Jul 13, 2011
EA has bought casual gaming giant PopCap Games in a deal worth $1.3 billion.
The Bejeweled, Zuma, Peggle and Plants vs. Zombies creator will receive $650 million in cash and $100 million in stock. PopCap will be given an additional $550 million in bonuses in next few years for hitting money-making milestones. I'd like that kind of dosh please.
PopCap has 400 staff.
"As some of you may have heard, we recently announced that PopCap Games is being acquired by Electronic Arts, a small mom-and-pop boutique software publisher," wrote PopCap.
"What does this mean for the future? It's simple: 1, EA is being rebranded to Poptronic Arts; 2, Sim Zuma: The SwampLife Edition; 3, Peggle: Dead Space Bjorn's Breakfast; 4, Bejeweled Battlefield Blitz; 5, Plants vs. ZombEAz: NFL Lockout Edition."
PopCap will be able to draw on deeper resources and distribute to a wider audience worldwide. "We're not changing our focus from creating awesome casual games everyone can enjoy," the company said.
Buying the digital clout of PopCap is an impressive statement of EA's intent to aggressively pursue digital gaming.
EA snapped up prominent social gaming outfit PlayFish in 2009, in a deal worth $400 million.
Let's hope Battlefield 3 and Mass Effect 3 can recoup some of that money.
Only one question remains: what will happen to PopCap's exciting new game Johnny Minkley's Meat Ceiling
Jun 25, 2011
Published as part of our sister-site GamesIndustry.biz's widely-read weekly newsletter, the GamesIndustry.biz Editorial, is a weekly dissection of an issue weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to GI.biz newsletter subscribers.
By any standards, PopCap is a remarkable company. Of the many new games companies to emerge from the new social and mobile gaming scene, it's one of the only ones which manages to sustain a delicate and difficult balancing act - appealing to an enormous swathe of the mainstream, casual market while still commanding significant respect from core gamers.
In the past decade, the company has proved its ability not only to keenly and intelligently exploit its flagship franchise - Bejeweled - but also to generate new IP that's just as compelling as that original break-out hit, including Peggle, Plants Vs. Zombies and Zuma. Moreover, it seemingly effortlessly straddles the mobile and social gaming sectors, just as comfortable providing apps to iPhone users, coffee-break entertainment to Facebook users and downloadable titles on Steam for more dedicated gamers.
There's absolutely no question that PopCap is a great games company. However, if this week's rumours turn out to be correct, and the company sells for $1 billion, it will be the final confirmation of something that's been whispered for a while now - that social and mobile gaming, along with the "social internet" in general, has become a bubble market.
Finnish firm Rovio took in $42 million in a funding round which even the investors admitted the company didn't actually need.
In the past year, company valuations in this sector have soared, and some truly eye-watering deals have gone through. Last October, Japanese mobile gaming giant DeNA paid out up to $400 million for iOS game developer ngmoco - another great company with fantastic products whose price tag raised plenty of eyebrows. Not to be outdone, DeNA's local rival GREE dropped over $100 million in cash on OpenFeint - creators of a social gaming platform for iPhone and Android.
In the west, EA paid $300 million for PlayFish last year, while Disney paid $760 million for Playdom, and has been aggressively restructuring its entire games business around the social gaming model - with mixed results.
Those are just samples of the deals we know about, because they were made in public. The biggest fish in the pond, Zynga, bears a price tag as high as $10 billion according to some valuations. It's not just in acquisitions that the figures are getting breath-takingly high, either - venture capitalists seem to have caught the fever too. Back in March, Finnish firm Rovio - a developer with only one hit to its name, even if that hit is the seemingly ubiquitous Angry Birds - took in $42 million in a funding round which even the investors admitted the company didn't actually need.
It's not just games, of course. In the wider world of the social internet, analysts mostly seemed to come around to the idea that we had entered a bubble market when Color Labs raised $41 million in first-round funding for an iPhone application which not only hadn't yet been written, but which nobody even seemed to be able to explain without resorting to buzzword-laden drivel. That's even before we start to consider the valuation of a company like Twitter - whose service is wonderful, but whose long-term plan for making money seems almost as confused and optimistic as the worst of the dot.com era hopefuls.
Yet even if the wider bubble in the social internet allows us to place the money flying around the social and mobile gaming sector into a logical context, it doesn't do anything to defuse the potential damage of an implosion. What happens when a bubble bursts in a market like this? That's predictable enough - purchasers are left holding an asset that's not worth what they paid for it, and potentially laden with debt which they took on to pay for that asset, while everyone else finds that funding dries up as investors take flight.
So who is exposed to this kind of risk? Electronic Arts, as mentioned, has a $300 million investment in PlayFish. It's no stranger to large acquisitions in this space - it paid out $680 million for mobile publisher JAMDAT back in 2005, although that's not a deal it may particularly want to be reminded of, given that it later had to knock around 50% off its valuation of the asset. Crucially, EA is also linked to the billion-dollar PopCap deal that's said to be on the table, although it's hard to say how credible that is. EA's financial position wouldn't allow it to make an acquisition on that scale easily - it could be done, of course, but it will be an immense risk for the company to swallow.
Disney has committed itself even more heavily to the space than EA, but its Playdom acquisition has been criticised on many fronts for under performing - and although the company has redoubled its commitment to a future in the social games space, it's yet to turn that commitment into any kind of leadership position. However, Disney actually isn't terribly exposed to a social gaming "bubble"; it may have paid above the odds for its investments, but it's an enormous company which can afford to swallow those losses, and the investment bubble shouldn't disguise the fact that social gaming itself is still a market with growing audience and revenues, one which a firm like Disney can ill-afford to ignore.
Whoever ends up buying PopCap will own a social gaming developer whose success is almost unrivalled and whose skills and experience can potentially unlock vast swathes of the marketplace.
Beyond those two firms, others do have significant involvement in mobile gaming - Ubisoft, through GameLoft, being a great example - but have mostly avoided getting caught up in the bubble. Indeed, GameLoft CFO Alexandre de Rochefort was one of the main voices to warn of this emerging situation, earlier this year.
Instead, the investment has come heavily from VCs, and from Asia - and sometimes from both. Asian companies, both Chinese and Japanese, are very keen to invest in this market, and the Japanese firms in particular have been both spurred by the need to keep abreast of the smartphone growth that's displacing the huge "featurephone" market in their native territory, and emboldened by the historic strength of the Yen which allows overseas acquisitions to be made on the cheap, at least relatively speaking.
What happens to those companies when the confidence leaks out of the market and the bubble collapses? It's therein, I think, that the really interesting question about what this bubble actually means to the games industry starts to find some answers.
Nobody - be they a corporation or a private individual - wants to end up holding an asset that's worth far less than they paid for it, but that doesn't tell the entire story. As mentioned above, the ludicrous prices flying around in this sector disguise an underlying story that's arguably much more important - a story of immense growth in both audience and revenue, growth which doesn't justify those prices but which does certainly justify much of the interest being taken in this market.
For companies in Asia seeking to build their presence in the West, or for Western media firms determined to stay on top of developments in their sector, one could argue that social and mobile gaming acquisitions aren't really an "investment" in sense of asset growth. Yes, it would be lovely to buy an asset and watch its value swell on your balance sheet - but what's more important to these firms is to buy into a market, expanding their global or demographic presence and, crucially, denying their rivals an opportunity to do likewise.
Even once the bubble bursts, DeNA - to pick an example - will own a leading mobile developer with fantastic insight and experience in the western market. Whoever ends up buying PopCap will own a social gaming developer whose success is almost unrivalled and whose skills and experience can potentially unlock vast swathes of the marketplace. Their asset values may implode, and the markets aren't likely to like that very much, but the core reasons for the acquisitions will remain.
In other words, if you've got the money to buy, and if your business strategy requires or benefits from this kind of acquisition - then the bubble in the mobile and social markets only matters to you because it'll make it harder to make back the money you spend, but you're in this for the long term and the acquisition may still make sense. Where it matters more is to those companies and investors who are just hopping on the bandwagon because everyone else is doing it, throwing millions at companies with little IP to their name or incredibly risky business plans. Moreover, it definitely matters to companies who really don't have the money for this kind of investment, and will seriously suffer if its value collapses.
A bubble market is by no means a good thing, but equally, it's not a sign that everyone should cower and wait for the sky to fall. It simply means that companies need to be much more wary about their investments, and accept that the gambling stakes are much, much higher than usual. Mobile and social gaming is here to stay - but these valuations are not. If calm heads prevail, we can at least hope that none of the games business' great names get dragged down when the madness eventually ends.
If you work in the games industry and want more views, and up-to-date news relevant to your business, read our sister website GamesIndustry.biz, where you can find this weekly editorial column as soon as it is posted.
Apr 20, 2011
Welcome to Cheap This Week! We already tell you which games are out this week, so we thought we'd try bringing you a weekly roundup of the best deals in gaming as well. Look out for Cheap This Week each Wednesday.
If one update every seven days isn't enough to satisfy your hunger for gaming value, you can also check out my website SavyGamer.co.uk (hi, I'm Lewie!), which is always up to date with the hottest discounts from all over.
Here's what's Cheap This Week
In my day, the difference between the different versions of Mortal Kombat was that the SEGA version had blood and the Nintendo version had sweat. Today, the only platform-exclusive factor is cross-promotion of the God of War franchise in the form of playable Kratos in the PS3 version.
It's out at the end of the week, and under 30 quid seems like a fairly decent pre-order price. Check out Eurogamer's review to know for sure.
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City - PC £23.84 delivered
Save yourself a few quid by getting your order in early here. Details are still a bit scarce on ORC, but you can familiarise yourself with what we know so far in Wesley's preview.
Capcom has drafted in SOCOM: Confrontation developer Slant 6 for this Resident Evil spin-off/interquel. It's not due out until the end of the year, but if you get your pre-order in now, Shopto won't charge you until they ship it anyway (as long as you are paying by card), and you can always cancel this if a better offer comes up, or if you change your mind. Spooky trailer available already.
I really enjoyed the first Dead Space, but was pleasantly surprised that the sequel was a major improvement from the first game. Probably the biggest change for me was the variety of environments rather than being entirely set on a big space ship, you get to go to all sorts of locations.
It's perhaps a little on the short side, but it more than makes up for it with the best stomp attack from any game ever. So much so that I call it Dead Stomp instead. Check out Simon's review (of the game, not my sense of humour).
As well as the base game being made available for half price, the Peggle Nights expansion is 50 per cent off too.
Dan (rightly) sang Peggle XBLA's praises back when it released in March of 2009. It's not my favourite version the PC version has more precise controls and the iOS version is compatible with the outside world but the Xbox version of Peggle has the shiniest graphics, and the controls are more than adequate.
At this point you're listening to the advice of a man who has freely admitted to owning Peggle on three different formats, so perhaps it's best if we move on.
Deal of the Week
Nintendo 3DS bundles, from £189.99 delivered.
It's not even been out a month, but GAME is already offering some fairly decent discounts on the 3DS when bought with a game.
For £189.99 you can get the console with Super Monkey Ball or The Sims 3. For £199.99 you can get a bundle with either Nintendogs + Cats: Golden Retriever, LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars or Super Street Fighter IV.
If you're just after the console (I know lots of people are holding out for Ocarina of Time), you could buy the Super Monkey Ball bundle and trade the game in for £25 at Gamestation via CEX pricematch.
Oli's extensive 3DS review is a great summary of why you should be interested, and if you fancy trying the 3D effect yourself before putting your money down, every GAME branch I've been in over the last few weeks has had a demo unit to try. Not that I trawl them or anything (I do).
Also of note this week...
- Blue Toad Murder Files, PS3 £7.19 on PSN.
- After Burner Climax, Xbox 360 400 MS Points
- OutRun Online Arcade, Xbox 360 400 MS Points
- ilomilo, Xbox 360 - 400 MS Points (Xbox Live Gold subscribers only)
- Plants vs. Zombies, Xbox 360 - 800 MS Points (Xbox Live Gold subscribers only)
Feb 16, 2011
Casual games like Peggle and Bejeweled help ease the symptoms of clinical depression, according to a new study.
The survey, conducted by East Carolina University and underwritten by PopCap Games, followed 59 patients suffering from depression for a month. Some of them played PopCap titles Bejeweled 2, Peggle and Bookworm Adventures for a set amount of time each day, while a 'control' group surfed the National Institute of Mental Health's Web page on depression.
After the study was finished, the test subjects who played games saw symptoms reduce by 57 per cent on average.
The professor in charge of the study, Dr. Carmen Russoniello, noted that subjects suffered no negative side-effects and went on to recommend that the games be prescribed by doctors.
"The results of this study clearly demonstrate the intrinsic value of certain casual games in terms of significant, positive effects on the moods and anxiety levels of people suffering from any level of depression," Russoniello explained.
"Given that only 25 per cent of people who suffer from depression are receiving treatment, it seems prudent to make these low cost, readily accessible casual games video games available to those who need them.
"They should be made available at health clinics, community centers, online 'medical sites' and given out by therapists as a means of intervention."
Nov 23, 2010
All downloadable PopCap games are half-price from the PopCap website until Monday, 29th November.
This excludes any bundle deals or game packs.
PopCap, a renowned puzzle maker, is responsible for Plants vs. Zombies (9/10 - Eurogamer), Zuma's Revenge (8/10 - Eurogamer), Peggle Deluxe (9/10 - Eurogamer) and Bejeweled 3 (out on 7th December) - to name a few.
The most exciting PopCap news today, however, is that top secret new game Johnny Minkley's Meat Ceiling has been spotted. An anonymous PopCap insider sent Eurogamer this image from the company's Seattle studio.
PopCap co-founder John Vechey bet Eurogamer TV presenter Johnny Minkley that he couldn't eat an enormous piece of meat in a restaurant. His end of the bargain? To make a game starring Johnny Minkley and meat if he lost.
And he did.
Nov 12, 2010
Peggle, PopCap's classic pinball-meets-pachinko timewaster, is coming to PSP next week.
You'll be able to download the game from the PlayStation Store on Tuesday, priced $9.99. A UK price hasn't been confirmed yet.
The game's associate producer told the PlayStation Blog, "Our expert Peggle Institute Programmers were able to get the full, original Peggle Experience into your PSP.
"All the original Masters, challenges, and levels in adventure mode are here! There were some late nights and long meetings with Bjorn and Master Hu, but we got there!"
Honestly, if you don't have a copy of the game yet, you need to check yourself it's an unfeasibly brilliant confection.
However, it's worth bearing in mind that the equally full-featured iPhone version comes in considerably cheaper at £1.79.
Nov 9, 2010
Last weekend we ran a competition to send in a replay of your best shot in a Peggle game, with a large bounty of Peggle swag for our favourite. We've watched all the shots, recorded our favourites and made them into a quick highlights video. Overall winner after the clip.
If you watch the rabbit during the Sir Jelliot's endless lobster flippery, you can almost see him going slowly mad trying to hold his cheerful disposition.
And the prize for coolest Peggle shot goes to:
Klinglern! For his ridiculous rebound in Peggle Extreme. He completes the level in the first second of the shot, but then his ball bounces back out of the lowest scoring bucket, up through a portal, teleports to the top left of the map, drops down onto a purple score peg (which count for 10,000 druing Extreme Fever), then rebounds off a bumper to hit the last peg on the board, triggering ULTRA EXTREME FEVER and turing all the score buckets into 100,000 pointers - into which it finally falls. The stuff of legend.
Klinglern wins this lovely spread of peg-related treats:
Thanks again to all who entered.
If you've never wanted a tiny plushie Splork of your own, you haven't got that far in Peggle yet. Well, now you can get one of those, a Peggle mug, two Peggle badges, a Peggle mouse mat, a Peggle iPhone skin, Peggle, Peggle Nights, £30 of iTunes vouchers to buy Peggle and anything else on the iPhone, a bumper sticker reading XTRM FVR, and for some reason a bunch of Chuzzles.
All you have to do is save a replay of a great Peggle shot, zip it up, and post it on our forums. It can be Peggle Deluxe, Peggle Nights, or Peggle Extreme, but it probably has to be the PC version. We're not looking for the highest score, just that mix of style, skill and dumb luck that makes Peggle fun. Here's how to submit one.
When you make a good shot, click 'Instant Replay' in the bottom right shortly after.
You'll then get the option to save it as a file. Once you have, find your saved replays in C:\ProgramData\Steam\PeggleExtreme\userdata\replays
Search for 'replays' if you don't have that folder.
Then right click the one you want, and go to Send to > Compressed folder.
This will create a zip with your replay in, and you can upload that when you reply to this thread on our forums.
Deadline: Any replays posted in that thread before 9AM GMT on Monday the 8th of November are eligible.
Nov 4, 2010
PopCap Games are the creators of Bejeweled, Peggle and Plants vs. Zombies, each of them one of the biggest and most lovable games on PC. When casual and social games are reaching ever larger audiences and their developers are getting a bad reputation for poor design practices, how have PopCap managed to find fans amongst gamers and grannies alike? To find out, I visited the studio and interviewed everyone I could find. We're running those interviews each day this week and calling it PopCap Week.
Today I'm speaking to PopCap co-founder Jason Kapalka and the designer of Peggle, Sukhbir Sidhub. It's only now when looking back at the transcript that I realise there are long periods when I don't ask any questions. Jason and Sukhbir have worked together for years, and it shows. They talk away without my intervention, revealing details of PopCap's forgotten first release, a strip poker game called Foxy Poker, and follow it up by going into detail about the many variants of Peggle, including a Thor-themed version called Thunderball, and what would have happened if co-founder John Vechey's mum had been PopCap's accountant.
Jason Kapalka: You know the original name, right?
PC Gamer: I think it was Sexy Action Cool?
Jason Kapalka: Yeah. I don't know if you know the original product. Did they show you Foxy Poker?
PC Gamer: No.
Jason Kapalka: That's the PR person having a pained look on their face
Jason Kapalka: This is not in our corporate histories, but the first thing that we did was a strip poker game. Mostly just because we thought, “We can do this thing, then we can sell it and take the money to use to do whatever.”
It was more like strip video poker and in fact there wasn't actually any stripping. We were still trying to do this advertising stuff where they wouldn't allow nudity, so there was this awesome power stripping where there was always some object interposed. We did get a lot of complaints, because you had to play a long time to get enough tokens to get to the final stage of undress, and when you did there was some vases and things, so we got a lot of complaints that they'd just spent four hours.
It was a pretty good strip poker game if I do say so myself, but we found there was going to be a hard time doing anything with it because we didn't really have the heart to deal with any of the porn companies because they were just too scummy. We abandoned our short lived effort to be a company like that. We then did Bejeweled and after that, yeah, started licensing games to Microsoft, primarily, and a few other companies.
PC Gamer: Did you have in your heads the type of game that you wanted to make at that point?
Jason Kapalka: The strip poker game seemed like a way to get some starting money, but the kind of games we were planning on doing were always these web-based, simple puzzle games.
We ended up gravitating more to single player puzzle games, not necessarily because of choice, but because it was easier to sell, because the multiplayer stuff was a real pain in the butt to integrate. If you want to go to Microsoft with a multiplayer game it was really hard, because you had to work with their APIs.
We did actually do multiplayer games for the first couple of years at PopCap. Psychobabble is the coolest one, probably. A sort of competitive fridge magnet poetry. It was really fun and actually very funny, it was a laugh out loud hilarious often. We eventually took it down a few years back, not because it wasn't any good but because it was literally impossible to make it family friendly. No matter how many curse words or suggestive words you took out, people would find a way to make something filthy out of any possible configuration of words.
Sukhbir Sidhub: That was definitely half the fun of the game.
PC Gamer: At what point did you join the company?
Sukhbir Sidhub: I think it was June 2002. It was about a year or two after Bejeweled.
Jason Kapalka: Yeah, 2002, I guess. At that point I can't remember what employee number you were.
Sukhbir Sidhub: I think there were like seven other people, but I'm not quite sure. Pretty small office.
PC Gamer: I read your bio and you were number 8 I think.
Jason Kapalka: Sounds right. I mean, some of them were like John's mum was our accountant.
Sukhbir Sidhub: His aunt.
Jason Kapalka: Oh no, his Aunt. Sorry, that would be terrible!
Sukhbir Sidhub: (laughs) Yeah. I don't think we would be here now if John's mom was our accountant back then.
Jason Kapalka: Yeah, I think we'd all be in jail.
PC Gamer: Can you talk me through a little bit the development process for making Peggle?
Sukhbir Sidhub: The first conversation I had with Jason when I talked about coming up here to work for PopCap, we talked about the kinds of games they wanted to make. You know, casual games, games for a wide audience. I actually mentioned Pachinko at that time and we started talking about it just in that one conversation.
That was years before we even started Peggle, because I'd actually played a Pachinko game that Jason had at his apartment back in San Francisco. It was a Godzilla Pachinko machine, and it was awesome. It was really fun and it was mesmerising and I couldn't believe how fun it was and how addictive it was.
So that experience always stayed with me, but the problem with that was, it was all luck. It's hard to make a computer game, because the fun in Pachinko, in regular Pachinko, is the gambling aspect of it. Even though it's mesmerising, it's going to be hard to get that same feeling in a game. That was a problem
And then a few years later, one of our developers had been working on a simple 2D physics engine, and we started talking about the idea of a Pachinko or a pinball game, but we didn't really know what to do. We wanted to do some sort of Pachinko game and we needed some skills, so we were thinking maybe if it was somehow meshed with pinball.
We ended up spending about 3 or 4 months prototyping different game ideas. Some where very Pachinko like, some were very pinball like, some were in between, some were Breakout. We were trying to find something that was fun, accessible, simple, so we went all over the map for a few months.
PC Gamer: So over that three or four months, when did you start to know that you were hitting the right balance between Pachinko and pinball or, what was the breakthrough?
Sukhbir Sidhub: The prototypes I did were more luck based and random. The prototypes Brian did were more skill based, and there were good things and bad things about both.
We got to a point where it was really fun, but it was overly twitchy. It needed fast reflexes and we sort of said, this is fun, this could be a game, but we didn't know how accessible it was going to be.
We stepped back and simplified it and had some spinning crosses instead of pegs. We tried that and it was kind of fun, but we found that with spinning crosses it was impossible to really anticipate where the ball was going to bounce, it was just too random.
Then we changed it to pegs, and basically it was a game where you clear all the pegs. It was kind of fun, but it always had that problem where getting the last peg was super frustrating.
That's when we decided, well, what if it was just 25 pegs you had to hit? I wonder if that would be fun? After that one prototype when we had the 25 pegs, that was it pretty much. We were like, “You know, this is kinda fun.” We spent a few days on that, had a few people play it and felt like … that felt like it.
Jason Kapalka: Then there was a year or two of graphics and themes and names and all that stuff. There's about 300 Peggle variants.
Sukhbir Sidhub: Yeah, so many different ones. Even that prototype had some early themes of Peggle, the classical music and a unicorn in it, so even back then we had some ideas that ended up in the final version.
Jason Kapalka: A lot of those were placeholder, or at leas we thought it was. The Ode to Joy and the unicorn and the rainbow. They were all placeholder stuff that we sort of assumed would be changed, and at one point wasn't Thor supposed to be the star of Peggle?
Sukhbir Sidhub: There was one point, yeah. We were playing around with themes. Jason's very big on themes. At the time, I didn't disagree with that, but I didn't know what theme to put on this game. We'd just spent all this time trying to figure out what the mechanic would be.
Jason Kapalka: It was going to be Thor, and it was going to be called Thunderball.
Sukhbir Sidhub: Yeah, we tried that out and it just didn't work very well. It was a little forced and the art – it just wasn't coming together. And the artist wasn't really thrilled with that theme either. It didn't really play to his strength.
Jason Kapalka: 50 levels of frost giants.
Sukhbir Sidhub: Exactly, yeah. So we ended up backing off and doing something more whimsical and fun. That's was something I was more into. It really fit in with Walter Wilson, the artist, his style.
Jason Kapalka: As far as the theme went, it became its own theme. Sort of random.
Sukhbir Sidhub: Held together by randomness, pretty much.
Jason Kapalka: I don't know what the world of Peggle represents, but it didn't really need one.
Sukhbir Sidhub: At a certain point we had to make a decision about Ode to Joy and what Extreme Fever was. I'd thrown in, “Let's call it fever when you hit the final peg”, and I think Jason said “Let's call it Extreme Fever!”. And that sounds cool, so we called it Extreme Fever, and that's based on Pachinko games. At certain points in some Pachinko games you get the ball in a certain slot and it goes “Fever! Fever! Fever!” At that point it was completely random and we were like, “Should we really go with this because no-one's going to understand it?” and we decided to do that, and that's the point that we decided to...
Jason Kapalka: Embrace the randomness. Keep that unicorn in.
Sukhbir Sidhub: Yeah, keep basically all the crazy aspects of it, and try to make Extreme Fever as dramatic as possible. Because without it, it's a fun game, it's enjoyable but …
Jason Kapalka: If you're looking for a turning point, the point where we decided that the unicorn and the rainbow were not placeholder was the moment where we more comfortable with embracing humour in a game. Doing something that we think is funny, even if we weren't sure anyone would get the joke. Peggle has been embraced by hardcore players a bit, but, it wasn't really clear at the time that that would happen.
Sukhbir Sidhub: It took a little while, but really the Half Life 2 Peggle Extreme edition really helped change people's minds about Peggle.
Jason Kapalka: I remember we were quite worried when we did the Half Life thing, because nobody really knew how these Half Life Orange Box buyers were going to respond to this Peggle thing. It was strange because of some of the comments we'd gotten afterwards. I clearly remember one guy had written, “This is the gayest game I have ever seen, yet I cannot stop playing it”.
Sukhbir Sidhub: The difference was, before Peggle Extreme came out, people were saying, “This is the gayest game we've ever seen,”, but they weren't saying “but this is awesome.” Afterwards they were saying, “This is the gayest game I've ever seen … but it's awesome!
Jason Kapalka: Somehow the association with Half Life gave hardcore gamers permission to say, “Oh, it's affiliated with Half Life, it's got to be cool, it's not gay!”
Jason Kapalka: That kind of paved the way for Plants vs Zombies as well, the idea that we could get away with something a little more surreal or silly, and kind of trust that people would get the joke. If you look at Peggle the wrong way, it looks like something that's been designed by a gang of idiots for their idea of a five year old. But it's not really pandering to five year olds. It's really just going for this surreal, zany look intentionally. We had to trust that people would get that.
PC Gamer: What was the Thor theme like?
Sukhbir Sidhub: I might have some pictures of it. It was pretty crap. We only did some explorations of it.
Jason Kapalka: It was very dark. Dark and dingy.
Sukhbir Sidhub: Yeah, it was dark and dingy with a lot of browns and dark colours.
Jason Kapalka: I think it was that Thor and his pet goat were travelling across Asgard or something, and the hammer was the shooter, or something like that?
Sukhbir Sidhub: Yeah. I really liked the name Thunderball for it, even before we had a theme, I thought it'd be kind of cool. Ultimately, we kept that name for a good chunk of the development, and at a certain point we said, “This doesn't feel like a game that's called Thunderball at all”. It was really tough. Then we picked Pego, P-E-G-O, and we were really happy with it, and it grew.
Jason Kapalka: And then, Pogo!
Sukhbir Sidhub: And then right at the end, a few weeks before we were going gold we hear that we can't use Pego because Pogo might complain. I think they did complain.
Jason Kapalka: I don't think they complained. We ran it past the trademark guys and the trademark guys said it could be a problem. Then, ironically, we rang Pogo up and asked if they would mind if we used it, and they said “We might”.
Sukhbir Sidhub: So then we had to change the name and that was really tough. In retrospect sounds like a great name, but at the time it was like “Peggle!? Ugh! That doesn't sound like Pego!”
Jason Kapalka: That's happened to a lot of games.
Sukhbir Sidhub: Pego sounds weird now.
Jason Kapalka: Plants vs. Zombies also had, I don't know if you heard this story on the name for that.
Sukhbir Sidhub: Oh boy.
Jason Kapalka: It started off called Plants vs Zombies.
Sukhbir Sidhub: It was a placeholder name. It felt like a placeholder name for everyone.
Jason Kapalka: Then its name changed. I can't remember who suggested it, but the name changed to Lawn of the Dead. And it was an awesome name. At some point though, someone decided to run it past the lawyers.
Sukhbir Sidhub: It always goes wrong when you run it by lawyers.
Jason Kapalka: I will say this for our lawyers in this case, the lawyers said, “You know, you're going to have trouble with the movie company that owns rights to Dawn of the Dead”, and we said, “But wait, it's a parody!” and they said “Yeah, maybe, but it's also commercial and making money and so you can have that argument, but you might be having that argument in court.” It would have sucked to have to go to court for it.
Sukhbir Sidhub: Everyone was really upset about that whole notion, so.
Jason Kapalka: George Fan even put together a video message of himself in zombie makeup to George Romero, begging him.
Sukhbir Sidhub: It's like, if the lawyers don't agree then maybe we can get George Romero to stand up.
Jason Kapalka: To intercede or something like that, because we thought, he let them do Shaun of the Dead, he's a cool guy. He wasn't cool about it.
Sukhbir Sidhub: We found some sort of agent there who knew Romero's agent, and passed it on through this chain of people who knew George Romero. And George Fan did this video, and it took him a long time to get it together, we spent a lot of time making this little video plea to George Romero and packaged it up, sent it, and we basically just heard back, “Not interested.” That was crushing.
Jason Kapalka: Though there was a point of justice, because just recently this year we heard from some publicity company that was representing George Romero's new zombie film Survival of the Dead, and they wanted to see if we could do some sort of cross promotion with that. At that point we had the pleasure of being able to say, “We think your brand might pollute our game, we're not interested”
Sukhbir Sidhub: I don't even know if George Romero ever actually saw it. The agent might have just seen it and said...
Jason Kapalka: It's entirely possible he didn't have anything to do with it.