Keynoting the IGDA Leadership Forum in San Francisco, PopCap Games vice president of corporate strategy and development John Vechey told the audience that in 2004 and early 2005, he and his fellow co-founders were offered $60 million to sell the company.
While PopCap was known for extremely successful titles like Bejeweled, the offer came as something of a surprise. Says Vechey: we didn’t start PopCap to make money, we started it to make games. They declined the offer, ultimately feeling that it didn’t value the capacities of the team that had been assembled.
But the offer did serve as a wake up call. After having been offered millions, and refusing, Vechey says, “We knew we had to change, we knew we had to grow.”
Today, the company is 375 employees, still privately held, and as Vechey says proudly, focused on great games. “We get to control our destiny,” he adds.
“But even with the success, there were a lot of mistakes,” he continues. Alongside an influx of new people was “a lot of firing.” Vechey says that while some people were incompetent, some were great — but not a fit with the company, even during the times of change and transition.
Vechey says that PopCap helped create the business of downloadable games, but that his company has changed enough that they’ve become irrelevant to the company today. “We have to look at how games are made,” he says of the future, adding that there’s a way to improve. “If you take advantage of the social graph and the friends list, every single game will be better.”
World of Warcraft, states Vechey, would be a lot better if he could log into Facebook and see which of friends were playing.
Social games, he continues, isn’t about spamming your friends on Facebook, but something Vechey calls “social relevance.”
“Every game can get more social relevance inside it,” he stresses. “And it’ll be a better game.”
He also suggests a strategy of experiences that are more connected. In future, Vechey says, “Whenever you’re playing a Pop Cap game, it’s like you’re playing an MMO.”
Vechey further encouraged an audience of senior developers and production leaders to rethink the correlation between purchase and fun. “Item buy can be fun. Buying a $60 game in a store isn’t fun,” he says. He discusses ways that gameplay mechanics and rewards make the spending of micro-payments a pleasure. “You can actually make the act of buying your product be fun.”
But the one constant that Vechey sees is change. He concludes: “If we’re successful, in the next five years, PopCap will again be unrecognizable.”