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June 23, 2008 at 5:13 PM

PopCap’s Gwertzman heading to Shanghai to lead Asia push

If you think the slog over Lake Washington is a bear, ask James Gwertzman about his commute over the Pacific.

Gwertzman spent the past six months flying back and forth to Asia, setting up PopCap’s new Asia-Pacific hub in Shanghai. It will get easier in July when Gwertzman moves there as regional vice president, a promotion that PopCap’s announcing on Tuesday.

“We have the ambition of being the No. 1 developer-publisher of casual games worldwide. You just can’t do that without being in Asia,” he said.

PopCap is claiming to be the first Western casual games company to open a full-fledged operation in the region with its 15-person development center. It’s also opening one-person business development offices in Korea and Singapore.

Gwertzman, a 35-year-old New York City native, worked in Asia before, at Microsoft’s Tokyo headquarters in 1998.

After five years with Microsoft, he left to start a game company called Escape Factory that was initially focused on console games. It closed after a big project with Vivendi fell through, and Gwertzman started a casual game studio called Sprout Games, developer of the hit “Feeding Frenzy.” He came to PopCap when it acquired Sprout in 2005.

I wondered if PopCap will start moving development efforts from Seattle to China, seeking lower costs. Gwertzman said the Asia office could take on some work now done here, but it will “absolutely not” reduce the size of the company’s U.S. offices.

“By far the No. 1 reason why we’re going there is to focus on the Asian market – we’re not going there to save money for North America,” he said.

Another sort of offshoring is also likely to result: The export of Asian-style game business models into PopCap’s other markets.

Gwertzman said the company chose to locate the office in Shanghai because it has great game designers and people familiar with these business models, who can help adapt PopCap’s games to online and multiplayer formats.

A lot of casual games in Asia “superfically resemble PopCap games in terms of game play,” he explained.

“We’re turning around and being inspired by them in terms of business models,” he said.

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