The Rules have Changed Back Again
When we first started PopCap there was no casual or mass market gaming. There was no facebook, iOS app store, or Steam. There weren’t portal partners nor a downloadable business, and mobile phones couldn’t even play text games. When Bejeweled (then called Diamond Mine) first launched on MSN games it became the most played game on the Internet.
The idea that games for everyone would take over the world became believable. Games evolved. We released a few more web games. Discovered $19.95 downloadable business. Started making some revenue from other platforms. Success was all about fun, innovative new gameplay. Partners like Real Networks were growing the audience. Xbox Live Arcade was another place for new ideas. We invested in games like Peggle and Plants vs. Zombies, knowing that it was about innovation in gameplay.
Then it all stagnated. Big Fish Games and Real fought to steal customers from each other. XBLA became crowded. Big publishers started throwing money at the business. Developer margins were shrinking. It wasn’t about gameplay it was about market share. Merely a game of margin control. PopCap was lucky that we had hired a CEO and developed a publishing organization. We were lucky that our games appealed to hard-core gamers, lucky that we invested in retail, but the traditional casual channels were flat.
While that was happening Apple was experimenting with an app store on iPod scroll wheels. Facebook was opening up its platform to developers. Platform focused developers like Zynga and NGMoco were started. Their whole raison d’etre was to master a platform, not innovate on gameplay. Some were experimenting with gameplay. Doodlejump, Flight Control, and Pocket Gods come to mind, but they were still the exception. It was the era of these new, weird platforms. Companies succeeded not through great games, but by harnessing and mastering the new platforms. Angry Birds succeeded by pioneering the top ten lists while leveraging their charm. Zynga exploded by being one of the best online service operators in history.
Thankfully, Facebook is more known now. Developers no longer question the Apple App store viability. Microtransactions have ceased to be weird. Things have settled. Which is great. Gameplay innovation is in the air. Whether on Facebook, Apple, or Android new gameplay is coming out and thriving every day. Soon Xbox, Nintendo and Sony will join this new connected world.
Tiny Tower. Jetpack Joyride. DragonVale and Temple Run have all shown that great, new gameplay can happen. OMGPOP has destroyed the charts with Draw Something. Innovation is now vital again. It’s about great gameplay. It may look a bit different than it did in the downloadable days, but the audience is bigger, the developers more innovative, and potential for greatness amazing.
The rules have finally changed back again. I look forward to playing all the new games that are going to come out in the next couple of years. I look forward to PopCap making some of those games.