Interview with Garth Chouteau of PopCap Games

18 05 2010

PopCap Games was started in the year 2000 by John Vechey, Brian Fiete and Jason Kapalka in Seattle Washington. The developers first title was a simple gem-swapping game named Bejeweled. Now 10 years later Bejeweled is still adding to its already amazing 50 million units sold, not to mention during this time PopCap still managed to produce other quality games like Peggle, Plants vs. Zombies and Zuma just to name a few. Over the years PopCap has cemented its name as a top tier developer as well as a fan favorite.

I recently had the unique opportunity to interview VP of Communications at PopCap Garth Chouteau. In this interview he reflects on the past 10 years as well as gives us a glimpse of what the next 10 years may hold for PopCap and the industry as a whole.

Continue Reading for the full interview.

BTDP: As PopCap turns 10 this year reflect on how it all got started and how things have changed since then?

It has been an incredible ten years! PopCap’s three founders established PopCap in an attic office with a beta testing Mom and $30K worth of credit card debt. Their mission was same as it is now – to make great games for everyone that can be played everywhere. But even they could not have imagine the scale of the company ten years later. PopCap began by making flagship franchise, Bejeweled, available on the Web. Today PopCap games can literally be played anywhere – online, Mac/PC, Mobile devices, Smartphones including iPhone, on consoles, social networking sites (Facebook) – even on inflight entertainment systems. And 50 million downloads later; Bejeweled is still going strong as ever!

BTDP: Discuss the challenges in releasing a title for so many different platforms?

For PopCap, it’s never about simply porting a game to a new platform. We take the time to discover the nuances of each individual device and platform and create bespoke iterations of our games tailored to the platform. We believe this is the best way to create the ultimate in fun gaming experiences.

BTDP: PopCap is largely known for their social gaming and games that don’t require much story or prior knowledge, do you plan on expanding in those other areas?

PopCap is perhaps best known as the leader of the so-called ‘casual’ games industry, which in many ways was a precursor to the social gaming phenomenon. In terms of our social games, we had heard repeatedly from players of our games that they would like to play our games with each other so our challenge has been to figure a broad way to connect players with one another around our games. We know for sure that games can be even more fun when played with friends. And this is where social games, specifically Facebook for us, has really empowered us to move things forward. Based on this, our social strategy for the foreseeable future is actually pretty simple…connect everything! In future, we plan to integrate nearly all of our games with social networks to enable our players to share their game experiences with their friends.

BTDP: PopCap games like Bejeweled, Peggle and Plants vs. Zombies have had huge success, what do you believe are the traits the PopCap team possess that is the reason for such success?

While it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes ‘fun’, I can give you a little insight into PopCap’s approach: we start from the standpoint of “do WE like playing this game? Is it adversely affecting productivity because everyone in the office is playing it all the time? Good – that’s an excellent sign!” In the early days, PopCap’s founders used a ‘mum test’ to gauge a games’ potential. They would sit their moms down in front of a game in Alpha or early Beta stage, and leave them there. If the moms were still playing 30 minutes later, the company co-founders knew they were headed in the right direction.

We have a great time playing our own games and ultimately, that’s what we shoot for. A game can start with an idea from anyone in the company and then it is shaped. We don’t release a game that we develop ourselves until nearly everyone here has played it and think it’s ready to put the PopCap name on. As a result, sometimes it takes a long time for a given game to ship and we often shelve games that are looking quite polished but just aren’t fun enough.

BTDP: What are your thoughts and feelings regarding DRM?

We use DRM schemes in some of our game iterations, and have our eye on the ‘always-online’ concept as a potentially effective way to thwart piracy while managing to monetize consumption of our games in certain regions of the world.

BTDP: Given the success of social gaming along with the recent trend of 3D gaming where do you see game development going in the next 10 years?

With new technologies and trends such as social gaming and advances in smartphone technology, the potential for games has exploded exponentially – both in terms of what is possible in terms of game design and in terms of the broad audiences that are playing. It is somewhat impossible to predict what will win out in the next 10 years and really it’s still ‘all to play for’. However I can give some insight into what PopCap is focusing on: first, we will to continue to develop for myriad platforms to reach the myriad audiences who like to play our games. Second, we will continue to play with the boundaries of games genres to innovate all-new gaming experiences. Certainly, social gaming is a huge part of this – both in terms of developing new games and new ways to play. For instance, social connectedness is something we, as a multiplatform company, are particularly interested in. We have enjoyed phenomenal success by affording Bejeweled Blitz players multiple ways and ‘wheres’ to play and that’s something we will certainly look to advance going forward.

BTDP: What is your favorite game of all time?

Personally I love PopCap’s Bejeweled Blitz – mostly because you can play it anywhere (Facebook/iPhone/PC) and there’s a very fun competitive streak associated with that game internally at PopCap– it’s particularly fun to manage to beat the scores of one of the inventors of the game!

Beyond Bejeweled Blitz, I’m an omnivorous gamer of long-standing, beginning with PONG in the mid-’70s, continuing through early arcade classics like Asteroids and perhaps my personal fave Major Havoc, on through pre-console systems like the Vectrex and seminal computer games from Temple of Apshai to Quake and Doom and Fable and Katamari Damacy and of course our own Peggle and Plants vs. Zombies… I’m also proud to say I’m one of the few hardy souls to actually finish the original Zuma..!

I would like to thank PopCap Games and more specifically Garth for taking time out of his undoubtedly busy schedule to sit down and answer a few questions for us today. Show your support by trying out one of their highly addicting and fun games, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

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Do you have a developer or publisher in mind that you would like to see Beyond The D-Pad interview? Maybe you have a specific question that you would like me to ask or you just have some feedback on this or any of our other interviews? If so then let it be known via the comments below, I would love to hear what you have to say.




One response

18 05 2010

Nice job on securing an interview. Good read as always.

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