Could you be the next PopCap?

People look at the game publishing industry and see the giant global companies like Electronic Arts and think that it is impossible to compete. In fact it is very easy. There are three elements of the gaming industry that make it easy. The first is that you can distribute globally with no physical product, just look at Runescape, Maple Story and Habbo to see how big that can be. Secondly games can be all things to all people so you can develop for a niche in which there is little competition. Thirdly the industry is in constant flux and change which brings up endless new opportunities. Just look at how long we have had the Apple AppStore.

As proof of what can be done let’s look at three Seattle guys who started a game company with no money. So in 2000 they ran up $30, 000 of debt on their credit cards to finance the start up of their company. By 2006 they had a turnover of $80 million and in 2007 $110 million. PopCap have done what anyone could have done, the difference is that they did and we didn’t.

Their games are very simple and highly addictive. They beta tested using their mothers so as to get the games right for their intended demographic. They are played on online PCs, iPods, XBLA, mobile phones and all the other emerging casual gaming platforms. And they largely use the play for free business model with payment for advanced features or levels. So they are at the sharp end of where gaming is going.

And of course they are successful. They are the number one publisher on both iPod and XBLA. One of their games, Bejewelled, has sold 25 million units and Peggle is on the PC Gamer Magazine list of The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time.

Their marketing is clever in that they push the benefits of gaming and specifically their sort of gaming. So they say that if employees played games on their work breaks it would help British business to the tune of £4 billion a year. And they say how their games help older women relax, learn, bond with their kids and more. All stuff that makes good press and gives consumers features and benefits they can relate to.

So to anyone who wants to be in gaming I can ask these two questions. 1) Are you an XNA or XLA developer? and 2) Have you downloaded the iPod/iPhone SDK? Because these would be the actions of someone who wanted to get ahead in the industry. Whilst just talking about it will get you nowhere.

And if anyone in the British Midlands wants to set up a gaming company then drop me a line. Maybe we too can be a PopCap.


  1. Interesting post. I’d have to counter by saying that you can compete outside of blue ocean marketing if you have a good enough product. I agree that digital distribution is the future, so you have to start building for it now. Casual is actually too competitive in my opinion right now and you might have better luck in mainstream where publishers are looking for more outside developers to shed the cost of internal development.

  2. Now isn’t a good time to start making casual games.

    People are starting to realise there is a lot of rubbish and similar stuff out there. Xbox Live now doesn’t accept any puzzle games (unless it’s homebrew XNA) to hold back the tide and become tougher in general to get stuff on there. I expect others to follow suit and start thinking more about the big picture considering their releases (as box publishers do).

  3. The most valuable quote here is;
    “1) Are you an XNA or XLA developer? and 2) Have you downloaded the iPod/iPhone SDK? Because these would be the actions of someone who wanted to get ahead in the industry.”. It is a fair assessment that these are the places that will have the most attention at least within the next couple of years. I also kinda hoped that Nintendo with there WII platform would open up a little at let the rest of us play(develop). I have been experimenting a bit with a WIImote on my Macbook Pro but an actual api/sdk and a market place would prove beneficial to Nintendo and the Game Dev world in general.

    Opinions and personal morality rant follows:

    The overpopulation of puzzle games has more to do with the over abundance of free clones than anything else. Free is OK within our ranks we trade code, assets and ideas, see what others are doing and collaborating etc…. but free to the general consumers is not as beneficial as some may think as the expectations and motives of the general consumer are not the same as people actively writing, designing and developing games.

    We (developers) have got to learn to trade, experiment and share within our domain and sell the best output of that process to the consumer. Competing games in the same gameplay domain are good. copying a game and making it free, is not evil but, should be discouraged. Take the idea expand it! Let innovation drive.

    Case in point, “Bejeweled”, I love “Bejeweled”, I love “Puzzle Quest”, I don’t love the 1 hundred million Bejeweled clones that took the game and copied it and added nothing to make it different or more interesting. Only release clones if there is no adequate version of the game on the platform you are writing for.

  4. “Could you be the next PopCap?”

    No, sadly I have too many morals to steal the games of companies I know can’t afford to sue me and market it as… well let’s say “Xuma”.

  5. 1.)Yes

    Kenneth makes several good points. There is nothing wrong with being inspired by something, but an exact ripoff is nothing but that.

  6. I am forever astonished at the limited initial capital investment required to start something like this. Talent is the key, really, and plagerist accusations aside, there is so VERY little talent coming from the corporate universe that I think the average Joe has a much better shot than they might think. Hollywood has remade everything they can think of… badly. The Taking of Pelham123… need I say more?

Comments are closed.