PopCap CEO Dave Roberts retiring, co-founder John Vechey taking over

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PopCap co-founder John Vechey keynotes the 2012 GeekWire Awards.

PopCap CEO Dave Roberts will be retiring after eight years at the Seattle-based game studio, the Electronic Arts unit  known for such hits as Plants vs. Zombies and Bejeweled. PopCap co-founder John Vechey will be taking over leadership of PopCap.

The change, effective next week, was reported today by VentureBeat’s Dean Takahashi. PopCap co-founder Jason Kapalka is also leaving the company, according to the report, which PopCap confirmed.

“We wish Dave all the best.  When Dave joined PopCap, we needed a business leader to help us bring structure to our creative chaos and set us on a sustainable path,” Vechey said in a statement e-mailed to GeekWire. “He has made a huge mark on PopCap, and we thank deeply him for it as he embraces his new adventure.  I continue to be the most passionate believer in PopCap, and I’m excited and honored about taking over as PopCap GM.”

PopCap CEO Dave Roberts

PopCap CEO Dave Roberts

Vechey, who founded PopCap in 2000 with Kapalka and Brian Fiete, says that his job will be to build a foundation for the studio to create products that players love. “We need to get back to the place where we used to be and not just in mobile,” Vechey told VentureBeat.

It’s a high bar to reach for a company that has had massive hits, including Bejeweled, Peggle, and Plants vs. Zombies. PopCap’s Plants vs. Zombies 2 launched last year with the most downloads of any mobile game ever released by EA, and Peggle 2 launched on the Xbox One last month. The company plans to release Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare sometime early this year, but hasn’t shown much activity outside of its core franchises.

Roberts was brought on when PopCap needed a business leader to help the company grow on the back of its early success, and helped raise a $50 million investment round for the studio before it sold to EA in 2011. With Roberts’ departure, it seems the company is looking to cede the business-centric part of its operations to EA, and develop more games.

“PopCap’s mission right now is to create the greatest mobile game studio in the world, and we’re going to do that by only making games that are beloved by players,” Vechey said in the VentureBeat interview. “We’re focusing on our foundation in 2014 – talent, process, and most importantly, great products, around that mission.”

After next week, Vechey will be the only member of PopCap’s founding team remaining at the company. Fiete left the company several years ago. It’s unclear what either Kapalka or Roberts plan to do following their departures.