PopCap Games Unveils New Label for Building Fast, Cheap and "Unpleasant" Games

With the popularity of new platforms like Facebook and smartphones, videogames can often be developed more quickly and, at times, more cheaply. In addition, they can be developed with less attention to detail because they can be updated over-the-air as needed.

But shifting a more established game company to that style of development–without making an acquisition–can be difficult.

PopCap Games, which is preparing for an IPO, is giving it a shot by forming an internal experimental label called 4th & Battery. The label will give the company’s designers and developers “free rein to create smaller, simpler, and sometimes edgier games without the typical constraints of an established global games publisher.”

The label is named after the intersection in downtown Seattle where PopCap’s headquarters is located. Its first game, announced today, is Unpleasant Horse, coming free to Apple’s iPhone later this month.

The game definitely represents a shift from the company’s casual game style that’s approachable for the whole family. Previous hits include such titles as Bejeweled and Plants Vs. Zombies.

Unpleasant Horse can only be described as a vegetarian’s nightmare.

In the game, a winged horse flies through the air. The player’s goal is to direct the horse to destroy small birds and land on other innocent horses on the ground, which are then pushed into a meat grinder underground.

In a press release, Ed Allard, PopCap’s EVP of Studios, explained: “The PopCap brand has become closely associated with ultra-high quality, polish and attention to detail–which is a great thing. But our standard game development process is therefore long and involved, and doesn’t really accommodate all of the creativity pumping through our collective veins.”

4th & Battery will give it the creative freedom to “try really strange or marginal ideas,” he said. Jason Kapalka, PopCap’s co-founder and chief creative officer, added: “Expect weirdness.”

The new label is expected to produce several titles a year for games on the PC to Facebook and iPhone.

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