Gamasutra published an interview with James Gwetzman, PopCap’s Director of Business Development.
It goes through a few different topics, such as the history of the company and the amount of growth it experienced, but I think the most interesting part was the overview of the development process:
“Our path of development is extremely prototype-heavy,” said Gwertzman. “We’ll make half a dozen prototypes, and pick just one of those to be a hit casual game. And once we develop that one, it’s a very iterative process. It’s a sandbox model. We try different things out, and find out what’s fun. Only when we find out that the core mechanic is fun do we worry about the art, content, and all the other little details.”
“We really obsess over the core game mechanics. In a game like Bejeweled, hardcore developers look at that and might think it’s kind of…it’s very easy to kind of dismiss it, but we literally spent weeks on just the right way for the gems to fall when you make a match. In a game like that, it’s little details like that. How does it feel? Getting those little details right is what we prioritize. So when we’re designing a new game, we’ll spend months and months prototyping core mechanics.”
Casual games are perceived to be simple to create. People still talk about how Tetris could have been made in a day and made someone very rich. They slap their foreheads at missing the opportunity, but I think it is very easy to look back on games like Pac-man and Bejeweled and decide that they were incredibly simple to create.
What’s forgotten is that a game like Pac-man still took months to create the first time. The developers cut features, agonized over details, and tweaked until it was finished. You could implement a clone within a few weeks, but I’m sure that the same team could throw away what they made, start from scratch, and come up with the same game in a much quicker time frame, too.
The idea that it takes a lot of effort to make high-quality casual games might be surprising to a lot of people, but how often does a great game get made accidently?