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PopCap's Ed Allard

PopCap's Seattle studio head on casual versus core, new business models and Unpleasant Horse

PopCap and its games are virtually household names, with the combined force of titles like Peggle, Plants Vs. Zombies and the ubiquitous Bejewelled worming their way into the public consciousness. That embodiment of gaming's rise to acceptance, and the incredible growth of the 'casual' sector makes for a great business, but how much did the company pre-empt the market compared to following player trends?

Ed Allard, head of PopCap's Seattle studio gives GamesIndustry.biz some surprisingly honest answers to those questions below, and reveals that the developer often tends to play things by ear...

GamesIndustry.bizPopCap was incredibly well positioned to take advantage of the swing towards social and casual gaming, was that an intentional reading of the market or a happy coincidence?
Ed Allard

I think it's probably a little bit of both. Since PopCap was conceived, it was about bringing games to everybody, not about core gamers or casual gamers or mobile or social gamers, just people. So the overarching theory that, right now when you say the word game, people think of Scrabble or Monopoly, but pretty soon those are going to be replaced with something digital. That's kind of where we want to be: mass market to the point where there is no demographic, it's just people playing games.

That was always the vision, and what's great now is that the market is kind of catching up to that vision. Really just making games and meeting people where they are. So I'd say we're not really trying to predict any market trends so much as just trying to figure out where people are going to be playing games and gearing ourselves up to be there.

GamesIndustry.bizSo do you think that the categorical distinction between casual and core will disappear?
Ed Allard

I do, what's interesting is that right now, if you think about core gaming, I think of that as the niche genre as opposed to the mainstream. That change happened almost overnight - it would have been a ridiculous thing to say three or four years ago but now it's pretty much reality. With core consoles getting more casual, and social becoming so widespread, and iPhone bringing games to so many people who didn't think they were gamers. All of a sudden we woke up and found ourselves thinking that the casual distinction is kind of a useless one.

PopCap's never really been a leader. We weren't the first social game company by a stretch, and we weren't the first mobile game company by a stretch.

GamesIndustry.bizDo you think that, had the rest of the market not gone down that route, that PopCap would have still tried to pursue it?
Ed Allard

I think so, but what's interesting is that where we are right now isn't so much the result of a master plan so much as it was about creating a company and a culture that's able to shift and adpat to meet people where they are. So not so much that we were setting ourselves up to become a social or mobile company as much as when we started seeing people playing games on social networks or mobile devices we were able to reinvent ourselves into that space without compromising what's core to us.

Five years from now the word of the day will be something different from social or mobile, and I don't know what it is, but we'll be kind of shifting who and what we are to meet that, because that's where the people are going to be.

GamesIndustry.bizAre you confident in pre-empting the curve again?
Ed Allard

Well, PopCap's never really been a leader. We weren't the first social game company by a stretch, and we weren't the first mobile game company by a stretch. We tend to use the analogy of us being the tortoise. We follow people to where they are, sure, but it's not necessarily about being there first. It's about bringing PopCap's level of customer experience wherever we go. So I'm not sure pre-empt is the right word as much as we will quickly adapt.