The announcement that EA had bought PopCap Games for an obscene amount of money rocked the mobile and gaming worlds earlier this year. Many fans are worried about the corporate juggernaut's past form of absorbing and destroying smaller studios, and whether PopCap's creative freedom would be at risk from heavy-handed oversight and penny-pinching initiates.
So what better way to find out than to ask them directly? I sat down with PopCap PR manager Meriem Djazouli to discuss what, if anything, has changed since since the partnership and if there's anything to be worried about. And more importantly, where they plan to go from here.
Jonathan Lester (Mobot): Thanks for talking to us, Meriem. Let's cut to the chase: a lot of people were amazed at the amount of money that EA forked over for PopCap. Has working with EA affected your working environment and the way you create games?
Meriem Djazouli (PopCap): For the moment, nothing has changed. To be honest, there was a bit of concern at the very beginning, which people can understand. We saw fans being concerned as well. But EA knows that if you buy a company that's very successful, you'd better not change certain things, especially our creativity and the way we make our games.
Basically, EA brings a lot to us that isn't to do with creating games - anything that's marketing, PR, localisation and organisation. EA is a big machine that can really help us. For the moment, everybody keeps doing their own thing.
Mobot: What was the company's reaction to the partnership?
PopCap: We can't talk about that.
Mobot: Okay, fair enough. What do you have to say directly to fans who are worried about the merger?
PopCap: Well, PopCap is successful because we're PopCap! It would be completely stupid of us, and EA, to change that. So we haven't changed, we're still working really hard and we're still getting the same creativity. We're still doing the PopCamp and all the things that makes us so original. Our awesome fans our passionate people, and they need to remember that the people who make the games are as passionate as they are. They wouldn't want us to change so we're not going to change!
Mobot: Has EA approached you with any ideas for new titles - or games based on existing major EA franchises?
PopCap: We are absolutely looking at synergies and where we can work together going forward but no projects have been announced.
You can imagine that people from EA have been at the showcase for the last two days, and producers from different games have been saying "oh my God, it would be so fun if you could do this and do that." Obviously, I'm a gamer myself, and when I play games I think that it would be awesome if we could mix this title with that title. But we're definitely not there yet. No Mass Effect or Battlefield with Zombies!
Mobot: Let's talk about the games. Popcorn Dragon will be your first new title released as part of the EA partnership, so what can you tell us about it? Give us the elevator pitch.
PopCap: Popcorn Dragon is a very casual iOS game for iPhone and iPad. You're a little a little and cute Ignas - a little dragon - who needs to turn sweetcorn into popcorn. And then he has to eat the popcorn! Naturally there will be little extra things on each wave, such as nasty birds, planes and ghosts. Every level is actually set in a different kind of movie set. We all watch western movies in the middle of a desert. We've all watched King Kong that takes place on a big tower building. It's based on different movies that we've watched before, and gets harder every time. Easy to play, but you'll keep wanting more points.
It comes from PopCamp, actually, which is one week where everybody in the company gets together for some massive brainstorming. A few games get out of each camp.
Mobot: Cool, we'll publish our full preview once the embargo lifts. You're aiming for iOS, but do you have any other platforms in mind?
PopCap: We'll see how it goes. It's only an iOS game, but as you know, our strategy is to be multiplatform. We want to bring our games to everyone and everything. But a console version isn't in the pipeline right now.
Mobot: You mentioned the PopCamp, which is a great community idea. Would you describe PopCap as being a family?
PopCap: Yeah, we are like a "little big family." We have a fun room where we have couches, consoles and TVs, where the developers can hang out in their living room to watch soccer or brainstorm. On top of this, we have a lovely lady in Dublin, Linda McGee, who is in charge of workforce culture. Her job is to make sure that everybody's happy and she creates events to bring us all together. Everybody works really hard and we need to make sure that everybody feels supported.
It makes you feel really proud to be part of the company. Actually, I saw on the Seattle blog that one of the ladies is struggling with cancer right now and is going through chemotherapy. So many people in PopCap have shaved their heads, I'm talking about other ladies, in support of her and giving money to charities to fight cancer. It's really encouraging.
Mobot: Once again, many thanks for talking to us.
So there you have it: a "family" which is sticking to its ideals of creative game development and enjoying its new partnership to fullest advantage. We'll keep you posted about Popcorn Dragon and the intruiging EA"synergies" as we hear it.