PopCap lures Xbox exec

Greg Canessa joins casual gamemaker as vice president, video game platforms; goal is to move PopCap titles to consoles, handheld platforms.

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Greg Canessa
Greg Canessa

Casual game developer PopCap Games is broadening its horizons and moving full force into the console and handheld marketplace. To facilitate the move, the Seattle-based company has hired Xbox Live Arcade executive Greg Canessa as its new vice president of video game platforms.

"The entrepreneurial nature of Greg's work at Microsoft, combined with his more than 15 years of industry experience, will be instrumental to our ongoing platform expansion strategy," Dennis Ryan, PopCap's executive vice president of worldwide business development said in a statement.

Canessa was general manager of Xbox Live Arcade and is a seven-year veteran of the game divisions at Microsoft. Canessa also had stints at Vivendi Games and Apple.

While PopCap's biggest successes have been on the PC, PopCap titles have been represented on Xbox Live since 2004, and they include Heavy Weapon, Bejeweled 2, and Zuma. Canessa's hire is designed to accelerate the migration of PopCap games to the Xbox 360 and other platforms.

PopCap, founded in 2000, made its reputation on the popular casual game, Bejeweled. The company says the game has sold more than 10 million units since its launch.

GameSpot spoke with Canessa to find out what it took to get him to PopCap.

GameSpot: You had tremendous success with XBL Arcade. Why leave with so much upside yet to be tapped?

Greg Canessa: Xbox Live Arcade has been an amazing ride and is now a permanent, lasting success in the video game marketplace. There is a tremendous amount of upside with the business model, and developers are now beginning to hit their stride from a creative and production standpoint. The team is amazing. The business model has even been validated by our competitors. And frankly, the opportunity Microsoft provided me--the ability to craft a vision, define a market, incubate a business, and run it at a large company--has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and one for which I will always be grateful.

That being said, XBLA is now established and the business is out of its infancy. While I love Microsoft and Xbox 360, I'm an entrepreneur at heart and I love creating and defining new businesses. I'm also a huge gamer, and getting back into the game development space is important to me. And finally, I miss the nimbleness and agility that a small company can offer.

GS: Why PopCap?

GC: Of all the companies out there, PopCap gets it like no other when it comes to making awesome, broad-appeal games. They are the recognized leader in the casual games space, they truly understand how to build great content and define lasting franchises, and yet they are nimble and agile as a small company can be.

GS: Microsoft already works with PopCap.

GC: They have been close partners and friends for many years, and I deeply respect what they have done in the casual games space, both on the PC and on Xbox Live Arcade. So the opportunity to join their leadership team and help them leverage their amazing games and franchises on different platforms, including XBLA, handhelds, and other devices, frankly is an opportunity that I could not pass up. Honestly, I think we are looking at what could be the next Blizzard or EA in the game industry with PopCap, and I want to be a part of that.

GS: What are your primary goals at PopCap? Specifically, where does the PopCap model need bolstering?

GC: My primary role at PopCap will be to manage their video game platforms business. It's a broad scope role which includes vision, strategy, execution, marketing, and other roles.

What PopCap has always done superwell is make awesome broad-appeal games. These games have done extremely well on the PC as downloads and recently on retail shelves, and PopCap has just scratched the surface of what's possible on platforms like Xbox Live Arcade, on iPod, and so on.

One of the things that Xbox Live Arcade has taught me is how huge the market is for broad-appeal games on video game consoles, particularly among core gamers. If you broaden that out to include handhelds like Nintendo DS, the market is massive--just look at the top-selling games on that platform, and most of them could be classified as broad-appeal titles. And the market is growing as more people buy these devices, gaming becomes more accepted culturally, and more people play games on the various devices they carry with them every day.

GS: So, specifically, what will you be doing?

GC: My group will take PopCap's games and franchises--and possibly new ones we may define or publish in the future--and customize them for various consoles, handhelds and devices. Having just witnessed the success of the Xbox Live Arcade business, I am more convinced than ever that there is a huge financial and strategic opportunity here for a company with amazing IP and games like PopCap to become leading content providers on these platforms. That's what I'm going to help them grow and define--and have an absolute blast doing, I might add.

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