Giordano Contestabile is the Senior Director of Mobile Product and Business Strategy at PopCap Games. He oversees all aspects of Bejeweled related to publishing, business development, game operations and brand development, as well as having responsibility over defining business and product strategy for mobile and aligning and integrating it with the broader company strategy.
What made you passionate about video games?
I received my first computer (a Commodore 16) when I was four, and was immediately captivated by games, even though at the time they were extremely simple, devoid of any kind of sophisticated graphics and often required typing the source code from a magazine to run the actual game. Following that, I graduated to a C64 and then to an Amiga 500, before making the jump to PC gaming and playing with a long list of consoles on the side. So, overall, I can say that I’ve been into video games nearly all my life!
What attracted me to gaming has been the opportunity for escapism and the endless stream of inventive, beguiling and wonderful worlds it allows us to immerse ourselves in.
How were you introduced into the industry? Were there any difficulties?
I actually started in the industry as a game journalist in my native Italy, and to be honest, there wasn’t any business consideration behind that: I just loved games, and wanted to play and write about them. From there, I moved to the business side of things and worked for a long time in mobile, before joining PopCap in 2007. I wouldn’t say that there were specific difficulties in entering the industry, but back then, gaming was a much different space, less competitive and smaller in scope.
How has PopCap Games affected the industry?
I like to think that over the years PopCap showed to the industry that you can make games that aren’t AAA and aren’t aimed to a core audience, but are still inventive and delightful, and where passion for games and for entertaining people shine in every detail. I think the success of early PopCap games such as Bejeweled has also opened the way to what today is a very large casual gaming market, demonstrating the everyone can be a gamer, not only the traditional core gaming audience.
What is a secret ingredient for Bejeweled’s success?
It’s difficult to pinpoint a single ingredient, but I’d say that the reasons for the enduring success of Bejeweled include the fact that the game is very simple to pick up, but needs perseverance to master, the possibility to unwind by playing for any amount of time, from a few minutes to hours, and then pick up where you left, and the availability on a wide range of platforms. Most recently, Bejeweled Blitz has introduced competitive social mechanics to Bejeweled, and that has been a big hit with our players, even bringing in a younger audience compared to our traditional fan base.
Can you tell us about the strategies involved in Bejeweled’s operation? What challenges did you face?
Bejeweled Blitz is a live cross-platform service operated both on Facebook and iOS, and in that sense, operations are as important as development to guarantee the success of the game. And I can say that there’s never a dull day around here! Concerns include platform and technology stability, balance between key metrics such as retention, monetization and engagement and parallel development of Facebook and mobile products. That’s said, the most important challenge is always making the game fun for players.
As I always say: fun is the most effective way to improve your metrics; if players are having fun they will play, stay and pay.
How has game design been affected by the changing market?
The rise of connected platforms and of the freemium model have strongly influenced game design, highlighting the importance of designing games that aren’t just able to attract players, but to retain them and monetize them. Additionally, design doesn’t stop when the game ships, but it involves designing, developing and launching new features for years afterwards: for example, the Bejeweled Blitz team is much larger now than when the game was released, and new features are constantly added to the game.
How can cross-platforms benefit a game?
Cross-platform gaming has the potential to completely change the gaming industry, but you’ll need to attend my session to discover how! Jokes apart, there are nearly unlimited opportunities in cross-platform gaming but in the short term, I believe the most interesting ones come from the interaction of web social and mobile platforms: having a game connected through both ensures that your players are always able to engage in the game, no matter where they are, and are able to play with or against their friends, both key drivers of the rapid expansion of the gaming population.
Have you noticed changes in your audience? What has changed since the first Bejeweled game was launched?
Bejeweled audience has always been really wide, with people from all ages and all walks of life playing the game over the years. That said, while the core Bejeweled audience traditionally is predominantly female and in the “35 to 100” age range, Bejeweled Blitz has brought a younger audience into the game, and a more even distribution between male and female. My opinion is that this is due to the competitive nature of the game, and to the demographics of the platforms on which the game is available.
What new ideas can we expect from PopCap Games?
Now, that would be telling. While I can’t go into much details, I can say that PopCap is committed to provide the best possible experiences to its audience, and that we’re working on both existing and new franchises. Also, all our games going forward will be managed as ongoing services, and will be delivered on the connected platforms where our players like to play. Cross-platform is also going to become increasingly important for us.