Gaming Veteran Kenji Matsubara Named CEO of Zynga Japan

Zynga Japan announced today that Kenji Matsubara will be taking over for Robert Goldberg as chief executive of the joint venture on May 9. The country has been luring social game developers to it over the past couple of years, despite Facebook’s slowly emerging presence.

The attraction is the popularity of lightweight gaming across social and mobile platforms, and the willingness of users to spend money on virtual goods. CrowdStar and other competitors have also set up operations, while established local rival DeNA more recently bought Silicon Valley-based mobile developer Ngmoco in a deal worth up to $400 million.

Zynga created the Japanese division last July with the help of a $150 million investment from the Japanese tech giant Softbank. The stated goal: develop and distribute social games across the country. In early August, Zynga purchased Japanese social game developer Unoh for a reported $11.6 million, and brought it into to the organization. Zynga Japan debuted its hit game FarmVille as FarmVillage in November 2010 on popular local network Mixi.

“We are pleased to have such a seasoned and talented professional as Kenji lead the team to new heights,” outgoing Zynga Japan CEO and Zynga executive Robert Goldberg explains in the English-language press release today. “It was always our intention to find a Japanese executive who could provide the cultural knowledge and local-market expertise to manage the operations here.”

Matsubara comes to Zynga Japan several months after stepping down as CEO of video game developer and publisher Tecmo Koei. At that time, Matsubara gave a statement citing “personal reasons” as his motivation for leaving; however, his announcement came a little over a month after Tecmo Koei reported a loss of about $20 million in its video game division over a six month period. Despite the sour end note, Matsubara had a long run as CEO at Koei beginning in 2001 and peaking with the Tecmo merger in 2009. Prior to that, he served in management roles at Oracle Japan. His task now is to fully match Zynga’s game development abilities to the Japanese market.

Goldberg, meanwhile, remains at Zynga Japan during the transitional period. The Japanese language press release says he will serve as a senior advisor, whereas the English language press release makes no mention of his role at the company after early May. A veteran Silicon Valley investor and entrepreneur, Goldberg joined Zynga in early 2009, serving in key business development positions through his move over to Japan.