EA went ahead and acquired Popcap, a move that has been rumored for weeks. This is a major development, and points to a broader gamble by EA.
As I noted last month in my E3 impressions, EA was the only exhibitor of note at E3 showcasing iPad games side by side with consoles and portables. In part, this ties back to how EA has operated for years. Of all the major game companies, EA tackles the market the most like a major movie studio. For EA, it's not about the games, but about the franchises.
Did a game do well last summer? Well you can be assured that teams are working on the sequel. But all game companies do that, right? Well, with EA titles, you can expect the sequel to come out on every possible game platform. And not just ports of games -- in many cases, entirely new games are created for singular platforms, just to ensure complete coverage.
Take, for instance the "Mass Effect" series. With the first installment, the development company, BioWare, created the title as an Xbox360 exclusive. After BioWare was bought up by EA, that console exclusivity ended willy-nilly. They even released an iOS game, "Mass Effect Galaxy." While the developers may be working to create a video game trilogy on the scale of "Star Wars," it's clear EA is thinking like post-"Return of the Jedi" Lucas and focusing on the proverbial box-office (I just hope "Mass Effect 3" doesn't have Ewoks).
Surely with this kind of dedication, EA reigns supreme in the proliferation and strength of its franchises, right? No. There was one other company that put even EA to shame: Popcap. I've joked in the past that should toasters ever be sold with screens, in short order you'd be able to play "Bejeweled" on them. Popcap has managed to put their franchises onto and into such a diverse array of platforms it is truly staggering. Of note, they even released a mod for "World of Warcraft" that let you play "Bejeweled" in game, and two expansion packs ago Blizzard included a minigame homage to "Plants vs Zombies".
The acquisition of Popcap goes hand-in-hand with EA's comprehensive and broad approach to gaming. It's clear that, as mobile and social gaming grows, EA intends for the audience to overlap with their existing core audiences. When that time comes, there will be a market aligned with their core franchises on these other platforms. At the same time, it's likely that evolving technology in the living room will enable casual gaming to cross over as well.
This was a smart move across the board, and I wish EA and the Popcap team luck. It will be exciting to see how EA's strategy plays out in the next two years.