EA calls the shots on PopCap exit

Tuesday 25 September 2012 12.20
PopCap to close Dublin office with loss of 96 jobs
PopCap to close Dublin office with loss of 96 jobs

In August I wrote about how PopCap's decision to put its Dublin office under review showed that the games industry is not impervious to the effects of the downturn. If only it were so simple. The announcement that the Dublin office would close, leading to the loss of 96 jobs, was foreshadowed on Twitter by associate producer for mobile JP Vaughan last Friday and later confirmed by PR Stu Taylor who tweeted: "The emerald dream is over. To the pub, Batman." It’s a small mercy that no staff member seems to have found out about their redundancy in such a glib manner.

At time of writing one notable absentee from the story is PopCap co-founder John Vechey. In August Vechey composed a blog post explaining the need for PopCap to shed jobs and reorganise in line with trends in casual gaming, refuting outright any interference from its parent company, EA. That official word came not from Vechey but from EA's PR department discounts. Vechey's asserted that change was not being implemented by the new owners but that it represented a sound business decision ensuring PopCap's long-term sustainability. We're awaiting a statement from Vechey on PopCap's official blog but the most recent entries have been a caption competition and a piece on the best game music of all time.

Further evidence that PopCap has lost control of its business plan came from EA Labels president Frank Gibeau, who publicly forewarned of the need to trim off 'duplicate roles' post-acquisition.

"Typically at EA what we do when we acquire a company is we make sure that we go slow initially and really understand the culture of the company. And then we look for whether there’s opportunities to integrate the companies - and then we accelerate," he told Bloomberg. "So with PopCap, what we found is that there are some areas inside PopCap that were duplicative what EA was doing; a lot of central resources, legal, business affairs those types of things so we accelerated the integration there."

Gibeau's influence here extends beyond managing administrative. In an interview given for the brochure of the 2012 Cloud Gaming USA Conference and Expo, Gibeau said EA's focus would focus on the development its Origin digital retail platform and would be focusing more on mobile and social gaming. Also on his wish list are the rollout of micro-transactions, hybrid-cloud models and the eschewing of titles without an online component. It's telling that Gibeau has openly admitted to not greenlighting any single-player games. Gibeau's vision is contemporary, succinct and addresses the problems PopCap had struggled to deal with. Change was inevitable and brutal.

Rest assured, EA has said it is committed to Europe, and it still has plenty of jobs to fill at its 'customer experience centre' in Galway, which will eventually employ 400 people and there are jobs across its European network - a far bigger contributor to the jobs market, but not in the areas Ireland needs to develop. As in the film industry the best creative talent has to find work outside Ireland.

Brand PopCap will go on but its narrative has gone from 'casual games studio done good' to yet another 'faustian pact'.

Ireland's games sector needs big ideas, not call centres. And now.

Niall Kitson is editor of TechCentral.ie