The secrets of casual game design


How did a studio start in a Seattle garage grow to be one of the biggest informal recreation builders in the world? Here are the secrets in the back of Popcap’s success

Somehow, absolutely everyone seems to like Popcap. It is a video games company that started out in standard fashion for this enterprise – as a storage mission shared between three young geeks. It’s precisely how Doom writer id software program started out – even though Popcap founders John Vechey, Brian Fiete and Jason Kapalka continually had a unique idea of what gaming was. They at first known as their company Sexy Action Cool and commenced working on a strip poker name, earlier than accurately changing course and aiming at the nascent informal gaming marketplace. They in no way went for gamers.

Now, with places of work everywhere in the global, Popcap is accountable for some of the most a hit informal gaming brands of all-time. Titles which includes Zuma, Peggle, and Bookworm, were downloaded 1.5bn times, with debut identify Bejeweled on my selling more than 50m copies. According to the organization, players spend 1.1bn hours a year glued to its video games.

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Popcap is likewise an example of the way to achieve this extremely aggressive industry with out making big numbers of enemies. Indeed, even as Zynga’s each move is debated and condemned through the gaming intelligentsia, Popcap has earned little but admiration and admire – even after it was sold out via perennial industry bogeyman, EA.



So what is the enterprise’s secret? How has it managed to create a string of on hand mega-hits, from the suit-3 behemoth Bejeweled to the tower defense masterpiece, Plants vs. Zombies? And why does nobody hate them for it? Last week, for the duration of the Casual Connect convention, I spoke to numerous of Popcap’s maximum senior designers and manufacturers about how the organization approaches recreation design, and the way it operates in the enterprise.

Here is what they found out.

1. Forget the competition
Although Popcap has often worked in very acquainted casual genres, its designers declare to have by no means check out what other builders were having success with. “It’s not that we are intentionally no longer studying from what our competition is doing,” says senior manufacturer Matthew Lee Johnston. “We’re open to whatever training we can study. I assume it is clean to peer what is successful in the marketplace and what isn’t always, but ultimately we pay attention to our hearts and do what we suppose is proper for our video games, not what is proper due to the fact our competition is doing it or because some thing seems famous. We try to make selections so that it will advantage the player and make the video games engaging.”

Amusingly, there may be almost a feel of deliberate Ludditism within the organization’s approach to the games marketplace. “Popcap has never been about chasing the next big component,” says franchise enterprise director, Tony Learner. “We’ve nearly been anti the following large element!” It’s a theme fast taken up through Ed Allard, the VP of Popcap’s improvement studios. “We have no longer been so centered on being in advance as an awful lot as responding to in which players are and putting our games there – every so often we do that slower than our competition; in fact, we continually do it slower than our competition! We regularly just paint our very own direction, we make video games that we feel outstanding approximately – and staying authentic to that sometimes gets us there a bit later, but that has served us properly. We don’t gaze into the crystal ball and attempt to predict the future – we simply pay interest and reply to anyplace the players are at.”

2. Make games for all of us
Another denial – reputedly, Popcap does not study new systems like Facebook or Android or smart TV and say, “we have were given to be on there”; and it doesn’t target specific demographics. It just objectives every person. “We’ve kind of never made video games for gamers,” says Johnston. “We’ve made video games for humans. And if new systems are connecting greater humans with games, that honestly plays in our favor. We try to create reports which might be attractive to anybody, and platform shifts can open humans’ eyes to games they haven’t visible.”

The corporation’s games have usually had a better percent of girl players than men, but plainly this has never formed the design procedure. “There’s a vein of casual gaming that’s very targeted toward ladies I can recognize and appreciate that,” says Allard. “But it is in no way been the Popcap course. For every function we add, however, we do ask, is that going to show off a girl gamer? Or a toddler? We put the whole thing thru that filter out. We approach it inversely – it is no longer, will this selection enchantment to a positive demographic, but will it make a certain category of individual no longer want to play this game, and if it does, what’s it doing there?”

A key change the agency took on this mild turned into the inclusion of the undead in Plants vs. Zombies. When dressmaker George Fan at the beginning came up with the idea for the game, it became going to pitch flowers towards extraterrestrial beings – it soon became clear, though, that extraterrestrial invaders could be too smart to fall sufferer to a lawn full of vegetable warriors, so he switched to zombies. However, the artwork team mainly designed the characters, now not most effective to be as an alternative adorable and non-threatening, however also to look tons much less human: the horror of zombies is the concept that they were as soon as someone alive, a person recognizable. By disposing of that element, the enterprise became capable of positioned stumbling corpses into an informal recreation with out scaring everyone.