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Wedding Bells for EA and Popcap


On July 12, 2011 Electronic Arts officially announced that it would be purchasing PopCap games. This move was not a complete surprise. Both companies acted like Hollywood celebrities claiming that any accusations that the two were getting together were completely unfounded, while in actuality they were secretly planning out their extended future together. Today in a joint statement, they announced their union – and that the rock going on PopCap’s finger was going to potentially be worth a cool $1.3 billion.

Like a groupie hearing her heart-throb was tying the knot, I shed the proverbial tear at the announcement.

Not because I’m a huge fan of PopCap (I like their games in general, but casual games don’t keep my interest for long), but because EA is about as wholesome a suitor as Charlie Sheen (Loved Platoon, Charlie!). Every company they purchase, they slowly kill. Westwood, Bullfrog, Dice, Maxis, Bioware, Mythic…all are gone or no longer hold the same clout they once did within the gaming community.

But perhaps I’m being too harsh. EA is a business and their job is to make money – something I definitely can’t fault them for doing. I also have to give them credit for being one of the players that helped bring gaming all the way from the obscure hobbies of a gaggle of nerds to the beginnings of something rivaling the movie industry in terms of multi-million dollar releases. If you aren’t completely familiar with the gaming industry, certain titles like the Call of Duty series or the infamous World of Warcraft gross in the billions for their companies (It’s good to be Activision-Blizzard).

Sure they tend to push games out before they’re done, have sorid tales released on the net by their former employees, and are generally seen as the evil empire of video games – but maybe with PopCap things will be different. Their past acquisitions have traditionally been of “hardcore” game companies, but PopCap’s specialty is “casual” games – the kind your grandmother could play if you somehow convinced her your smartphone wasn’t going to steal her soul. In my opinion Maxis was probably the closest major company to this sort of format that EA has dealt with, and The Sims somehow continues to sell well even in its 117th iteration (well, maybe there haven’t been exactly that many versions released). They also do sports games pretty well over at EA Sports.  FIFA, NCAA Football, Madden NFL, Tiger Woods Golf – EA dominates the video game sports market.

So maybe PopCap might just be the perfect match for EA.

PopCap doesn’t produce the kind of games that bring even the most expensive gaming rigs to their knees due to the coding and graphical complexity under the hood.  Nor do they produce the types of games that require a post-graduate degree just to select your character. The development costs behind PopCap’s games are trivial compared to your standard “hardcore” game.  Additionally, this means the “ship dates” that EA is notorious for sticking to despite the condition of the game in question won’t be as critical an issue when it comes to PopCap’s games. Finally, PopCap’s games are a gold mine that does not seem to be drying up anytime soon.  PopCap is kind of like the rich, ditzy, party girl – their games are fun, easy, and long term commitments are optional – just like EA likes it.

This is important because EA’s emphasis is on making money.

EA’s success has been because they are in the business of selling games, not making games – this is an important distinction.  Blizzard Entertainment and Valve Software are in the business of making games. They produce quality games that they will sit on for years until they are virtually perfect (I can hear the fires starting – flame me if you wish). Granted they make tons of money and attract hordes of fanboys, but they live and die by the success of each game they release. EA takes the other approach, an almost “shotgun effect” type approach, in their dealings. Many games are produced and published to make money. Quality can be sacrificed if budgets are looking too stretched. EA knows there is a quality threshold that gamers will accept, and as long as EA dances around this threshold without going over – the masses will buy. Maybe the game won’t win any awards or have website shrines dedicated to how awesome the game is for the next, but the masses will buy.

So in the end, things may not be all doom and gloom for these two lovebirds.  EA gets its hands on a company whose games are popular, digital, cheap to produce, and on practically every platform in existence. PopCap gets a publishing company that carries a great deal of power and influence in the industry as well as a really nice check to go in its bank account.  There will surely be some fights along the way over who can distribute titles on what or how valuable taking that extra week to come up with a new zombie character design really is – but I’m sure they’ll work through it.

Best of luck you crazy kids! (Hopefully, you signed a prenup…)

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