Gamezebo Interview: PopCap Games

In the beginning there was Bejeweled… and the world of casual games would be changed forever. Since launching Bejeweled in 2000, PopCap has consistently released great casual games, such as Bookworm, Zuma, and Chuzzle. If any company can be considered the "Godfather" of casual games, it is PopCap. And it is this reason Gamezebo has picked PopCap as first of many game developers to interview.

Gamezebo: What games have you developed that you’re especially fond of?

PopCap: All of them! No, really. We don’t release a game that we don’t love, that we don’t think is super fun. Not all of our games have been equally successful in the market, but that doesn’t mean we’re not fond of them. A game like Heavy Weapon, for example, never really found its audience – but we still think it’s a really fun game! Maybe on Xbox Live Arcade it will finally take off.

Gamezebo: What about other developers’ games? Anything new and interesting that has caught your attention recently?

PopCap: We play almost all the games that get released, and we’re especially excited when we see games with original game play or game concepts. You may have seen in a press release that we sponsored the "PopCap Casual Game Award" at the Guerrilla Game Festival, which was part of the Slamdance Film Festival. We gave the award to an indie-game called Odyssey which was fun and had a really neat new concept–you have to steer boats through narrow channels without letting them run aground or get sucked into whirlpools by shifting the water currents using your mouse. It wasn’t yet ready for commercial release, but it was fun and original.

Gamezebo: Can you give us a few insights into the creative process behind the development of a casual game hits such as Bejeweled, Bookworm, and Zuma?

PopCap: There’s an old joke where a guy asks an old lady "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" and she says "Practice, practice, practice." For us it’s "iterate, iterate, iterate". We start with a core game concept, build a quick prototype, and then we refine it and refine it and refine it, over and over and over again until it’s really fun. Then we polish it and polish it and polish it until we think it’s ready to be called a "PopCap Game". We don’t write huge design docs, and we are willing to kill a game at any stage if we don’t think it’s working out–even games that we’ve been working on for 6 months we’ll kill if we don’t think it’s going to work. We’ll never ship a game that we don’t think has the potential to be really successful, and we test all of our games with our moms, girlfriends, random friends who drop by the office, and of course our beta forum.

Gamezebo: PopCap Games have spawned numerous similar types of games (we would use the term "clones," but that word is banned from the Gamezebo Web site). In fact, one could argue that "Zuma-style" games have become a casual game genre of its own. Do you feel that imitation is the greatest form of flattery?

PopCap: No comment. Seriously though, we’ve stopped trying to discuss this topic because there’s no way to do it justice in a pithy sound bite. We draw distinctions between games that are "inspired" by other games but are genuinely innovative or trying to bring something new and original to the market versus those games that are just trying to ride directly on the coat tails of another game, not innovating at all but merely changing enough of the art and music to avoid a copyright infringement lawsuit. We admire the first and not the second.

Gamezebo: Who do you think is the ideal player of PopCap games? Do you believe this will change in the future?

PopCap: There is no such thing. Everyone is a potential player of PopCap games! And I’m not just saying this as some cheesy marketing one liner. We genuinely try to make games that appeal to everyone, from the infamous soccer mom to hardcore gamers. You might be a level 60 World of Warcraft player, or a hard-core GTA fan, but you’ll still have a few minutes here and there where you want something fun that you can quickly get into and out of or you’re looking to relax and we think PopCap games are perfect for those moments. Just look at how successful our games have been with early adopters of the Xbox 360!

Gamezebo: Popcap was one of the first casual game companies to develop games for Xbox Live Arcade. Will Popcap further venture into the console market (for example, for Xbox Live Arcade title, Nintendo DS)?

PopCap: Sure. The Nintendo DS, for example, may very well be the perfect casual game platform for Japan.

Gamezebo: What are your plans (if any) to develop Popcap multiplayer game in the future?

PopCap: No comment.

Gamezebo: When is Zuma 2 coming out? Just kidding… but seriously, can you give us any hints of your upcoming games?

PopCap: Well, Feeding Frenzy 2 should be launching near the end of this month. We’re really, really excited about that. We’ve been working on that game for over a year and a half and we think the production values are just awesome. There’s a ton of really cool new game-play in there to satisfy fans of the original game, while keeping the core game concept and controls straightforward enough for a new player to easily jump into FF2 and enjoy it from the get-go.

Other than that, all I can say is that this is going to be a record year for PopCap in terms of the number of games we’re publishing. I think we may have as many as 9 or 10 games coming out, all of them up to the usual PopCap level of quality and all of them (we think!) potential best-sellers.

Gamezebo: Finally, any closing words for your fans out there?

PopCap: Let us know what you think of our games! We have feedback pages set up on our website; we love to hear that people love (or hate!) one of our games. Like Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel, we work faster and better when we know people are watching and appreciating what we do.

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