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Ten Years Of PopCap: The Interview
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Ten Years Of PopCap: The Interview

May 28, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next

It seems to me that all of your titles are made to be universal across platforms. It doesn't seem to me that you've ever, for example, experimented in something that only really works with traditional game controllers. Is that an intentional approach? Is it possible for you guys to experiment in that way?

JK: I think it's semi-intentional. At this point, the vast majority of our games is done on -- we started off on PC as a reference platform, and so far, luckily, that's been a pretty good base to move to other platforms.

We do think about the cross-platform stuff, but at the same time, if we want to do a game that we think is going to be really cool, we don't necessarily shut it down if it won't work on certain platforms. Plants vs. Zombies works well enough on iPhone, but when we were developing it that wasn't necessarily clear.

BF: There was no iPhone when we first started developing it!

JK: Right. The mobile phones we were aware of at the time were not very likely to be good Plants vs. Zombies platforms. If we'd said, "Well, let's cancel it then," that would have been a kind of probably bad idea.

That said, we are interested in trying a few more things because I do believe that some games do have to be designed for a platform that they work well with, and we certainly seen with Bejeweled on Facebook, for example -- even though that's Bejeweled, a lot of the key elements of it had to be very specific to the Facebook platform.

We'll probably try to do some more experiments in the future where we tailor a game more specifically to a different platform rather than PC, and then we might try the opposite direction where we put a game on iPhone or something like that and see if it ports back to the PC, for example. Or do an original game for Xbox Live and then see if it goes back to a game that can go on Steam.

But you haven't done that yet. You're just saying there's a possibility that you might move in that direction?

JK: We haven't announced anything moving in that direction yet.

BF: We've acquired some developers who primarily work on Xbox 360 games, for example, and they're also great game designers; that would be their primary platform of choice if they were going to work on some original IP.

We have some really strong Flash programmers, and if they wanted to develop an original IP that would be their chosen platform. It's all about getting people with original ideas who are kind of ideal leaders to work on the platform that they're most comfortable on rather than forcing them to follow whatever tradition we've set.

It looks like 2007 is when you started acquiring more companies. SpinTop was the second?

BF: Yeah, SpinTop. Definitely.

JK: SpinTop was definitely an actual business acquisition; it wasn't a creative acquisition at all.

BF: That was our first time actually doing something like that.

JK: Well, it was creative to the extent that they were doing something that intersected with our appeal that we weren't doing ourselves. They were making hidden object games -- that's exactly the opposite of [Sprout], the other creative acquisition. It's not because they had good synergy with the way that we thought about things and believed in things. It's because they did exactly the stuff that we didn't want to do and knew we'd never do ourselves, but was popular, like hidden object games.

BF: Yeah. So they filled in a section of our portfolio. We knew a lot of people in our audience did like hidden object games, and it was not something that we had a lot of internal kind of expertise with. We thought that they were really smart about doing it, and they had a portal site that was good about selling; there were a lot of other people's hidden object games. So yeah, it was a little different because we didn't integrate them the same way that we did the Sprout guys.

Why didn't you guys want to do a hidden object game?

BF: There's a whole lot of games that are popular genres that we just don't really have the spark to do. That's one thing that we kind of figured out early on -- that we're only going to really be successful making games that we really believe in, that we really have great ideas for; that we have a lot of passion for.

We thought for a long time that we had to so a solitaire game of some sort, and we tried it a few times; but it was just really hard to get people to put the type of work in and the type of passion in that is required to make a really highly polished PopCap game. They always end up kind of sizzling out and falling flat and not really living up to what we thought the PopCap brand was, and they end up getting canceled. We felt that hidden object games and a number of other popular genres fit into that category.

JK: The problem with them is that in some ways they are a tricky genre to work in, because they don't actually reward innovation that much. They're formulaic. That doesn't necessarily make them bad as far as people enjoy them; I kind of compare them to books of crossword puzzles. If you buy a book of crossword puzzles, you're not really looking for it to kind of change all the rules of how crossword puzzles work. You just want some crossword puzzles.

To a large extent, that's how hidden object games work, and so you're not looking for innovation there. You're looking for people who can kind of produce a high quality product reliably and efficiently, and on time, and so forth. That's a very different kind of skill set than the stuff that we've been trying to build up internally at PopCap, as far as coming up with new and exciting and original games.

And I certainly don't denigrate it; because SpinTop I think are the best around at making those kinds of games. They really understand what their audience wants. They get it, and they're passionate about it. It's not something that we internally had anybody who's really good at.

BF: It goes directly against the way we think about making games. Games need to come from inspiration for some great concept to have, not from a business concept of "This is what's making money; so this is what we're going to make." We never want to go that direction of having business or financial terms dictate what game we're going to make next because I think that would kind of be selling out our creative core.

JK: Unless you're SpinTop, in which case you can do that.

Apparently, that's worked out for you. Have there ever been any scary moments where you've come close to not being able to operate that way anymore?

JK: I think Bejeweled has essentially given us a ticket to do whatever the heck we want to for the rest of our lives in company terms.

BF: Not entirely; there's been a few... We haven't been close to going broke or anything like that, but we do always have to be aware of the financial things. Bejeweled makes a lot of money, but at the same time, if we never had any other hits besides Bejeweled, we might have ended up turning into the Bejeweled company that just did a bunch of Bejeweled spin-offs.

JK: I don't think we've ever been in the same situation that a lot of casual companies have been in where they feel forced to pump out some crap they think will sell so they can afford to actually make their grand opus, the thing that they actually want to make. I don't think that we've ever felt the pressure to try to do something just for money so we can do what we actually believe in later on.

BF: In-game advertising was supposed to be the Holy Grail and was going to save casual games, and that sort of thing. As far as I know, it's still around, but it hasn't really taken off. Social gaming, of course, is the current hot thing, and I don't think that's going away; but it remains to be seen exactly what that looks like in another year from now. It might not be the next giant wave.

So there's always microtransactions and all these things; there's always new things coming up that we're trying to be aware of. Sometimes we get involved with it at any given time, and sometimes we don't. I think we're happy if we can continue to operate successfully. I don't think we're dying to bet everything on the next role of the dice to strike it rich or blow up, so. We're definitely more in the long-run than worrying about whether we can gamble and be at the forefront of whatever this year's hot new gaming trend is.

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next

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