While most major video game publishers continue to treat mobile and social gaming with caution, Electronic Arts is doubling down.
EA will buy Popcap Games, creator of the popular Bejeweled and Plants vs. Zombies, for $650 million plus $100 million in common stock. That’s the second-largest sum that EA has ever spent on an acquisition. The largest was a $775 purchase of a holding company that owned Bioware and the now-defunct Pandemic Studios.
It’s hard to say exactly what EA plans to do with Popcap, but we’ll likely see its hit games expand to new platforms (many PopCap games aren’t available on Android) at a faster pace. EA CEO John Riccitiello also told All Things Digital that his company wants to take on Zynga, developer of Farmville, in social gaming.
EA is no newcomer to mobile and casual games. Among the company’s previous acquisitions are Playfish, creator of Pet Society and Restaurant City, and Chillingo, publisher of Angry Birds and other iOS titles. EA also hasn’t been shy about bringing its console franchises to mobile devices, including Dead Space, Need for Speed, Madden and Mirror’s Edge.
The strategy is paying off. Digital games have exceeded revenue goals for EA even as the publisher faces ups and downs in the home console business. With the purchase of Popcap, EA hopes to turn its digital games into a $1 billion business. I don’t see any other major console publishers making similar claims. At a time when mobile and social gaming is becoming hugely important, betting big on one of the most popular developers seems like a smart move.