With more than 50 million copies sold worldwide, Bejeweled is PopCap's biggest-selling game. Then there's Plants vs. Zombies, Peggle, Zuma, Bookworm... All success stories in their own right. The company's only been around for 10 years but from a foundation of three has grown into an operation of over 250 people, producing games that transcend traditional demographics and trends.
As casual gaming explodes on the App Store and Apple announces the iPad, we thought this would be a perfect time to kidnap PopCap co-founder John Vechey - not least because he had, days earlier, promised to make a game titled Johnny Minkley's Meat Ceiling. Read on for Vechey's thoughts on just about everything from Facebook to Peggle to striptease sims.
Eurogamer: Today, PopCap is massive. But life must have been different once upon a time...
John Vechey: PopCap was started by Jason Kapalka, Brian Fiete and myself. We were three friends. I was 19. We just decided to make games. We never said, "Oh, we're going to be this big company and we're going to make billions of dollars." We wanted to make games and we wanted to have a good lifestyle.
Jason had worked at Pogo and was very frustrated with writing documents to create games. That's not how games work. What logically works on paper doesn't always translate. So he definitely wanted a change of pace. Brian and I decided to start PopCap to do web games because no one at the time was really doing that. It was very simple and very new. So we started PopCap and made a game called Bejeweled.
Eurogamer: Who's the brain behind the PopCap games?
John Vechey: I haven't thought of any games myself. I feel like I made some great contributions to the games! I can't name them [laughs].
Jason, the creative director, is involved in a lot of the games. A lot comes from other people - it's kind of whoever has a good idea. Plants vs Zombies was completely George Fan's brainchild. Peggle was Sukhbir [Sidhu] and Brian Rothstein wanting to make a Pachinko game.
Eurogamer: How many people are in your core think-tank team?
John Vechey: We're all thinkers! Except for me - I'm the drinker! I think it's fine so long as you're surrounded by thinkers... The core team is around five to eight game designers, but not all working on new IPs. There's lots of adapting to different platforms.
Eurogamer: How many games don't make the final cut at PopCap?
John Vechey: It's hard to say. Jason had this idea for a dice game, like Tetris. It was called Demon Dice. They spent two-and-a-half months work on that. It never really came together but there were probably 20 different versions that were all a little bit different. Whether to count that as one or 20 games is hard to tell. So I don't have a percentage for you.
Peggle, for example: there was probably about 10 different, very distinct games that were created when they were looking for Peggle. About 5 per cent of the Peggle that got released was actually kept from the prototype.
Eurogamer: PopCap makes games for a casual audience. How valuable are core gamers to you?
John Vechey: Core gamers, oddly enough, are a really big part of our demographic. There aren't many great games on the casual side that don't appeal to hardcore gamers on some level. There are many games on the hardcore side that don't appeal to casual gamers, though.
A great game is going to appeal to a very broad spectrum. We just make sure our games are very accessible. Plants vs Zombies on paper is crazy: we're going to do a tower-defence game where there's a bunch of zombies that are trying to eat plants - it doesn't sound inherently casual, or hardcore. Or Peggle: we're going to have a unicorn and a bunch of trippy graphics. We don't ever judge a game on paper. We look at the personality or the theme of the game.
Peggle was the big crossover that helped us get the attention of the gaming community - gave us lots of street cred. And, you know... It had a frickin' unicorn and a rainbow in it! We had so much, [silly robot voice] "Oh I'm not playing the dumb unicorn game." And then they played it and were like, [silly robot voice] "I can't believe I'm addicted to the dumb unicorn game."
Eurogamer: You've got loads of money now. Will you use it to make a full-scale, triple-A game? An MMO about eating lots of meat?
John Vechey: Hahaha! Maybe. No, we really like appealing to the broad spectrum. We're going to keep making games that try things out. We're going to try and get more experimental games going- that's something we've been talking about internally.
Pixar has the ability to do these short films so they can try a new director out, and if they're successful they can do a full-on movie. And we don't really have that, and it's important for us to nurture the talent we have because we have a lot of people that really could be making great games but aren't. So we're experimenting with how to do quicker games - something that doesn't have to be Plants vs Zombies or Peggle.
But we're never going to do a big World of Warcraft-style MMO or Counter-Strike or Grand Theft Auto. We like playing the hardcore games but we don't want to design them.