Electronic Arts' $750 million acquisition of casual gaming leader PopCap yesterday will go down as one of 2011's biggest game industry buys, and there are a lot of moving parts and potential synergies from a process standpoint.
Both companies have embraced the social, casual and digital transitions as the way forward. It's easy to wonder about how all the integrations will work.
"PopCap needs to do what PopCap does," founder John Vechey tells Gamasutra. "We're going to take advantage of their world-class digital publishing, so we can just focus on making great games." EA already has a lot of expertise taking its various brands onto multiple platforms, especially emerging ones like mobile and Facebook, Vechey notes.
"But what they don't have right now is an organization dedicated to creating new, original IP," he adds. "How do we make the best games possible? PopCap has the same exact goals today as it will tomorrow."
"It's the perfect fit," adds EAi executive VP and GM Barry Cottle."The culture fits, the respect, the talent -- they create killer IP, they're the Pixar of the game industry... this just makes us a force to be reckoned with."
As powerful as PopCap is -- and on the back of its owned IP, no less -- some may wonder why it needed or wanted to sell the company at all. According to Vechey, it's all down to the company's priorities:
"We're focused on making great games and getting them to everyone in the world. Late in the fall, we said, 'let's explore options without going public that might get us to our goals faster or better.'"
Vechey agrees with Cottle that the position of best cultural alignment was with EA. "We're not speaking a different language, because everyone's talking about games," he enthuses. "They've got this amazing digital publishing... and we are going to get to so many more customers so much quicker, and better. We can get to our objectives a lot faster than we would have independently."
PopCap's priority is largely to continue to develop great games, and to allow EA's market expertise to help determine the platform focus and business model from there. "Let them leverage their experience across all the platforms," says Vechey. "In that respect, regardless of where the game starts, we have way more leverage than we did. We have more freedom to choose the best thing for that game, not less freedom."
On EA's conference call to analysts regarding the acquisition, the publisher didn't want to speak much about PopCap's pipeline nor what might be in the works for the company. And, as Cottle points out, "The business plan that went into doing this deal... was largely created in the confidence we had of taking the synergy across the franchises that are already available."
When one looks at PopCap's properties over the past decade, hits like Bejeweled, Zuma, Peggle, Plants vs. Zombies and more, there are a lot of winning franchises for that number of years, says Cottle. "It's rare to see an organization that was so consistently able to repeat the success of creating major franchises," he adds. "And they've got very very talented people, so I think we smartly built a business plan on existing franchises."
Creating another Peggle "may take some time," says Vechey -- but Cottle tells us EA's very happy with what it's seen in the works at PopCap.
"We're looking at every build, every game at every stage of the development process," Cottle says. "We were pleasantly surprised by the great things that these guys have going on here. On the synergy side, we saw a lot of opportunity where, based on the development scale, [we can] build them out across many different platforms, building some of that great IP. We were very pleased with the diligence process."
"I don't think [EA CEO] John Riccitiello would make any deal like this without playing every game," laughs Vechey.