By Malathi Nayak
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Zynga Inc said on Monday it will kick off a soft launch of its "FarmVille 2: Country Escape" game and two other updated core titles before the end of March - critical first steps as it seeks to remake itself as a mobile gaming company.
The games, which include "Zynga Poker" and "Words With Friends" will roll out on iOS and Android phones and tablets in select undisclosed markets before officially launching by the end of June.
The steps are part of a major revamp led by new Chief Executive Don Mattrick that has also seen the company cut jobs and acquire mobile game developer NaturalMotion, the maker of "Clumsy Ninja", in January for $527 million.
"Did the company miss a beat with the transition to mobile? Absolutely. Are we fixing that? Yes, we are," Mattrick said in an interview on Friday.
Shares in Zynga have risen 65 percent since July 1 when the company announced that Mattrick, the former head of Microsoft Corp's Xbox business, would replace co-founder Mark Pincus as its chief executive.
Zynga's old business model, which relied heavily on selling virtual goods to gamers on Facebook Inc's platform, began to disintegrate in 2012 as users abandoned Facebook games and moved to playing on mobile devices.
Mattrick said the company now aspires to be "the leading, at scale content company in the free-to-play space".
Zynga, which has seen bookings decline for four consecutive quarters, forecast 2014 bookings in a range of $760 million to $810 million in January, representing growth of up to 13 percent. Analysts have said its forecast is a promising sign but warn the company is yet to prove it can dominate the crowded mobile game market.
"FarmVille 2: Country Escape" builds on the motif of the franchise's second installment "FarmVille 2." New elements include a virtual goods exchange where players can trade produce and animals and a chat portal within the game.
Users will also be able to play offline, unlike similar farming games like "Hay Day" by Finnish game developer Supercell that quickly moved into the mobile gaming market.
The new versions of its "Zynga Poker" title and puzzler "Words With Friends" have been reworked with fresh design elements and features based on user feedback.
NaturalMotion is expected to launch new titles but the company is yet to announce a release window.
(Reporting by Malathi Nayak; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)