Casual games developer and publisher PopCap Games recently announced the hiring of Andrew Stein to the newly-created position of Director of Mobile Business Development. In this exclusive interview, Games On Deck talks to Stein about why he chose to join PopCap and his plans for the company's mobile future.
Games On Deck: What attracted you to working with PopCap?
Andrew Stein: There are a few reasons why I left Cingular to go to PopCap. Prior to going to AT&T Wireless, which then became Cingular and is now AT&T, I spent 8 years on the game publisher side of the business, and I saw this as a chance to get back to the publisher side. I really missed being part of the creative process, and there really is a very short list of companies that I would have gone back for. PopCap was at the top of the list. They've got fantastic products, some of the best known games out there, Bejewelled, Zuma, and they have a real emphasis on quality. They're really into mobile. They've purchased a studio in Dublin, they're integrating mobile into a lot of things that they do, and it's a fantastic opportunity to work for a company that has a great chance to break out of that 3-5% of mobile customers who already play games on their phone. The company has a lot of expertise in cross platform game development, their games are available on PC: downloadable, retail, the web; iPod; airline entertainment systems, you name it, the games are probably on it.
GOD: Could you tell us more about the choice to purchase a studio in Dublin?
AS: They're a group that's been working on mobile for a number of years, and the first internally developed game that's just come to market is a game called Chuzzle. It looks absolutely fantastic. PopCap's really known for going over and above in adding polish to games, and to take best advantage of the platform that it's on, and it's the exact same thing with Chuzzle. Little details like the eyes of the chuzzles following your cursor around the screen (well, depending on the handset) but they've added lots of options for controls to simplify and personalise the experience, they really recognize that playing on a phone is a little different from playing on a PC.
GOD: Can you tell us a little bit about Chuzzle for mobile?
AS: Sure. It's a match 3 game, you align three or more of these furry, cute creatures known as chuzzles and they burst with happiness and then more come down, but there are a number of features for the mobile version, such as super chuzzles and different modes to keep you engrossed in the gameplay. The gameplay at its heart is very simple to understand, but you can't easily master it.
GOD: The release announcing your appointment makes it sound like they created a position for you at PopCap. So what are your duties at PopCap as the Director Of Mobile Business Development?
AS: My duties are to kind of create a vision for the mobile group, provide a lot of the strategy, and work directly with carriers and partners to bring the products to market, as well as helping develop roadmaps and new features to integrate mobile with the rest of the company. I mean, PopCap has been involved with mobile for a number of years. They've worked with partners such as EA and Glu and Astraware to bring the games to market, for example Bejewelled has been one of the top games consistently with carriers world wide since it was launched. Cingular, where I was, week in, week out, month in, month out it would be one of the top selling games. Every period it was usually in the top three. Zuma is also a hugely successful title, so mobile is not new to the company, but becoming a direct publisher and taking a more direct role is.
GOD: You used to work for a carrier and now you work for a developer. What do you think your time with Cingular taught you for your new role?
AS: You know, I think I understand what the carriers are looking for when they look for titles to put up on deck, and a lot of the decisions that they make in terms of determining promotions and merchandising and so forth, and PopCap brings a lot to the table that a carrier is looking for. We have an enormous ability to market the games to customers. For example, the deluxe versions of PopCap games have been downloaded on PC over 200 million times. So there's a huge audience of people who've already experienced the titles, that are already familiar with the gameplay. So as we go to cross-promote the titles, we've got a huge built in audience.
We've got everything from in-house ads on our website to advertise our mobile versions to inserts in retail box versions sold in stores, and there's a lot of ability to inform customers, who may not even know that their phones can play good games, to try the PopCap mobile games.
GOD: Do you consider that the mobile game space is therefore specifically a casual games space?
AS: Well, I think different types of games will co-exist, but well, if you take a look at the sales of mobile games compared to traditional console and PC titles have really been the fastest growing part of the industry. And there are a lot of reasons for that. The devices have gotten drastically better in the past couple of years, the quality of games has improved by leaps and bounds, there's an increased awareness of what it takes to make a good mobile game.
But it took American Idol for SMS messaging to finally blow up in the US and go mainstream, and I don't think it's going to be a hardcore game like a Madden or a Halo on mobile that's going to do it, it's going to be a casual game that appeals to a lot of users. PopCap users are 70% female, they are 90% over 25, it's an audience that compliments the hardcore gamer audience, but if you look at the sheer number of people, they outnumber possible hardcore gamers.
GOD: So you see a lot of growth left in the mobile games industry?
AS: Oh huge. All the growth today has really been in that 3-5% of the audience that the carriers have built, but if you could go from 5% to 10% you've doubled the size of the audience, and that's not a huge change in audience behaviour.
GOD: Under your direction, where is PopCap going to go in the game space?
AS: I think we will continue to leverage the company's experience in developing extremely compelling game experiences, that are very polished, an emphasis on compelling game mechanics, we'll continue to integrate mobile into what the company is does overall. Mobile is a very significant piece of the company revenue, and I'd expect that to continue.
GOD: Where do you see the mobile games industry going?
AS: I think multiplayer gaming and communities have a lot of potential on mobile, I think taking advantage of some of the mobile specific features has a lot of opportunities, such as the camera.
GOD: And you see PopCap taking advantage of these in future?
AS: I think if you look at the history of the company, PopCap's games have been unique. I mean, Bejewelled was really the first match three games, it's been copied many times, but PopCap really hasn't just used the same mechanic over and over again. Chuzzle is really quite a different game from Bejewelled, for example. I think the company likes to be innovative and explore new areas, so there will be a mix of games on mobile - from existing IP to new titles that really take advantage of the platform.
If you look at what the company did with Heavy Weapon, they added a whole new multiplayer dimension to the game when they moved it to Xbox Live Arcade. I expect the company to continue to do things like that for mobile.