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EA puts a ring on PopCap: What fits and what doesn’t

Wednesday, 13 July 2011 12:58 GMT By Nathan Grayson

EA and PopCap are officially an item. “Pegglefield” jokes aside, is the sky falling in? Is this a giant, JR-shaped nail in the company’s creative coffin? Nathan Grayson does the thinking for you.

PopCap

Purchased by EA for $750 million.

Currently employs 475 people worldwide.

Creator of ubiquitous franchises like Bejeweled, Peggle, and Plants vs Zombies.

Took $100 million revenue in 2010.

Has – bar none – the industry’s most adorable zombies.

Gigantic numbers. Rainbows everywhere. “Ode to Joy” playing in the background. No, we’re not describing Peggle’s “extreme fever” mode. Instead, this is how we imagine things went down at PopCap after EA got down on one knee and popped the question. (The giant silver balls crushing terrified employees in the hallways, however, were purely coincidental.) There are times when total, unrestrained exuberance is completely appropriate. Your birthday. Winning a free car. Finding your missing shoe. For PopCap, yesterday was like all three put together. $750 million, as it turns out, will do that.

Meanwhile, in GamerLand, things couldn’t have been more different. Even the manliest of men wept bitterly, claiming it was merely an errant rain cloud passing overhead. PopCap, after all, is small, goofy, and charming. EA, on the other hand, has thousands of employees and billions of dollars. It’s like the epic battle between good and evil ended with the two grabbing ahold of each other and making out for three hours. In reality, though, nothing’s that black-and-white. As a developer, PopCap’s as colorful as they come, but this buyout’s riddled with shades of gray.

Iteration, iteration, iteration

In a lot of ways, PopCap’s development philosophies aren’t as much at odds with EA’s as you’d think. The Seattle-based company’s particular brand of quirk may have a certain tiny art house flair, but this is a 475-person operation we’re talking about. It’s not EA 800-lb gorilla-sized, sure, but PopCap’s far from a naive garage developer. It’s a business – and a sizable one at that. As EA CEO John Riccitiello put it: “There is no denying that what we announced today was a business transaction. The deal is compelling.”

For PopCap, the feeling is mutual.

And if you’re afraid EA’s going to transform PopCap into some soulless spin-off factory, we hate to break it to you, but PopCap’s hardly innocent of that perceived crime. Peggle, for instance, has been ported to every platform short of the Etch-a-Sketch, and has received numerous spin-offs including Peggle Extreme, Peggle Nights, and Peggle: Dual Shot. And then there’s Bejeweled, Bejeweled 2, Bejeweled 3, Bejeweled Blitz, and on and on and on forever. Point is, PopCap’s never been afraid to innovate, but that’s hardly all it does.

That said, PopCap still definitely believes slow-and-steady wins the race – especially where new IPs are concerned. And while EA once subscribed to an aggressive quantity over quality mantra, those days have long since passed. This year, EA dropped its “primary title” count from 36 to 22, opting to bet the farm on barn-sized “hits.” PopCap shares a similar hit-driven mentality, and initial reports suggest that EA won’t be tampering with that aspect of the developer’s secret formula.

PopCap’s never been afraid to innovate, but that’s hardly all it does.

So, why’d PopCap even decide to sell in the first place? Aside from the obvious answer, which is something to the tune of “humunah humunah almost a billion dollars yes please”? To be perfectly honest, there’s far less of a mystery here than people seem to think. Why do other game developers shack up with publishers? Simple: it makes life easier. Marketing, porting, distribution – it’s all taken care of. As a result, PopCap gets to, you know, make videogames.

“We can work with a team at EA to do ports more quickly, more effectively,” PopCap public relations VP Garth Chouteau told Kotaku. “We have fairly modest development resources and there are ways that EA can bring some of its very substantial resources to bear.”

“PopCap needs to do what PopCap does,” PopCap founder John Vechey told Gamasutra. “We’re going to take advantage of their world-class digital publishing, so we can just focus on making great games.”

“It’s the perfect fit,” EAi executive VP and GM Barry Cottle said in the same article. “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.”

Trouble in paradise

According to EA and PopCap, the sky’s not collapsing; it’s blue and perfect and rainbows are dancing with baby unicorns. Sound too good to be true? That’s because it is. Storm clouds are on the horizon, but only time will tell whether they’ll develop into a full-blown typhoon or an inconsequential drizzle on PopCap’s parade.

First up, there’s the matter of ports. Yes, we know the words a couple paragraphs ago told you that everything is wonderful on that front, but those words are liars and racists. Recently, PopCap worldwide game development head Ed Allard spoke about his company’s approach to ports, painting an entirely different picture.

“Well the rolling platform release strategy has been something that’s evolved out of, not out of a business plan – although it turned out to be pretty good from a business perspective – but it’s more about being able to approach these platforms with such individual care and attention. Releasing them all simultaneously, well, we worry about that forcing us into a kind of lowest common denominator thinking,” he told GamesIndustry.biz.

“They create killer IP. They’re the Pixar of the game industry.”

“When the console industry started hitting a point where everything was coming out multi-platform, you started feeling that. If you’ve got Wii, 360 and PS3 day and date, you kind of end up playing a Wii game on your PS3 as opposed to playing a great PS3 game, because that’s sort of what it takes from a development perspective.”

It’s that kind of unique attention to detail that gave games like Plants vs Zombies and Peggle new life on platforms like iPhone and iPad. The franchises managed to become synonymous with iOS long after initially launching on PC. Without a doubt, that’s an incredibly important part of PopCap’s ubiquity, and – unless handled with care – it could be one of the first things to go under EA’s rule.

Similarly, EA has a way of slowly warping developers to fit its mold. Doubtless, the publisher gives its studios a greater degree of autonomy than most – especially a certain particularly enormous competitor – but it’s like slowly raising the temperature in a beaker of water: eventually, the frog comes out far worse for the wear. For instance, BioWare’s Dragon Age II was very obviously a rushed product, and we imagine some – though certainly not all – of the blame could be laid on EA’s shoulders. Suda 51′s Shadows of the Damned, meanwhile, was apparently a completely different game before EA stepped in – and nearly complete to boot.

Perhaps even more pressing, meanwhile, is the imminent fear of lay-offs. EA’s track record with dropping the hatchet shortly after big buys is far from spotless, with numerous heads rolling after the publisher’s Playfish purchase and – before that – during Pandemic’s slow, painful demise. Granted, EA’s a much healthier company now than it was back then, but with purchases this large, there’s always danger of employees bringing home pink slips instead of dollar bills.

“Games as a service”

Oh, hey, look: an elephant. In this very room. Careful now. Wouldn’t want to frighten it. Its name? Origin. The digital platform is EA’s new standard-bearer for online expansion, and its impact on PopCap could range from great to terrible to completely negligible. At this point, EA’s still moving all its pieces into place.

Really, though, some sort of Origin tie-in for PopCap is a no-brainer. EA’s “games as a service” motto may not initially appear to fit the newly acquired casual colossus, but it was already making strides in the space without EA’s involvement. Bejeweled Blitz, for instance, arrived on Facebook for free and gave the franchise social functionality across multiple platforms – including mobile phones. Of course, there ain’t no such thing as a free game, so Blitz also included (highly profitable) microtransactions.

Oh, hey, look: an elephant. In this very room. Its name? Origin.

“We are changing a lot of our game designs to reflect the way people are buying and consuming content,” PopCap director of mobile business development Andrew Stein told GigaOM. “It’s moving to lower price points with updatable content. If you look at the top 20 grossing (iPhone) apps, many of them are freemium. It’s something people are getting pretty used to. A year from now, we’ll have more of the freemium and more snackable types of content.”

PopCap, then, stands to round out Origin’s lineup quite nicely, providing casual appeal to what’s currently an overflowing font of bullets and biceps. Just don’t be surprised if PopCap’s Next Big Thing ends up Origin-exclusive. Sorry about that, Steam.

Really, the same goes for EA as a whole. PopCap’s a fantastic buy, and it bridges a gap between casual and hardcore that EA was struggling to cross – even with purchases of Playfish, Chillingo, and Firemint. The question remains, however: Is this a net gain for PopCap? And – perhaps more importantly – are consumers the real winners here? Doubtless, the coming months will tell a fuller tale. For now, though, we’re forced to wonder: EA spent $750 million, but did it purchase PopCap’s soul?

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6 Comments

  1. Erthazus

    I’m just afraid that PopCap will lose it’s freedom with EA.
    Sure, not much games we see from PopCap, but when they release them they are fantastic.

    #1 4 years ago
  2. Maximum Payne

    Wow 475 employs thats a lot for mini games studio!

    #2 4 years ago
  3. DSB

    And yet Plants versus Zombies was essentially put together by two people.

    #3 4 years ago
  4. deathgaze

    Great analysis and reporting. I’d love to see more articles like these.

    #4 4 years ago
  5. wishdokta

    You can put this ‘news’ short: wait and see.

    #5 4 years ago
  6. Uncontested

    Even shorter: EA Got ripped off and PopCap is laughing all the way to the bank.

    #6 4 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    Insight is one of the currencies in Bloodborne, but it’s also a mechanic that affects the gameplay. There are MASSIVE SPOILERS below, so turn back now or one of Bloodborne’s gameplay mechanics will be SPOILED for you. Just like Blood Echoes in Bloodborne, Insight is used to purchase certain items from vendors in the game. […]

  • Phase two of Xbox One April update brings voice messages, dedicated servers for party chat, more

    The second phase of the April update for Xbox One is now open to members of the Preview programme and and it looks like there are even more features in store. Phase one of Xbox One’s April firmware update started a few days ago with improvements to party chat and achievements notifications. Today, phase two […]

  • GTA 5′s graphical “downgrade” is a bug, will be fixed in upcoming patch

    As of patch 1.8 for GTA 5 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, a few graphical issues have cropped up leading some to believe there has been a stealth downgrade to the game’s overall graphics. Over the past couple of days, Reddit went nuts over a video showing what appears to be a downgrade to […]

  • Destiny: Xur location and inventory for March 27, 28 – MIDA Multi-Tool edition

    Xur: Agent of the Nine has arrived at The Tower in Destiny to rid you of your Strange Coins. Xur: Agent of the Nine has once again made it to Destiny’s Tower to sell you Exotic weapons and gear in exchange for Strange Coins and Motes of Light. For this weekend, Xur can be found […]

  • Destiny vault space upgrade will have enough room for every Exotic

    Destiny is finally getting the vault space upgrade players have been begging for almost since launch week. Destiny players can currently use vault space to store 20 pieces of amour, 20 weapons and 20 general item stacks. In the latest Bungle Weekly Update, the developer revealed that as of patch 1.1.2, due before House of […]

  • Half-Life 2: Update mod applies some sparkle to the original title

    Half-Life 2: Update will be available tomorrow, and thanks to the modding community, those who own the vanilla version of the game can apply a visual update to the 2004 title. The comparison video shows you the differences between the original version, and the version with Half-Life 2: Update applied. Here’s what the mod includes: […]

  • Neverwinter MMO can now be pre-downloaded on Xbox One

    You can now pre-download the free-to-play Neverwinter MMO on Xbox One. The game launches on March 31, but you will still need an Xbox Live Gold account to play it. Based on the Dungeons & Dragons franchise, the game can be downloaded from the Xbox Store.

  • Destiny of Spirits will go offline starting next month

    Sony will be ending service for Destiny of Spirits starting next month, Sony has announced. The free-to-play Destiny of Spirits was released in late March 2014 on Vita, and tasked players with collecting supernatural forces appropriate to their geographical location, and then trading them with others online. Gravity Rush spirits were added to the game […]

  • MotoGP 15 is out this spring on PC, last and current-gen consoles

    MotoGP 15 will be released in June on PC, PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, Milestone has announced. Bike, rider and team customization are part of the latest release in the franchise, along with time-trials and enhanced career options. The game features over 20 bike models divided into three classes: MotoGP, Moto 2 […]

  • Cities: Skylines players should check out Nakatomi Plaza and Wayne Enterprises

    Nakatomi Plaza and Wayne Enterprises can now be yours in Cities: Skylines. Die Hard fans will be familiar with Nakatomi Plaza. Those who have never watched the first film and live in Los Angeles know it by its real-life name, FOX Plaza. It was created by Enos Shenk and is available through Steamworks. Those who […]

  • Call of Duty franchise has sold 175M copies, players have thrown 300B grenades

    With the Call of Duty Championship kicking off tomorrow, Activision has sent over a series infographic full of interesting figures such as the number of copies sold over 10 years and how many grenades players have tossed. According to the stats below, the Call of Duty franchise has sold 175 million copies across all platforms […]

  • Save up to 75% on select SEGA games on Steam this weekend

    SEGA has put many of its games on sale through Steam this weekend and the firm has also announced Eastside Hockey Manager is now available through Early Access. The sale runs through March 30. The entire Total War, Company of Heroes and Dawn of War back catalogs are discounted 75% and all associated DLC is […]

  • Batman: Arkham Knight PC confirmed as digital download-only in UK

    Batman: Arkham Knight will indeed be a download-only title on PC in the UK, Warner Bros. has confirmed to VG247. Batman: Arkham Knight will be available as both a physical and digital release for PS4, Xbox One and PC in North America and Europe. Again, in the UK, the PC version will be “available as […]

  • Rainbow Six Siege release date set for October per GameStop Italy – report

    GameStop Italy may have let the release date for Rainbow Six Siege slip if a recent listing is accurate. According to the listing, the game will release on October 16. While this could be a placeholder date, October 16 is a Friday in the UK, the usual day new releases land at retail. The release […]

  • Watch the $1 million Call of Duty Championship right here

    The The Call of Duty Championship takes place this weekend, and you can watch all the action as it unfolds right here. The event takes place in Los Angeles tomorrow March 27 and runs through March 29, and the livestreams are below. 32 teams from five continents and 11 countries will be competing in Call […]

  • Battlefield Hardline: Battlefest kicks off this weekend with Double XP

    A new season of Battlefest kicks off this weekend, and starting today, you will earn Double XP in Battlefield Hardline. Battlefest for Hardline is similar to the event held for Battlefield 4 last year. For the entire month of April and into May, in-game events and competitions will be held by the developers and player […]

  • Don’t forget: the GTA 5 PC pre-order bonus cutoff is March 31

    Just a friendly reminder to those planning on purchasing GTA 5 for PC: you have until March 31 to pre-order if you want all the bonuses on offer. Those who pre-order will be handed $1 million in-game cash plus a bonus $300,000. It is split between GTA 5 and GTA Online: $500,000 for Grand Theft […]

  • Games with Gold offers doubled for April – six games instead of three

    Microsoft’s April Games with Gold collection is being doubled. For the month Xbox Live Gold members will receive six instead of three games free. Here’s what’s on offer: Pool Nation FX: Available all month on Xbox One Child of Light: Available all month on Xbox One Gears of War: Judgment: Available from April 1-15 on […]

  • Pokemon players can grab a code for Shiny Charizard at GAME in April

    Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire players along with Pokemon X and Y owners can grab a free, rare Shiny Charizard from April 3 at one of GAME’s 320 stores in the UK. The redeemable codes for the character will be made available upon request and no purchase is necessary. Those who pop into one […]

  • F1 2015 will arrive on PC, PS4 and Xbox One in June, includes Mexico circuit

    Codemasters has announced its F1 franchise will make its series debut on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this June with the release of F1 2015. The game was developed using a new engine and contains improved handling and physics for all vehicles and parts attached. This includes: engine, transmission, aerodynamics, fuel tank, force feedback, suspension […]

  • Mortal Kombat X video confirms Liu Kang as playable character

    Liu Kang has been confirmed as a playable character in Mortal Kombat X in the latest video. You’ll also notice Bo’ Rai Cho in there as well. In the Shaolin trailer above you also get a look at Kung Lao and Kung Jin who is new to the series. Apparently, Raiden’s past champions of the […]

  • Short teaser for Star Wars: Battlefront shows the Battle of Hoth

    A short teaser for Star Wars: Battlefront has been posted by EA on Twitter. Well, that speeder isn't going anywhere. Can someone give us a lift to @SW_Celebration http://t.co/srEVrAA0zl #SWCA https://t.co/4W4LG8myke — EAStarWars (@EAStarWars) March 25, 2015 The teaser shows vehicles which we could be using in the game, but it mainly shows the snowy landscape […]

  • Pillars of Eternity releases today – get all the review scores here

    Pillars of Eternity, which still stands as the second most-funded video game on Kickstarter, finally releases today. It’s also getting some rather positive reviews scores, which we’ve rounded up for you. The isometric, party-based RPG from Obsidian Entertainment was one of the first video game projects to take to Kickstarter, and hit its $1.1 million […]

  • Take an in-depth look at Evolve’s Behemoth monster and four new hunters

    Evolve’s fourth monster, the Behemoth, as well as the four new hunters are shown off in new gameplay video. Evolve’s latest gameplay trailer gives everyone a good look at each of the four new hunters and the massive Behemoth monster. The hunters can be bought either separately or though the hunting pass, while the monster […]

  • PS4 firmware update 2.50 causing issues with Killzone: Shadow Fall

    The suspend/resume feature in PlayStation 4′s 2.50 firmware update is causing some issues with Killzone: Shadow Fall. Killzone: Shadow Fall developer Guerrilla has said that the game is experiencing some issues in some instance where the suspend/resume feature is used. The timing of when players put the game in suspend mode does have an effect, […]

  • Bungie on Destiny matchmaking: “We believe there’s no substitute for a pre-made team”

    Crazy though this may seem, it’s possible that Destiny shipped according to plan. History points to community as a crucial component, far from the contingency that many now suspect. Paul Davies spoke to Bungie for clarity. “The community always engineers the best solutions for bringing players together. While Matchmaking is a great resource for introducing […]

  • Bloodborne works with suspend/resume, but only offline

    PlayStation 4′s newly-added suspend/resume feature works with Bloodborne as you’d expect, but only while offline. PlayStation 4 received the long-awaited suspend/resume feature today as part of firmware 2.50, and people are starting to test it out with various games. Bloodborne does work with the feature, but only if you play offline. Playing online is arguably […]

  • This is what Crossy Road looks like in first-person

    Crossy Road is fun and addictive. But in first-person, it’s mostly frightening. YouTube user Andy Front Films likes Crossy Road so much he decided to show off what it would look like in first-person. If crossing roads quickly and watching around for cars and trains, all of this as the camera chases you felt intense […]

  • Take a small behind-the-scenes peek at Mass Effect 4

    BioWare cinematic director Ken Thain has given us a very slim look behind the scenes at some motion capture work from the upcoming Mass Effect game. The upcoming Mass Effect game, whether it ends up being called Mass Effect 4 or not, will most definitely incorporate some form of motion capture work. How do we […]

  • Borderlands: The Handsome Collection – 8GB day one patch on PS4, 16GB on Xbox One

    Day one patches for Borderlands: The Handsome Collection are pretty hefty. Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of Borderlands: The Handsome Collection require players to download lots of gigabytes to make the experience as smooth as possible. The PlayStation 4 version has an 8.31GB day one patch. The Xbox One version however has […]

  • Get a PlayStation 4 with Bloodborne and The Last of Us for $435

    If you’ve been waiting for the perfect game to get to buy a PlayStation 4, there’s no better time than the present. Amazon is offering a good PlayStation 4 bundle at the moment. For $434.99, you get a PlayStation 4 console, The Last of Us, and Bloodborne. The Last of Us is of course the […]

  • Upcoming Battlefield Hardline patch to nerf the K10, buff battle rifles

    Battlefield Hardline’s first patch will focus on weapon balance and a few changes have been proposed. Battlefield Hardline lead multiplayer designer Thaddeus Sasser posted a few of the balance changes that the team is considering for the next patch. K10: reduce bullet damage to 33 Saiga and PTR: reduce recoil to bring more in line […]

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and a new Resident Evil game coming this year, according to research firm

    According to digital games analyst SuperData, a new Resident Evil game is due this fall and that this year’s Call of Duty is Black Ops 3. In its latest report on digital console games, research and analytics firm SuperData revealed that a new Resident Evil is coming this fall. “We anticipate this month’s downturn to […]