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January 2, 2014 at 2:36 PM

PopCap execs leaving, co-founder taking over

PopCap’s chief executive and chief game designer are leaving the company, two years after the company was sold to Electronic Arts in one of the largest buyouts of a private Seattle tech company.

PopCap Chief Executive Dave Roberts with his dog, Noni, at PopCap’s offices in 2011. Photo by Alan Berner, Times staff photographer.

Chief Executive Dave Roberts said he’s leaving Jan. 10, ending his nine-year run at the phenomenally successful Seattle-based game company. Also leaving is co-founder and chief creative officer Jason Kapalka.

More than 1 billion people have played PopCap hits such as “Bejeweled” since the company was founded in 2000, a breakout that helped establish Seattle as the center of the casual-games business before the industry shifted to mobile and social games. As PopCap followed suit and found success on mobile platforms, EA bought it for $650 million in cash, $100 million in stock and up to $550 million more based on future performance.

PopCap has continued to produce high-profile games since the acquisition, including “Plants vs Zombies 2″ and “Peggle 2.” But as part of the larger company, it also had to cut employees and close a Vancouver, B.C., studio last spring when EA was cutting costs.

Roberts, a veteran of Aldus and multimedia startup Diamar Interactive, joined PopCap in 2005 and grew the company to 500 employees at the time of its sale.

“It was a great run,” Roberts said from his home on Orcas Island, where he’ll be spending more time in 2014.

“PopCap’s a great company – we had a great outcome for our shareholders and employees,” Roberts continued. “I’m pretty proud of what we accomplished.

The last remaining co-founder, John Vechey, will assume leadership of the studio. Vechey had wanted to run the place for some time but he had to compete against other EA candidates for the position, Roberts said.

“EA made him work for it,” Roberts said.

Kapalka will continue to consult with the company. He has worked remotely from British Columbia, where he can now spend more time with his family and hanging out in a tavern he owns, The Storm Crow in Vancouver.

Roberts, 52, said he may return to the business “if I find something great” but “PopCap kind of spoiled me.”

The remaining co-founder, Brian Fiete, left the company several years ago.

The changes were announced internally last month and reported earlier today by VentureBeat.

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