One of the most respected and well know names in casual gaming, Greg Canessa is calling it a day as Vice President of Video Game Platforms with PopCap. Prior to his current position, Canessa was the man in charge who launched a thousand ships with the business model he rolled out for Microsoft’s XBLA service. He left this position and joined PopCap in February of 2007, and is now moving on again – this time to the 800-pound gorilla in the room, aka Blizzard.
At this point, I think we’re pretty justified in letting the wild speculation run free. Granted, Blizzard has been showing more and more interest in casual gaming over the past few months, with not only PopCap’s Bejeweled showing up on gamers’ radar’s back in September, but just a few weeks ago, Blizzard also tossed PopCap’s Peggle into the World of Warcraft mini-games selection. Three guesses, the first two don’t count on who was spearheading this project?
So what’s really the dilly Blizz? While Kotaku broke the news, Joystiq raises some very interesting points, and questions whether or not Canessa has nabbed one of the open positions Blizzard is currently advertising in the “Unannounced” section, or perhaps the elusive “Next-Gen MMO” category? According to Joystiq’s inside source, Canessa will be working on an “unannounced project in the online space”.
Another point to keep in mind here is that Blizzard’s COO Paul Sams has repeatedly made statements about the company’s interest in starting up an entirely new franchise. Could Canessa’s appointment be the first signal in Blizzard’s interest in starting up a casual gaming platform? Maybe browser based gaming? Maybe social networking based play? iPhone/mobile gaming? Again, the speculation doors have been flung wide open by Blizzard’s highest profile move in this direction to date.
If Blizzard has in fact brought in Canessa for the purpose of fleshing out a casual games division, does this mean that they’re also interested in having a look at microtransactions? While the producer of the #1 game worldwide certainly doesn’t need any more money, they might be foolish to not at least visit and review the concept. With relative newcomer (in relation to Blizzard) casual game publisher Zynga reportedly pulling down nine figure revenues from microtransactions, just have a think for a moment what Blizzard and their mighty army of employees could tackle?
I’m quite certain Canessa’s departure is a blow for PopCap, but that’s not to say they don’t have a thriving business going as it is, and I’ll be interested to see where they take things from here. On the flipside, PopCap now has a former high-level executive inside the mighty Blizzard citadel. More PopCap casual titles to be implemented within WoW? Plants vs. Orcs? Zombies vs. Night Elves? Let’s hold fire and wait and see.