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Monday, June 26, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM



Success of "Bejeweled" leaves PopCap bedazzled

What: PopCap Games, based in Seattle

Who: John Vechey, 27, co-founder

What it does: Develops casual online games played on a personal computer, though lately these games are moving into numerous other platforms

Employees: 72 in three offices in Seattle, San Francisco and Ireland

Well-known title: Ever hear of "Bejeweled"? That's PopCap's best-selling game. It was also the first game the company created after it was founded in 2000 by Vechey, Brian Fiete and Jason Kapalka. "Bejeweled" has been installed on more than 50 million cellphones in North America and it's moving to other devices as well.

Bewitching: "The day that your refrigerator can play a game, 'Bejeweled' will be there," Vechey said. "Hopefully that day will never come, because that's kind of creepy."

Big money business: PopCap has so far focused on developing games and is just starting to get into the distribution side of the business. It created only two games last year. Still, its revenue has increased from $10 million in 2003 to $50 million last year.

How it started: The three founders decided the companies creating Web-based games were doing a poor job and that they could do it better. But the online-advertising market fell through, and they were making only about $1,500 a month on an online-only version of "Bejeweled." With nothing to lose, they decided to sell downloadable versions of the game customers can play offline; to their surprise, they made $30,000 in the first month.

How it took off: The response was so strong, they had to shut a computer program that sounded ka-ching when a sale happened. Vechey says that's how the casual-game industry was born.

And since then? PopCap has created about 25 games, with a goal of producing 12 a year. It plans to expand international operations to Asia.

Seattle a leader: Vechey is a keynote speaker at Casuality, an industry conference in Seattle this week. Seattle is the center of this business, he said, with more companies in casual gaming than anywhere else. Vechey said he plans to talk about the opportunities in developing games for multiple platforms.

Trivia: You can buy a "Bejeweled"-themed scratch lottery ticket at convenience stores. Vechey won $10 on the first one he played. "That pretty much is the pinnacle of awesomeness for me," he said, "that we have a 'Bejeweled' scratch ticket."

— Kim Peterson

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company




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