitude of reasons.

Number one is I don’t think there has been a lot of new content developed recently on Facebook. I think there’s been a lot of similar type games that have been introduced in the market place.

I think secondarily there is definitely a transition to mobile. Whether it’s mobile and tablet there’s been some pretty good growth there. So the enthusiasm that we have at a high level is creating content that goes cross-platform and giving people the opportunity to play our games anytime, anyplace, anywhere.

Moving on to Zynga, why did you decide to leave?
I love Zynga because I get along very well with Peter and I think that once again, at the risk of being redundant, I just think there’s a lot of opportunity that GSN has as an established top ten game company which I think has the potential to be top three or top five in the very near future.

A lot of execs have left. Why do you think a lot of them are being tempted away?
My experience with Zynga was great, they took great care of me, it’s a great company with great people. I can’t comment on other people but I came here because I see a great opportunity and a great future for GSN.

Zynga took very good care of me and I have a lot of respect for a lot of people there, I have a lot of good friends who still work there and I’m sure they’ll do some great things moving forward.

But then in your personal experience, are there any problems that Zynga is experiencing?
Nothing I’m commenting on. And like I said this is more of a personal decision for me. Zynga was a great experience, I learned a tonne and I see GSN as a brand and a company that has huge potential moving forward through the market transition.

I take it it was your decision to leave?
Yes. I had a great partnership with Mark Pincus, and I consider him a friend of mine and we continue to keep in touch.

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