Developer Retrospective: PopCap Games

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posted 3/16/2012 by Charles Husemann
other articles by Charles Husemann
Platforms: Multiple
A retrospective is an agile development term for a team meeting at the end of a development cycle where the team determines what things were done well, what things could have been better, and what things they were going to try to do better in the next cycle. It's a great way for teams to celebrate what they did correctly and identify the things that they need to improve on. 
 
Given the state of flux that the video game industry is in right now I thought it would be an interesting idea to do several small retrospective with folks from around the industry with the end goal is to develop a holistic view of the state of the video game.
 
The format is fairly simple. We've asked each company the same four questions about what they did great last year, what they could have done better, and what they plan to do in the coming year. We then asked them how they thought the entire industry answered those questions. To keep things interesting we also asked a few company specific questions too.
 
We'll be running a retrospective each day for the next few weeks. We've got a nice variety of opinions ranging from game developers to publishers to hardware manufactures and everyone in between. This is one of the more ambitious projects we've ever done and we think you'll enjoy seeing the wide spectrum of opinions on the industry.

Today we are talking to Giordano Contestabile, the Franchise Business Director of Popcap.  Popcap is the leading firm in the social and mobile space and we figured they would have a much different take than our previous contributors.

Looking back at the last year what were the things that you did right? What things could you have done better?
Is there a more challenging question than this one? I think what PopCap did right was to keep focus on providing great game experiences to players, irrespective of platform, delivery method or business model. As the industry evolves and the pace of change accelerates, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that player enjoyment has to be the most important consideration in our business, and we should always strive to keep that in mind. In the same vein, keeping an unrelenting focus on player experience is hard, as it needs to be balanced with considerations encompassing business, efficiency or simply feasibility, and we can always improve as a company in that sense in 2012.


What do you think went well for the game industry in 2011? What do you think the industry could have done better in 2011?
In 2011, the industry made amazing progress in the transition to digital and service-based models for games, with a plethora of great games on a variety of platforms innovating in terms of design, operations and business model. I think it’s important to recognize this achievement, and in my mind 2011 is really the year in which the industry turned a corner, and set a clear direction for the future. That said, we still spent way too much time arguing rather than making games. For example, if you believe that the majority of freemium games on the market right now aren’t good, or even that they are exploitative, the time spent endlessly debating this point would be better spent making great freemium games that can entertain players and inspire other developers to raise the quality bar: it’s not the model, it’s what you make of it

Looking ahead, what are you most excited about from PopCap in 2012? What’s the one thing you’re planning on doing now that you weren’t doing in 2011?
I’m really excited about several new titles (about which I can’t really say much, but we recently released two of them in Solitaire Blitz and Lucky Gem Casino) that will show how PopCap continues to innovate, delivering fun game experiences that are deeply different from our previous titles, but still unmistakably “PopCap”. And I’m excited about the fact that, PopCap now being part of Electronic Arts, we’ll have a chance to reach a wider number of people with our games. Something that we’re really excited about, and which we plan to do much more in 2012, is cross-platform gaming, especially between Facebook and smartphone devices: Bejeweled Blitz is the first PopCap game to feature that kind of cross-platform integration, and it’s clear that players really love it.




What are you looking forward to most in 2012 from an industry standpoint? What should the industry do better in 2012?
I’m looking forward to witnessing an explosion of creativity on connected platforms such as social networks and smartphone devices, with a massive number of new games coming from large publishers and indies alike. The entrance in the gaming market of more than 500M new players in the last few years and the emergence of direct to consumer stores that provide easy access to games represent an opportunity for the industry the magnitude of which we’re just starting to understand, and enable a wide array of game genres, styles and innovative forms of gameplay. And, while the industry as a whole has recognized this, I think 2012 needs to be the year when we wholeheartedly embrace this new world, set nostalgia aside (while learning from our past experiences) and devote all our energies to crafting and delivering great game experiences to those hundreds of millions of gaming newcomers.

Do you think there's a social/casual game bubble that's going to burst any time soon or is this just a very fast growing industry?
In terms of casual gaming, there has been a growing market for at least the last 10 years (and PopCap has participated in it from the start), and growth has only accelerated recently, as a large number of new players have “discovered” games through mobile and social platforms. As such, I don’t believe we can’t talk of a bubble or even of a correction in the market, but I think we’ll be seeing steady growth, as the audience enlarges further and as distribution platforms become even more efficient: at the end, casual gaming is an expression of the desire from a very large portion of the world’s population to play games that relax and entertain, and that’s certainly not going away. With respect to social games, I believe the market is maturing and the overall product quality is increasing, and in that sense I think we’re witnessing an evolution that will impact mostly developers that aren’t able to raise their quality bar and deliver more involved gaming experiences. But the overall market is growing, and we should soon be talking in terms of billions of users across the main social networks worldwide, which should ensure steady and rapid growth for the sector.

As a company that's had its games copied and re-packaged, what are your thoughts on how companies can protect themselves from this practice?
Over the years, we found that the best way to protect ourselves from clones is to make the highest quality games possible, reach the largest number of players, establish a strong brand, and support the game over many years, innovating in the context of the franchise. In that way, a game will become a players’ favorite, be “top of mind” when customers think of a category or genre, and succeed despite numerous clones. Bejeweled is an example: it has been available for more than 10 years, has been copied countless times, and is still by far the most popular “match 3” game in the world, with an estimate player base of 500M, and more than 10M players every month on Facebook and iPhone.

 

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