John Vechey was one of three guys who started PopCap Games eleven years ago, defying the dot-com bust to create one of the most successful companies in casual games, with hit franchises including Bejeweled, Plants vs. Zombies and Zuma.
Today, the company announced a deal to be sold to gaming giant Electronic Arts for $750 million in cash and stock up front, with future payments bringing the price to as much as $1.3 billion. Vechey spoke with GeekWire this afternoon along with Barry Cottle, EA Interactive executive vice president and general manager.
Q: John, how are you feeling at this point? This is a huge day for you guys.
Vechey: A little overwhelmed. It’s pretty exciting. We did the announcement to the whole company and Dave (Roberts) our CEO got teary-eyed. I was getting teary-eyed, and I don’t know how many other people were getting teary-eyed, but I feel like it’s a great partnership, and we look forward to the next decade. So that’s exciting.
Q: You had a lot of options. There were other companies that were interested in PopCap. What made you choose EA?
Vechey: It was a few things. One, they really accelerated what our goals were. The alignment of the strategy between the two companies is huge, from their Origin investment to their Jamdat acquisition, their Playfish acquisition, they really have the absolute world-class digital publishing organization. We get focus on what we’re great at, and partner up with someone who is great at things that we’re not always that great at. We’ve got a great publishing organization for our size, but the scale that they have is absolutely astounding.
The second thing is that EA as a company has huge game integrity, and they really are, from (EA CEO) John Riccitiello on down, focused on making great games. To me, that cultural alignment is so huge. Just the amount of time that we’ve spent with John Riccitiello talking about games (vs. business strategy). That, to me, is something I feel good about. That really was a big thing for me.
Q: Where does PopCap fit into EA overall?
Cottle: These guys are the Pixar of the casual (games) space. With mobile and social being the fastest-growing digital segment, these guys provide the cornerstone franchises that have proven to be successful across all of these. These guys are top 5 players in every single one of them. They become our Pixar for building casual IP (intellectual property), leveraging the synergies John was just describing — our strong publishing across mobile and Facebook and other retail, and the scale and the resources. These guys are going to really be driving and building that IP for us.
Q: What presence will PopCap have in the Seattle region after the acquisition closes?
Vechey: Their commitment to growing PopCap is gigantic, so I think that we’re going to be a growing company in Seattle for many, many years to come. I’m pretty excited about that.
Cottle: If you look at the leadership they have here, the talent that they’ve been able to bring to market, our plan is to invest in this. This is not about cutting costs. We believe in these guys, and we believe that for the future these guys can really help just take it to the next level in terms of building great games and being that foundation for us. We’re looking forward to investing in the company and what’s happening here in Seattle.
Q: Are there actual plans to increase PopCap’s size here in the Seattle region?
Cottle: Yes, absolutely, our plan is to build around the studio. … This is really the core part of our casual IP studio. This is who’s going to drive it. Investing in these guys so they can continue to build other game-changing IP is part of the success here.
Q: How much of the focus will be on feeding the existing franchises vs. coming up with the next great new ones?
Vechey: A lot of the business analysis was done on our current franchises, because that’s the way we do our current business analysis. We’re always investing and experimenting with new IP, but the last 11 years of PopCap history we’ve had five key franchises. They’re not expecting us to have 30 next year, they’re expecting us to make great games and make sure that when we do launch a new game it is really high quality.
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