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PopCap Games Explores the Future of Mobile Gaming

In February, PopCap Games introduced a version of its popular castle defense game, 'Plants vs. Zombies,' to the iPhone. The lure of pea pods battling the undead proved impossible for people to resist, and, within nine days, the game had set a sales record on the device -- selling over 300,000 copies and pulling in over $1 million.

PopCap is a game maker with its fingers in several pies -- including the PC, Xbox 360, Nintendo DS and more -- but mobile gaming is becoming increasingly important to the company. The mobile team is currently working on between 20 and 25 projects, most of which are expected to be released before the end of the year.

While many big game publishers have downplayed the revenue potential of iPhone apps (and those for other smartphones) because of the lower retail price of the games, PopCap says it has found the platform quite lucrative. Andrew Stein, director of mobile business development for the company, says the sector currently makes up 25-percent of PopCap's revenue. "Historically, it has been one of the fastest growing areas," he says. "And I think portable experiences will continue to grow as a percentage of the company's revenue."

PopCap Games

That growth has been due, in part, to the success of the iPhone version of 'Bejeweled 2,' which has sold over 3 million copies to date. But it's also because of the company's decision to tailor specific versions of its franchises to various platforms rather than porting the same game over and over again. The iPhone version of 'Plants vs. Zombies,' for instance, moved elements of the game around -- and increased the size of the zombies' heads so the player could better visually gauge the damage he or she was doing.

Moving forward, PopCap hopes to equip its mobile offerings with elements of social gaming, such as leader boards among networks of friends. What makes the plan particularly interesting, though, is that PopCap wants to do it cross-platform.
For instance, let's say you're an avid "Bejeweled Blitz" player on Facebook, but your spouse prefers to play games on the iPhone. Your brother, meanwhile, has a Droid. Traditionally, there's no way you'd be able to compete against one another.
Since you're all able to play the same game, though, PopCap figures there's no reason you shouldn't be able to go head-to-head. (The Android and iPhone versions of 'Bejeweled 2' both have a "Bejeweled Blitz" mode.)

"I think the future of our mobile unit will evolve to include more of a social focus," says Stein. "Some games transcend the platform [and] I think there are some very exciting possibilities."

The company is also making big plans for upcoming platforms, including Windows Phone 7 Series-enabled phones. "From what we've seen so far, the devices look really nice and the UI looks really nice," says Stein. "I think Microsoft has a pretty decent shot of getting back in the game... We're working with them and hope to have a few games out at, or close to, launch."

And, naturally, PopCap plans to jump on the iPad in a big way. While Stein won't say whether or not his company will have any games available upon the Apple tablet's launch, he notes that a couple of projects are currently underway and that the team is very excited about the iPad.

It raises a critical question, though. As the iPhone faces more and more competition, will the iPad essentially cannibalize the market for Apple? Stein doesn't think so.

"They're very different devices," he says. "The iPhone is something you pretty much keep with you all the time, whereas with the iPad, I see it as something you don't just stick in your pocket. You have to make a conscious decision to take that with you... It could give you a much richer gaming experience, but you're not going to have it all the time."

Whichever device you're carrying, though, rest assured. Odds are, either way, you'll be able to keep the zombies at bay.

Tags: android, cell phones, CellPhones, features, iphone, iphone app, IphoneApp, mobile gaming, MobileGaming, popcap, popcap games, PopcapGames, smartphones, top, video games, videogames, windows phone 7 series, WindowsPhone7Series



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