Over the past ten years, it’s become increasingly common for both the gaming press and the industry to describe video games in terms of “casual” and “core” audiences. If you want to convince a publisher to fund your studio’s game, you have to tell them that it’s either targeted at the big-spending core gamer who loves his Halo or the casual gamer, he who loves Angry Birds. PopCap Games is one of the studios responsible for this division becoming an industry standard. Its puzzle game Bejeweled is a classic and casual gamer staple. Based on job postings within the studio, though, PopCap is turning away from its roots.
PopCap Games and parent company Electronic Arts posted an advertisement for a “Generalist” software engineer with the studio at the beginning of November. Necessary skills required include experience with existing game engines, the ability to write in C++ coding language, and experience designing games for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Since PopCap’s specialty is in PC and mobile games, that last requirement is surprising enough. More surprising is the listing’s description of the project that engineer will work on, namely a AAA title.
That specific language is telling. PopCap makes quality games, as evidenced by the popularity and success of not just Bejeweled but games like Plants vs. Zombies as well. Those games tend not to command the budgets and resources of others Electronic Arts describes as AAA titles. A “triple-A” Electronic Arts game is a Mass Effect 3, not Plants vs. Zombies.
In August, the columnist Superannuation noted that PopCap was hiring a 3D animator for a new team who would be working on blending “gameplay storytelling, and character movement” while also helping with “prototype creation and the directing of actors and stuntmen during motion capture session.” It was also looking for a multiplayer designer with experience “on a shipped shooter or action title” and “designing levels where the player has a lot of freedom to manipulate the gamplay space (destruction, construction, modification.)”
These are not the sorts of duties for staff working on a small casual game.
What could PopCap be making? An unnamed source told Kotaku at the time that PopCap was making a multiplayer shooter based on Plants vs. Zombies.