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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

April 27, 2012 at 10:38 AM

Big Fish CEO steps down, Thelen back

Big Fish Chief Executive Jeremy Lewis abruptly announced his resignation today, six years after the Goldman Sachs veteran joined the Seattle casual games giant.

Founder Paul Thelen is resuming his role as chief executive, while Lewis will remain on the board of directors. Lewis (below) moved from company president to CEO in September 2007.

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The shakeup comes in the wake of a series of high-profile acquisitions in the game industry and the growing clout of Zynga and Facebook in casual gaming, prompting questions about whether Big Fish will sell or go public before its decade-long growth streak in PC and mobile gaming cools.

Big Fish, meanwhile, has been bulking up its executive team with hires from Amazon.com and “Angry Birds” maker Rovio.

The company also made a big move in March, jumping into Facebook gaming and the emerging market for virtual gambling by acquiring Oakland, Calif.-based Self Aware Games, maker of Facebook hit “Card Ace: Casino.”

In the news release, Lewis recounted progress since he joined in 2006, saying “we’ve grown the company organically through several life stages and emerged as a leading digital brand with strong momentum and huge continued potential. This is a natural point in our company’s progression for me to pass my responsibilities as president and CEO back to Paul, who will bring his characteristic entrepreneurial drive and creativity to the forefront.”

Thelen (below) said in the release that the company is on track for another record year of sales growth. Last year it grew 30 percent with sales of more than $180 million.

Thelen – a 44-year-old veteran of RealNetworks – started Big Fish in 2002 and built it into one of the largest developers and distributors of casual games playable on PCs and mobile devices.

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More than 1.5 billion games have been distributed by the company and its portal – BigFishGames.com – draws more than 10 million visitors a month.

Big Fish has more than 500 employees, mostly at its headquarters on the Seattle waterfront.

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