GDC Online Keynote - John Vechey founder of PopCap Games

The GDC Online Keynote speech was presented by John Vechey, a hyper-successful college dropout who founded PopCap games with his three friends. Vechey's backstory is really cool, and if you like success stories you can read it here. For those of you who are familiar with the business world, the notes from this keynote may seem rather obvious. That said, I think it is always interesting to hear from someone who has been very successful.

Vechey's presentation focused on growing PopCap after 2005, a point in time where they were offered around 70 million to sell the company. The story starts immediately after turning down the offer, and it focuses on how they took PopCap, a studio with 20 employees, to a studio with 400 working in collaboration with Electronic Arts.

Vechey offered a series of key points that he thought were important to the success of the company post 2005. I'll lay out his advice below. For anyone interested in starting their own company and growing it. This is useful advice.

The 2005 offer forced PopCap to reconsider how they were going to make it on their own. They realized that they were just a small developer and didn't have the business structure in place to continue to publish games on their own without changing their business model. In addition, this was a time when games and business models were changing. PopCap had to figure out how to navigate this space.

In order to compete as a developer/publisher PopCap began expanding business operations. They moved from having 1 of their 20 employees focusing on the business aspects of the company (HR, Marketing, Finance, Law), to having about 40% of the company working in this role. Doing this made certain that they would find the talent that was required to make the transition successfully.

PopCap made two strategic acquisitions to aid them in their business:

First, they acquired Sprout Games, which would aid them in the console market.

Second, they purchased ZipZapGames, a social games developer out of San Francisco.

These acquisitions were not simply IP grabs. They brought PopCap talent that allowed them to expand their services into new markets. Vechey identified a few key things tied to the corporate culture of PopCap that made these acquisitions successful. Here they are:

Creating Focused teams

Using the talent from their two acquisitions PopCap created focused teams for console development and social games development. They built walls - walled gardens - around these groups to insulate those in the company who were comfortable with change, from those who were not. Most were not. As the business models used for games changed, they started to rip down the walls they constructed. PopCap was fortunate that the VPs that placed in the lead roles for teams were willing to step down and share ideas with the rest of the company. For instance, when the social games team was dissolved , PopCap moved the company as a whole to a social games business model.


  • One of the founders of SpoutGames, Ed Allard, started a group focusing on creating console games for PopCap. He did this by creating a leading a “Console” team.


  • John David, a manager from ZipZapGames started what was known as the social studio. This studio focused on social games. Only a few people moved over to this studio as most were uncomfortable with making the change.

Diversify Skill Sets

In both transitions new skills had to be learned. PopCap started by creating walled gardens and insulating the company from change, but it became necessary to diffuse skills into the company. Sometimes they could cultivate this talent and skills internally, but sometimes it made more sense to acquire talent.


  • Console and mobile development, highly increased UI needs, need for producers


  • Service developers, IT, monetiziation designers, metrics and analytics.

Acquire New Information

Good design does not come from good metrics, but metrics are a good tool for design. Having up-to-date analytics is important in all aspects of business.


  • Introduced monthly revenue forecasting and changed the way that the business operated.


  • Introduced social gaming analytics - gameplay analytics, monetization, user metrics.

New Technology Foundation

For PopCap to be successful they had to develop in new technologies and the developers had to learn how to couple those technologies into their existing work style.


  • New technologies required for console development: localization, multiplatform compiling, and a shared code base.


  • New technologies required for social development: scalable shared services, flash clients, and metrics integration.

Baby Steps, Baby

PopCap is conservative by nature. However, when they act, they act boldly. It is important to think carefully, but if you make the call do do something, then do without hesitation and do it right.

Always Transitioning

Companies are always transitioning. This happens through iterative design, iterative strategies, organizational changes, and experimental product development. PopCap is always getting better at being a developer.

What is the next Transition

The next transition is working with EA. This transition is not just about money. It is about building a long lasting legacy, creating great games, and partnering with a winner. It is an important step because it allows PopCap to leverage the experience of many other development teams and EA knows how to work at a very large scale.

GDC Online Keynote - John Vechey founder of PopCap Games by Travis Ross, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

One Response to “GDC Online Keynote - John Vechey founder of PopCap Games”

  1. Jackie says:

    Thank you for your reporting! This is so helpful!^^


  1. PopCap创始人介绍公司2005年后的发展模式 | 游戏邦 - [...] the experience of many other development teams and EA knows how to work at a very large scale. (Source: …

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