dwlt.thinksOutLoud

PopCap's Hidden Gems

Amongst all the chatter about PopCap’s likely IPO later this year, and the success of games such as Plants vs Zombies, Bejeweled and Peggle, one thing that’s missing is a discussion of what underlies PopCap’s ability to even consider an IPO: predictability. Games are generally considered to be a hit driven business (and by extension, a miss-led industry), so how do you mitigate those concerns? In my mind, that comes from an aspect of PopCap that I’ve seen zero comment about: their ability to manage their games and brands.

Everyone knows about the success of Bejeweled, Bookworm, et al, but I haven’t seen anyone talk about their many hidden object games. How many, exactly? Let us count them:

  • 4 in the Amazing Adventures series;
  • 4 in the Mystery P.I series;
  • 2 in the Escape series;
  • Vacation Quest (I’m going to guess this is the start of a new series).

For those skipping ahead, that’s 11 in total, from their current line-up of 28 PC downloadable ‘favorites’ (source).

Given that these games can easily sell in their tens, if not hundreds, of thousands, and that PopCap have produced multiple editions within each franchise, something tells me they’re not doing too badly out of these games.

These may not be the games that win the plaudits and awards and press, but I’m pretty sure they contribute to PopCap’s bottom line in a reasonably predictable manner. They may well be the equivalent of EA’s annually updated sports games, but without the massive licensing fees attached.

An even more undiscussed (is that possible?) aspect of this ability is the way they take their games to as many platforms and sales channels as possible, including boxed product at retail. From everything I’ve heard over the years, PopCap’s games do phenomenally well in stores such as Wal-Mart, Target, etc. Bear in mind that not everyone has a broadband connection, even (especially?) not in the US, so this is still an overlooked channel for most game creators; one that PopCap’s games fit perfectly. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see retail forming a large portion of PopCap’s income.

PopCap’s ability to nurture their franchises gives their games a far longer shelf-life than is normally associated with the industry. The Bejeweled series is the prime example of this, having sold more than 50 million copies since it’s debut in 2001, but they’ve repeated the formula over and over. They’re amongst the best brand stewards in the industry, alongside Blizzard, Nintendo, and Valve.

All this predictability allows PopCap to then go off and experiment with any number of ideas. They can take an extra year to finish Plants vs Zombies, to make sure it has the right level of polish. It means they can introduce new brands, and invest enough to ensure success in the market, resulting in more growth as they take the game to the myriad platforms that exist today.

To an uninformed observer like me, PopCap’s business model seems perfectly designed to support being a public company. Actually, scratch that; whether public or private, they seem to have the model pretty much nailed.