Plants vs. Zombies is a highly successful tower defense game from the highly acclaimed casual game developer, PopCap. If you haven’t heard of it before, the aim of the game is to kill attacking creepy zombies walking across your lawn with an array of amazing plants. Some of the plants are pea shooters that spit green balls at the undead, hot tamales that burn everything in their path, and Venus zombie traps. By planting various seeds in strategic locations around your lawn you may be able to hold off the onslaught and keep them from entering your house and eating your brain.

There is a web, PC, iPad, iPhone, Xbox, PS3 and recently released Nintendo DS version. PvZ was also awarded the 13th position of GameSpy’s Top 25 PC Games of the 2000s.The Seattle-based casual games developer also behind the wildly popular “Bejeweled”, which has sold more than 50 million copies since it launched in 2001 and is aiming to go public in the second half of 2011.

It must be every geeks dream to develop and play games all day! So what is it really like to work at one of the most successful game development companies in the world? I found out by interviewing Roy Liu, one of the two developers of PvZ. Roy is originally from Shanghai but now based in PopCap’s Dublin office.

How did you get into game development?

I’ve been in love with game development since college. Apart from fighting with roommates on StarCraft all night, I attended several game develop contests. When I finished my master in mobile computing and networking, I joined PopCap Dublin as the first 12 studio members and I have been working there ever since.

What do you do as a game developer?

I eat pizza, drink soda, sleep, and most importantly, I play video games … HAHA. Well, I actually do a bit more than that :-). Currently, I’m one of the two developers of Plants vs. Zombies on iPhone and iPad. With the rest of the team, we constantly discuss new, fresh and fun ideas; update each other on game development progress and challenges. We work closely as a team and regularly sync with designer and project managers, we would ask artists for help and of course we would make sure to blame QA! Only joking J. It’s a good experience for me to work in a small team, so as to keep the concept and ideas straight, as well as a simple friendly team-working atmosphere.

What is the process of the game development cycle?

In PopCap, we have a tradition of taking time to work into details. Making the game most fun is the core of PopCap’s unbeatable advantage. So everyone in the team, in the office, or even my mom could offer suggestions on how to make it fun, and if our designer thinks as well it could be a good point, then we start another development iteration, followed by server rounds of QA testing. It’s not really the deadline but the fun that we, as a team, are fighting for.

Why do you think PvZ is so popular?

As I mentioned earlier, making the game great games is the essence of PopCap’s spirit. As for Plants vs. Zombies, the zombie characters are a bit creepy but mostly very cute and lovely, including crazy Dave. In addition, it really requires some strategic thinking with just a simple click away. By introducing new plants and achievements, the game attracts players’ attention with expectation and self-satisfaction, and finally lures them into the endless fun (laugh).

After developing it, did you get addicted to it?

Of course. Actually, there could be so much possibility to extent the game given the current game content. From time to time, we are addict to popping up at designers or manager’s, trying to sell our new ideas.

Were you annoyed or flattered by Kingdowin’s release of Vegetables vs. Zombies?

I haven’t played the game myself. But if someone is imitating or even extending the game, that means the original game itself is very popular.

What are the main reasons for PopCap’s success over other game developers?

Fun, fun, and fun. PopCap never ships a project as a product but as a game. It’s all about being fun. We take our time to make great games and that is our main concern.

Do you think gaming is becoming more and more mobile and less console based?

It depends on the game, of course. For casual games, personally I think mobile casual games could have advantages over console in certain perspectives. Given the trend of focus economy, I believe in the time that people are willing to spend on these devices considering they are maybe the only things people are going be carrying around 24/7. Furthermore, devices like iDevices or Android phones ensures the hardware power of good effects and performance, which brings the console-alike experience into your pocket. Of course, it doesn’t follow that all the games are suitable for mobile.  For certain games, consoles are the ultimate solution.

What are the main differences and similarities between gaming in China and America/Europe?

Well, I’ve only been working in the mobile game industry. So regarding mobile games, I think both Chinese and America/Europe game players love to play fun games like Plants vs. Zombies and Bejeweled. I personally believe there are a lot of talented Chinese mobile game developers; maybe it’s just a matter of time before they get used to or find a proper model while western mobile games are in its robust stage with a lot of games and new ideas mushrooming here and there.  As far as social gaming, China has great social networks which is a strength. PopCap actually partnered with social networking giant RenRen last summer.

What advice do you have for game developers in China to create world-wide successful games?

I would say don’t focus simply on releasing quick but take your time to make good and fun games. As long as it’s a creative, innovative and funny game, people would love it. Last but not the least, play more PopCap games… HAHA.

Jason Lim

Jason is an Australian born Chinese living in Beijing, specializing in entrepreneurship, start-ups and the investment eco-system in China, especially in the tech and social area.

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