August 22, 2012

PopCap Games Cuts Staff, Office May Close

Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Zombies remain hot in comics, movies and in TV shows, but that wasn´t enough for Plants vs. Zombies maker PopCap Games, which this week laid off 50 employees at its Seattle office. The company, which also made BeJeweled, would likely hawk any jewels it has may instead look to close its Ireland Studio.

The layoffs account for about 10% of PopCap´s staff.

“Today´s news is something you expect periodically from a company in a fast-changing industry, but it sucks if you´re one of the people losing his or her job. These people are our friends and we don´t like doing this,” John Vechey, PopCap co-founder, wrote in a blog post.

According to game industry blog Joystiq, the layoffs included game directors and producers. According to Vechey the company is organizing its development team in response to the changing mobile game market.

“In the past year, we've seen a dramatic change in the way people play and pay for games. Free-to-play, social and mobile games have exploded in popularity. That happened fast. Surprisingly so,” added Vechey.

But was this something that Vechey and others should have seen coming? PopCap, which makes titles for Facebook, was acquired last year for $750 million by game industry giant Electronic Arts, as a way to compete against Zynga, the largest producer of Facebook games.

So was EA behind the cuts? Not according to Vechey, who further emphasized that the cuts could have been worse without EA behind the company. The decision to reorganize the company was reportedly a 100% decision made by PopCap with no pressure from EA.

PC Magazine reported on Wednesday that Vechey hoped some of the staff laid off at PopCap would be retrained and resassigned to other jobs with EA´s other studios.

And this isn´t exactly the end of the company by any means. It is as Vechey suggested a reorganizing. PopCap is in the process of expanding into the growing casual game markets in Japan and China, and recently announced a sequel to Plants vs. Zombies.

Nor is this news the only surprising turn of events in that aforementioned fast-changing industry. After securing numerous partnerships and deals, last Friday casual cloud-based game streaming service Online announced that it has sold all of its assets and formed a new company in order to avoid bankruptcy. That move resulted in layoffs of the entire staff, with approximately half reportedly being offered positions with the new company.

Meanwhile Zynga is grappling with its own issues. Earlier this month the company announced the departure of CEO John Schappert. This followed a reorganization that stripped the Chief Operating Officer of some of his responsibilities as the company looked to make money from mobile services. Zynga — much like Facebook — was an industry darling in the lead-up to its high-profile IPO, and has since seen share price fall.

As for PopCap it will likely end 2012 with a staff approximately the same size that it had when it launched in 2000. It had reportedly been aggressively hiring since the EA takeover last summer.

All this almost makes for a compelling idea for a video game — launch a startup and try to keep from going broke in the process.