PopCap Games powers up in China

Updated: 2011-07-04 10:29

By He Wei and Chen Limin (China Daily)

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Game-maker sees big scope for growth in Chinese market

SHANGHAI - With the increasing interest shown by Internet users in games, PopCap Games Inc, a United States-based game developer and publisher famed for its popular game Plants versus Zombies (PvZ), sees a rosy future in China.

The company said it is full-heartedly dedicated to making innovative games and preserving this as its core value, in an interview with China Daily.

After almost two years of preparation, PopCap made headway by launching its blockbuster game PvZ on the country's largest social networking site (SNS),, in June.

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"We realized we had to diversify our sources of income in China, so based on our previous experience of cooperating with Facebook, we made the move to launch the first social version of PvZ globally," said James Gwertzman, PopCap's vice-president for Asia-Pacific.

He said it is crucial to maintain a close relationship with the SNS, "as most domestic sites have less spontaneous viral growth and depend heavily on marketing and promotion within the sites".

By latching on to the SNS boom, PopCap quickly gained a solid foothold in China. Although the online version of PvZ is still in its beta phase, feedback is unanimously positive, Gwertzman said.

PopCap Games powers up in China

Co-founder of PopCap Games John Vechey in the company's Seattle headquarters. PopCap's game Plants vs Zombies is very popular among Chinese netizens. [Photo/China Daily] 

However, he denied recent rumors of an acquisition by a secretive buyer for $1 billion, far exceeding the company's $100 to $150 milllion revenue.

"We do try to explore partnerships on game development and marketing through various channels, but we have nothing to reveal at this stage about the purported merger deal," said Leo Liu, country manager of PopCap (China).

"It is not the first time these rumors have come up, and we believe it won't be the last one," said Gwertzman.

Electronic Arts Inc, Tencent Holdings Ltd and other large-scale game operators are purportedly on the list as possible future owners, according to various sources, but PopCap has "no official comment" on this, aside from mentioning its wide range of existing cooperation with leading gaming companies both home and abroad.

Established a decade ago, PopCap impressed worldwide players with its games, such as the Bejeweled series, the Zuma series, and PvZ.

PvZ involves a homeowner growing plants that defend him from a horde of zombies attacking his house.

The company entered the Chinese market in 2008 by establishing its Asian regional headquarters in Shanghai. It has launched different games in China since then.

Implanting the game into an SNS is only one aspect of the company's ambition. To accrue a greater share of the game market, PopCap also preyed upon the global iPhone fever.

"The mobile gaming market is huge, but it never really took off until the iPhone arrived," Gwertzman said, adding that it provided a great platform for the company.

Only two weeks after the launch of the Chinese version of PvZ on the App Store, PopCap saw phenomenal growth, he said.

China has now become the second largest market after the US in terms of iPhone app download volume, according to app store application analytics company Distimo. As the world's largest Internet market with an Internet population of 457 million last year, it has attracted an increasing number of overseas game companies.

Rovio Mobile Ltd, the Finnish developer of hit game Angry Birds, for example, will establish its first overseas office in China as early as this summer, Peter Vesterbacka, head of the company, told reporters in late April when attending a conference in Beijing. Vesterbacka said he expects China to become its second largest market after North America.

Last year, Zynga, developer of famous Facebook game FarmVille, also acquired Chinese social-gaming company XPD Media to tap into the China market.

Unlike hardcore gamers who actively search for games, PopCap believes novices should be given easy access to the game, "and that is why we need to develop various platforms, on iPhones, iPad, Android-system phones, et cetera. We no longer concentrate solely on PC downloads," Gwertzman said.

PopCap also has a merchandising deal with Meters Bonwe, a domestic clothing brand, through which it sells PvZ-themed T-shirts. Sales are brisk, Gwertzman said.

These pioneering moves in China are likely to be duplicated in its global strategy, according to Gwertzman. But developing a really great product will be the linchpin for success.

Many say PvZ's attraction lies in the fact that it is "reflective of people's daily lives".


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