As many people who visit Hi-Score know, I am a huge fan of PopCap and everything they do. Most recently Peggle and Plants Vs Zombies have stolen far too much of my time and I think my Wife is becoming a PopCap Widow. I’m very lucky to have a great relationship with the guys and girls over at PopCap, So I took the opportunity to conduct a little interview.
A few of your questions were asked, some were answered and some were not. Read on to find out more…..
Thanks for putting aside some time for me, first off, could you introduce yourself to our readers and tell us what you do for Popcap?
My name is Cathy Orr and I’m European PR Director at PopCap Games
Most people who have played ANY Popcap game are instantly smitten with the gameplay, what do you think is the secret of success in the popularity of your games?
In the early days, PopCap’s founders used a ‘mum test’ to gauge a games’ potential. They would sit their moms down in front of a game in Alpha or early Beta stage, and leave them there. If the moms were still playing 30 minutes later, the company co-founders knew they were headed in the right direction.
If you make games that moms find appealing, without actually building “games for moms,” you’re off to a good start.
We begin by asking: “Do WE like playing this game? Is it adversely affecting productivity because everyone in the office is playing it all the time? Good – that’s an excellent sign!”
PopCap spends a lot of time enhancing the casual game experience – prioritising a superior design process and spending about twice the time developing and polishing each game. It is expensive but results in extremely high quality games that set PopCap’s top titles apart from other casual games and make them truly special and memorable – and hopefully nearly infinitely replayable!
A lot of Popcaps games are highly addictive and playable, obviously you must playtest these titles with different demographics, What goes into that process?
As mentioned before, PopCap’s three founders started with just three Beta testers – their mothers. Today, they have a slightly larger pool of 200 employees to test the games on an ongoing basis.
In addition, we have 200+ customers who we’ve recruited as beta testers…long-standing fans of our games who’ve shown an aptitude for critiquing our games effectively after playing them thoroughly. A few months before a new game launches, we provide these beta testers with advance access to the new game, with strict confidentiality/secrecy enforced: those testers are not allowed to say anything about the upcoming game publicly, but have 24/7 access to private message boards where they provide feedback and discuss the game with other testers as well as our QA and dev staff.
As the game is refined and polished, those testers gain access to increasingly more complete/final builds of the game, until the game launches officially.
Being that most of your games are picked up by people in the “casual” market, how much has the social network era helped?
Particularly with sites like Facebook?
Social networking is one of the hot topics in the casual games space right now and we’re only really beginning conversations about how it can best serve the industry and grow the casual game player base. Sure, there is a level of organic growth that has happened with more instantaneous communications but I think there’s still a lot more to come – right now we’re seeing the tip of what could be a very large iceberg.
In terms of Facebook specifically, once again the casual opportunities here are still in the process of being revealed. As part of a grassroots experiment, PopCap launched a game called Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook
early this year. It was launched primarily for PopCap employees but has made itself a number of friends on the social networking site so it will be interesting to see what happens next.
How important is the iPhone to Popcap? Your games seem perfectly suited for handheld gaming on the fly.
PopCap makes gamers out of non-gamers. We believe that EVERYONE is potentially a player of casual games – though broken down, different audience segments will play at different times, in different places and,
therefore, on different platforms. PopCap aims to reach as many customers as possible by building game experiences that uniquely leverage the characteristics and capabilities of each platform. This multiplatform strategy means every platform – whether PC/Mac, online, mobile, iPhone, PDAs, iPod, consoles – is important as it serves to reach a different audience segment.
In terms of iPhone specifically, this platform is responsible for a lot of industry buzz as it redefines the parameters of mobile gaming and serves to open the industry to discover new and exciting ways to have fun on the go. PopCap have launched a number of titles for iPhone already – we have recently learned that Bejeweled 2 is the #4 paid for application of all time in the Apple app store! Plus our other titles, Bookworm and most recently, Peggle are getting fantastic reviews. So absolutely it’s a very exciting platform for PopCap.
I think it’s safe to say that Popcap has had plenty of success recently with Peggle, how surprised were you with it’s success and the coverage through the specialist press?
We at PopCap are delighted that Peggle has been received so well by such a broad audience, and we’re really proud of the game. Peggle’s sales have been growing steadily since release and the game continues to find new fans with its launch onto new platforms – most recently DS, iPhone and XBLA.
Peggle combines elements of pinball, pool and pachinko to create a completely different kind of casual game that plays with the casual games genre. Peggle is famed for its character and colour – this, coupled with almost limitless gameplay, will appeal to the casual game audience of ‘everyone’ – from teenagers and parents to Grandparents.
Peggle is as accessible and fun from the very start – you can be enjoying the game within fifteen seconds of launching it but, unlike other classic casual games, Peggle is very ‘deep’ and continues to surprise and amaze you even after 100 or 500 hours of playing! To that same point, a casual gamer can play Peggle in a relatively “relaxed” way, just enjoying the sights and sounds while proceeding through the relatively easy Adventure mode of the game. But “hardcore” gamers have discovered that Peggle can be played in a “serious” way, applying a healthy dose of strategy with pinpoint accuracy to accomplish all sorts of achievements in the game. It’s this ability to straddle both sides of the gaming fence that makes Peggle – and others of our games, including Zuma and Plants vs. Zombies – so broadly appealing.
Whilst we’re on the subject of Peggle, Do you have any plans to add a level editor to any
future updates or iterations of the franchise? (Asked by Sam in London)
We tend not to talk about future plans as a company policy so you’ll just have to watch this space!
Still on Peggle but also linked to other franchises, Where do you get the inspiration for the characters in your games? They have such an endearing quality. (Asked by Paul in Wickford, Essex)
We originally thought Peggle might have just one character, and use different types of pegs to represent each power up as this seemed to be the easiest approach. At the same time, we were struggling for a theme,
and it was really hard to come up with something we thought would tie the game together.
The idea of the kung-fu school metaphor came up over beers at a local pub e.g. how about a School of Peggle, with Peggle Masters as the characters teaching the player? That really fit well with the game mechanic and overall flow since you could learn a lot of strategies and hone your skills over time to become a Master yourself.
It took a while to come up with 10 characters that fit with the powers we chose. Walter Wilson painted some fabulous character portraits that were so full of life, it didn’t take long to create personas around
them. We actually ended up nixing a lot of extra back story about each character that had been written, mostly because we found it ended up interrupting the flow of the game.
This will be a tough one for you, one of our readers would like to know why there are such differences between pricing for your games?
Peggle for instance is $20 from popcap.com (PC), $10 from steam (PC), $10 on Xbox Live Arcade (360), and just $4.99 for the iPhone/iPod versions.
Then the DS version, which started at $30 dollars and is now reduced to $20. (Asked by Jason in Texas)
Pricing for PopCap games is largely left to the the discretion of our partners and PopCap can’t control pricing for our products through most distribution channels – online or retail. Therefore most casual games, sold by PopCap or other companies, will have varying prices by distributor. Similarly, support, additional game information, extras, etc. will vary by sales channel.
Moving on to your latest success, Plants vs Zombies is taking the gaming world by storm.
First off, congratulations on it’s success, It seemed like a very bold move using Zombies in such a “family friendly” genre being tower defence, was there a worry that it might not “catch on” with regular PopCap gamers?
The goal was to take the tower defense standards and simplify them down to the point that almost anyone could pick up and play. Tower defense games as a whole aren’t necessarily for everyone, but Plants vs. Zombies is. It’s easy enough for someone with no knowledge of gaming to pick up but yet, has enough strategic depth to keep a hardcore gamer thoroughly entertained.
With Peggles success, there ended up being a crossover with Half Life on steam, Will we see a cross over between Plants Vs Zombies and Left4Dead? (If not, you should, But we want
Given the casual nature of the industry, we’re all friends and ideas often grow organically out of industry friendships and, as game development should, having FUN. In the case of Peggle, we heard that Peggle was all the rage at the Valve offices. We even got a few emails and calls from Valve staffers pleading for tips on beating some of the more difficult challenges.
At the same time, we were hearing other anecdotal evidence that while there were a lot of hardcore gamers
getting into Peggle. The Peggle theme had always been tongue-in-cheek for PopCap – though obviously doesn’t come across that way to everyone.
We proposed the idea of a special free version for Steam players only, using our characters in Half-Life 2 themed backdrops. We figured no one could resist a game with a machine gun toting unicorn. Valve loved the
idea. And it grew from there.
I don’t have any confirmation on similar plans for PvZ, I’m afraid…you’ll just have to watch this space!
If I don’t ask this, I’ll get hunted down……When will we see Plants Vs Zombies on iPhone and/or DS? It seems like such an easy translation? (Asked by, Well, Everyone)
If I even hazard an uninformed guess, I will get hunted down! PopCap tend not to announce forthcoming launches as a company policy and I don’t have any confirmed plans for this at present. It’s fair to say
that the game’s tremendous initial success is very encouraging in this regard – we’re now starting to explore which platforms lend themselves to adaptations of Plants vs. Zombies – but we haven’t yet made any final
Lastly, What’s the future for Popcap?
As you know, we at PopCap are of the opinion that that everyone is a potential player of casual games. We make games that appeal to everyone and anyone – commuters, office workers, families – as well as hardcore
gamers. To reach these diverse audiences, our overriding mission at PopCap has to be to have our games in as many different places, and on as many platforms, as possible – to make them accessible to this
audience of ‘everyone’.
I’d like to thank Cathy for taking some time to sit down and talk to us. I’m sure we’ll see PvZ launched on iPhone, So don’t be disheartened that it wasn’t confirmed.
I hope you enjoyed this interview, I hope to arrange more in the future.