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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

October 27, 2008 at 8:13 PM

“Bejeweled Twist” launches; giant “ka-ching” heard in Seattle

I just left a pretty amazing launch party, complete with acrobatic models in silver spacesuits and a mad scientist operating a steam-punk jewel contraption.


Of course it was PopCap’s launch party for “Bejeweled Twist,” the new version of its wildly successful “Bejeweled” franchise that helped establish the casual games industry centered in Seattle.

The mad scientist led an opening routine featuring aerial gymnasts performing in EMP’s SkyChurch auditorium. “Twist” ran on banks of laptops and a big screen where PopCap’s founders John Vechey, Brian Fiete and Jason Kapalka gave a quick retrospective before “launching” the game on the big screen.

Among the anecdotes they shared, eight years after starting the company (and four years after starting “Twist”): At first they hated the name “Bejeweled” because it came out about the same time as the goofy Brendan Fraser movie, “Bedazzled.”

They didn’t have credit cards in the early days because their credit was so bad; they had eviction notices instead, Vechey joked.

Later they built a cash register widget that would make a “ka-ching” sound every time someone bought one of their games.

Vechey recalled being at home watching a TV show where someone said, “You can’t just sit at home on your computer making money” when his PC, running with its volume turned up high, made a loud “ka-ching” sound.

“Twist” has huge shoes to fill, which won’t be easy now that people have so many great casual game options and less money to spend. “Bejeweled” has been downloaded more than 350 million times — including trials — and more than 25 million copies of the first two editions were sold since 2001.

But “Twist” is a fun, snappy and polished game that has that addictive, umami thing that just makes you want to keep clicking.

Maybe the appeal is in the twist motion. You rotate clusters of four jewels to align similar types into group of three or more, and a silvery wheel spins around the cluster you’ve chosen. The motion feels like rotating an iPod click wheel. It’s hypnotic to keep spinning and clicking that circle.

A downloadable version of the $19.99 game is available now on PopCap’s Web site. Distribution through major retailers and online game portals — including WildTangent, Steam, MSN Games and RealArcade — will begin Nov. 18.

PopCap is expecting big things: It believes consumers will spend $170 million on its various games, including “Twist,” this year, up from an estimated $10 million in 2003.

Good luck getting top scores on “Twist,” by the way.

Some of the PopCap testers have already scored more than 1 million points in “blitz” sessions lasting less than five minutes, according to Ty Roberts, an associate producer manning a demo station.



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