James Gwertzman, General Manager at PopCap Games Asia, didn’t consider entering the industry until college. After debating between theatre and computer science, Gwertzman went to work at Microsoft, but quit after five years in order to pursue a more creative position. Along with partner Ed Allard (now head of global studios for PopCap), they created a new studio.
Escape Factory, the partners’ first studio, was shut down three years after its creation. However, Gwertzman felt it was a valuable experience, admitting that they learned a lot. “Some of the lessons that were seared into us included the importance of ‘hire slow, fire-fast,’ the power of a strong vision and team alignment, the need to focus on the things that really matter and ignore everything else , that marketing and PR really do matter, and about always having a plan B,” said Gwertzman. They were able to apply these lessons to Sprout Games, Gwertzman informed us. Sprout Games created Feeding Frenzy, the second most popular casual game of 2004.
His career eventually led him to PopCap Games. “Going to work at PopCap was like being given the keys to Dad’s Ferrari,” said Gwertzman. He is particularly excited in his current position. However, there were some difficulties in setting up PopCap Asia, but he took it in stride. “For sure, there have been many obstacles along the way to get to the level of relative success we’re enjoying today, but that’s the whole definition of business, isn’t it? A never-ending series of obstacles to be overcome in the pursuit of a greater vision,” said Gwertzman.
There were a few things done to make it a success.
One of the best things we did was take our time-we spent nearly two years researching the market before we finally opened our office, and thanks to that diligence, we came up with a very solid strategy that hasn’t had to change in over four years of operation.
Bringing the PopCap culture was also a good strategy, though Gwertzman admitted that, at first, they didn’t bring enough of it. He explained that PopCap runs differently than typical Chinese management, but the team was not confident enough to push that point. “Later, we realized that as a foreign company in China, we don’t have a lot of competitive advantages unless we’re willing to do things very differently than local companies and sticking to our core values, such as open feedback, is one of those things we can do differently,” said Gwertzman. As PopCap Games became firmly established in Asia, Gwertzman was put in a position to clearly see the current Chinese video game market.
Gwertzman believes that the large market in China will continue to grow and is constantly changing. “Some of the biggest trends now include a rapid shift toward web and mobile (as in the rest of the industry) and rapidly increasing expectations for quality and creativity on behalf of players,” said Gwertzman. A major difference between China and other markets is the way to success. He noticed that all the successful games were freemium, but that wasn’t the only concept the games had in common. “But even in a freemium game, players here simply will not pay for content, and the sort of fun that they will pay for is different than the sort of fun we charge for in the US—it’s far more oriented toward competing against other players,” said Gwertzman. This difference in playing habits alters the market.
With all the changes in the market, Gwertzman feels excited about the challenge. “Things are changing faster than ever before, and the successful companies are the ones who truly internalize that and can change fast enough to keep up,” said Gwertzman. He told us to expect more great games and a broader definition of just what is casual entertainment. “For example, in China, some of our fastest selling products are Plants vs. Zombies storybooks and t-shirts,” said Gwertzman. “Designing products like those, and figuring out how they interact with our more traditional games, is one of the more interesting things we’re looking at right now, especially in Asia.”