I always hated camp as a kid. First, it just seemed like an excuse for parents to get rid of the kids for a week. Second, the food sucked. Third, lanyards. So when told that PopCap was hosting something called “PopCamp,” my first thought was to try to quickly contract measles, so I wouldn’t have to go. As it turns out, however, PopCamp is actually something quite cool. My fears were entirely unfounded.
About three or four times a year, everyone in the company (and that means everyone, not just those who regularly make games for a living) is given a chance to participate in this week-long event, in which employees are encouraged to form small teams and think up new game ideas or technologies and then spend a week creating a prototype of this idea. All of the prototypes are submitted to the PopCamp “camp counselors” (a group of senior members of PopCap) who then judge all the submissions.
The reasons for holding these PopCamps is manifold. For one, they can be prove to be a good spark for generating new game ideas. We know we’ve made some good games over the years, but we have no intention of ever stopping or slowing down. Coming up with new ideas takes not just inspiration and creativity, but time as well. With everyone at PopCap always knee-deep in their current projects, some of which have very long development cycles, it’s hard to create the kind of space where folks can freely think about new ideas. PopCamp is way to allow that creative space to open up. For employees, it’s a way to let loose with their creativity, to try new things, to learn and grow as individuals without the pressure or expectation of their day-to-day project getting in the way. There’s no concern given that the prototypes made during PopCamp must somehow make their way into the real world. That’s not the point. The point is to get the creative energy flowing. And, who knows? Even if a particular prototype doesn’t turn into a real game, an idea or two from that prototype might, or may influence another game down the line. What PopCap wants is for everyone who works here to feel that they can contribute, that new ideas are a good thing, and that, unlike at some other game studios, one doesn’t have to quit PopCap to see their own ideas turned into games. Employees get to team up and experiment and play for a week, and the company gets energized staffers and possibly even some cool new ideas to develop. Everyone wins!
And, hey, even those of us too lazy or untalented to participate (hi!) still win, as we actually get to check out and play some of the prototypes, which is exactly what happened in the Seattle office here one awesome afternoon last week. An open invite was sent to everyone in the company, and from 12 to 3 that afternoon, PopCamp teams were set up at tables, where they demo’d their games for all of us in attendance.
The cool thing was that these weren’t just video games. We also saw a dice game and a card game (both great), as well as games on a variety of platforms, some of them based on PopCap games you know, others brand new ideas. To encourage us all to spend time with the games, the PopCamp counselors devised a meta-game for those of us to play: We were each given a card to fill out with stickers, and to earn the stickers, you had to play at least six of the games on display. Once you filled out your card, it was put in a drawing for an iPad 2. (I am sorry to report that your humble correspondent here did not win this iPad 2, for which I am filled with rage and bitterness.)
Obviously, and sadly, I can’t really show or tell you anything about those prototypes, because, ya know, these could become real games someday. So I realize this is all a bit of a tease. What I hope you take away from this, along with joining me in the outrage that I did not personally win that iPad 2, is a sense of the creativity and freedom that PopCappers have here. You may get a lot of joy out of playing our games. (We certainly hope you do!) But that’s matched by the joy we have at getting to work here. We’re lucky, and we know it.