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Breaking news: Someone’s actually joining Zynga’s executive team instead of leaving it.

Zynga has stolen away DeNA West’s CEO Clive Downie to be its new chief operating officer. The surprise move comes just in time for Zynga’s third-quarter earnings announcement today.

Once the darling of social games, Zynga has slipped big time since its initial public offering in late 2011. The company has had a hard time adapting from Facebook to mobile games. It hired Don Mattrick, the head of Microsoft’s game business, earlier this summer, and now Mattrick has made his first big move with the hiring of Downie as his No. 2 executive.

Last night, Japan’s DeNA announced that it had replaced Downie with Shintaro Asako, the chief financial officer of DeNA West. Downie brings a wealth of experience in mobile games that Zynga sorely needs. Downie has worked for more than 20 years in console games and the free-to-play mobile sector. He took over as CEO at DeNA West after founder Neil Young left. Prior to that, he was vice president of studios for DeNA’s third-party and first-party game studios. He joined DeNA in 2010 when the Japanese company acquired San Francisco-based Ngmoco for $400 million. He also spent 15 years at Electronic Arts.


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Under 41-year-old Downie, DeNA West published games such as first-person shooter The Drowning for iOS and helped extend the Mobage mobile-social gamer network in the West. That game has not been as successful as hoped, but DeNA has had a number of games, like Rage of Bahamut, that became big hits in the West. It has also made deals with Hasbro to make games featuring popular franchises such as Transformers, G.I. Joe, and Dungeons & Dragons. 

Downie will have his work cut out for him at Zynga, which has had a number of management shuffles and layoffs during the past year as its social gaming business declines amid competition and the transition to mobile. 

“I have known Clive for more than two decades and am pleased to welcome him to the team. He is a seasoned leader with a deep understanding of consumer, marketing and mobile engagement, international experience operating both in [Europe] and Japan and a rich background in game publishing – all of which are incredibly valuable as Zynga navigates its move to mobile,” said Mattrick in a statement. “I enjoyed my prior experiences working with Clive at Electronic Arts and have appreciated what he accomplished in the past five years at DeNA. As we build new leadership capabilities and focus the company on long term growth, Clive’s customer-centric point of view and proven track record will be invaluable to Zynga’s future.”

During the past year, Zynga has cut a number of failing games and lost more than 1,000 employees through either layoffs or attrition.

“Zynga challenged the status quo of entertainment and changed the game for our industry by bringing free, highly social games to mainstream audiences around the world,” said Clive Downie. “I joined Zynga because I believe it has the ability to unlock disruptive new ideas that span gaming genres, markets and services. Zynga’s uniquely positioned inside a growing market to deliver consumers around the world an entertainment experience as beloved as their favorite TV show, movie or music.”

Downie will report directly to Mattrick. The previous No. 2 executive was David Ko, the chief operations officer. He resigned in August after Mattrick came on board. A whole series of executive departures ensued, but Downie’s hire shows that Zynga is still an attractive place for game veterans.

Former CEO and founder Mark Pincus is now chief product officer at Zynga.

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