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Hall of Fame: Clive Downie

Zynga COO on climbing to the top
Hall of Fame: Clive Downie

Clive Downie joined social game service provider Zynga in 2013, bringing with him over 20 years of industry experience in leading teams, publishing hit titles, and helping franchises realise their potential.

Downie made the switch to Zynga after leaving his role as CEO of DeNa West: a position which saw him take charge of the company's mobile social game platform, Mobage West, while also managing DeNA's western third-party business and first-party game studios in San Francisco, Vancouver, and Chile.

Prior to that Downie spent 15 years at Electronic Arts, where he served as Vice President of Marketing. During his time at EA Downie was responsible for some of the world's most successful game franchises, including FIFA, Need for Speed, Medal of Honor, and Command & Conquer.

Pocket Gamer: What were your favourite games as a kid?

Clive Dowie: Some of my favourite games growing up were Elite, Nemesis, and Revs on BBC Micro as well as Star Glider on Atari ST.

These were the games that were popular when I was a kid, and it was well worth suffering through the multicolor screens with bits and bytes as they loaded. Even if they crashed, I always restarted – I didn’t mind the wait to be taken into another world.

When did you realise you wanted to make games as a career?

I don’t think I had a “eureka” moment – it was more about being in the right place at the right time. I had always loved playing games and a friend of mine who worked at EA told me about a job opening.

I jumped at the opportunity because I would be working on a great mix of games that I already knew and enjoyed. Very quickly, I realised how fortunate I was to have that opportunity.

That was back in 1991, but I immediately got the sense that it was the start of something – I just couldn’t comprehend what that was going to be.

What was your first role in the industry? How did that turn out?

My first role was at EA in the UK. EA had just opened their first office outside of the US led by Mark Lewis and David Gardner. EA was motivated by initial successes moving games from the US to the UK market. This was during the 16-bit era – the Sega Genesis was on the horizon.

“With the advent of smartphones, I quickly realised the gaming landscape could completely change.”
Clive Downie

I was offered a job within customer service and QA, testing the games made by EA as well as Bullfrog, who made titles such as Populous and Powermonger. My QA role entailed testing the games while they were hooked to a VHS player – when you discovered a bug you had to write a time code and then give the code to the producer so they could fix it.

My customer service role entailed answering customer questions. At the time, only a small number of people had email so responding to customers meant writing a letter and answering the phone. I was answering questions about being stuck in dungeons, not being able to find tools in Deluxe Paint, hardware and software questions, you name it. We were the only office for all of Europe so I would receive a lot of these calls in other languages.

I consider this first role a great foundation. This early experience also gave me exposure for the first time to Californians. They seemed like the most magnificent people in the world – ambitious, inspiring, smart, and energetic. It was a good time for me to learn, be inspired, and make friends for life. I quickly realised that I was born to be an American.

What do you consider your first significant success?

I would say marketing my first game from start to finish at EA was a significant first success. We launched Soviet Strike as the rebirth of the Strike series. I feel it was a success because we worked hard and closely with the dev team to build a strong campaign that reflected the essence of the product.

We also did some risky things such as put a billboard in Red Square, which generated a lot of press. Because it was a fully integrated campaign, we proved what could be done when all the components worked together along with a high quality product. I’m still using a lot of these best practices today.

When did the potential for mobile games become apparent to you?

I started to see the massive potential for mobile games around 2007, before the advent of the iPhone. As a marketer at heart, I was always driven by reaching as many people as possible and changing their experiences in a good way.

We’re always hampered by a natural restriction of the scale of technology. For games, whilst they can be massively successful, the scale and impact was dependent on the consoles we could play on. With just a small percentage of the global population owning a console, how could you be effective if you’re only talking to that amount of people?

Downie is 'incredibly proud' of <em>FarmVille 2: Country Escape</em>
Downie is 'incredibly proud' of FarmVille 2: Country Escape

With the advent of smartphones, I quickly realised the landscape could completely change. Mobiles are always connected, they’re inherently social, and they’re powerful enough to deliver immersive experiences. And most importantly, smartphones are always with you. I also realized early that there was potential for more people to start playing games if they were playing on a smartphone.

For the first few years of the smartphone, people would say they weren’t a gamer because they didn’t associate what they were doing as gaming. Smartphones gave way to a new generation of people who play games at a scale we’ve never seen before. It’s a powerful proposition.

To-date, what are you most proud of? Any regrets?

No regrets. I’ve had the chance to work with really talented teams over the years and along with them have enjoyed bringing great consumer experiences to life.

“Creating jaw-dropping experiences for consumers will be the future for mobile entertainment.”
Clive Downie

Most recently, I’m proud of our teams bringing New Words With Friends, a five year-old game, back into the spotlight with a Top 5 performance on the free app store charts and a high quality, positive reaction from consumers – it feels like we’ve reenergized an evergreen brand with brand-new features that our players have asked for.

I’m also incredibly proud of FarmVille 2: Country Escape, which was one of Zynga’s first global, multi-platform mobile launches, delivering a rich entertainment experience that maps back to the mobile play patterns that consumers want.

The creation of Zynga Sports 365 this year, which we hope will make a global impact within the sports category, is especially exciting. And, I’m really proud of the marketing team at Zynga who have created new disciplines for the company in product, performance, and consumer marketing.

Which mobile games have you most enjoyed recently and why?

I’m currently loving our most recent launch, New Words With Friends and its new features such as Solo Play, Community Match, and Profiles with stats. 

I continue to love playing FarmVille 2: Country Escape because it’s literally a great place to escape and have fun.I’m also playing a lot of NFL Showdown and the multiplayer mode in CSR Racing to win in-game Ferraris!

What are your predictions for the new big development in mobile games?

We’re strong believers that creating jaw-dropping experiences for consumers will truly be the future for mobile entertainment.

We especially see this represented by NaturalMotion, which strengths lie in the breakthrough technologies used to create delightful hit mobile games. Their technology has even greater potential for our consumers when combined with Zynga’s strengths of developing breakthrough social features and sustaining live games over time.

<em>New Words With Friends</em> is Downie's latest project
New Words With Friends is Downie's latest project

We also believe there is a massive growth opportunity for innovative technology that will accelerate the realism around characters and visuals to enhance our players’ emotional connection.

For example, this means that consumers will enjoy unique movements as a character adapts its behavior to personalized game play rather than repeated animations. All of this creates a richer emotional connection with a more immersive experience.

In which area of the industry do you hope to make a difference in future?

Our winning aspiration is to be the at scale industry leader by delivering more number one games in more categories than any other competitor.

Simply put, we want to create top hits that engage mainstream global audiences.

We already have top franchises and capabilities in the Farm, Casino, Words, Racing and People categories, and this year we expect to move aggressively into new categories that align with the enduring entertainment that consumers care about.

As consumers continue to move to mobile, we want to make a difference by delivering to players a truly significant entertainment experience anytime, anywhere.

Thanks to Clive for his time.

Starting out in simple monochrome in the days of Snake and WAP, the past decade has seen the mobile games industry kaleidoscope into a glorious, multi-billion dollar sector that's driving global innovation.

So it's high time we celebrate some of the people who helped make that journey possible - something is doing in its regular Mobile Gaming Hall of Fame feature.

You can read our previous Hall of Fame articles here.