Where EA PopCap’s Lucky Gem actually comes from

When EA PopCap launched Lucky Gem Casino earlier this month, it looked like the developer had finally “sold out” eight months after its $1.3 billion acquisition in an attempt to enter the rapidly-expanding casino genre on Facebook. PopCap’s Dennis Ryan, EVP of worldwide publishing, tells us that’s not the case.

“Lucky Gem is [meant] to compete in the casino-slots genre,” Ryan said in a meeting at the Game Developers Conference this week. “But we’ve been in the casino genre for years. Bejeweled and Zuma are popular in the U.K. where we license them to [online and land-based casino] partners.”

The idea for the Facebook game originated in PopCap’s Dublin studio, Ryan explains. Several of the themed slots rooms, like the Bejeweled one pictured below, borrow features from the real-gambling implementations of Bejeweled. Ryan says the Facebook version both looks and sounds the same, though the actual slots mechanics are adjusted.

Even if Lucky Gem is not exactly a fast follow on 2011 slots hit Slotomania, it’s clear that PopCap struggles with packaging the game within its core franchises. People that come to PopCap on Facebook through Bejeweled Blitz or Zuma Blitz probably wouldn’t think a slots game is out-of-character — but players that know the developer through its downloadable games titles like Plants vs. Zombies or Peggle might. This was certainly the case for our reviewer, Pete Davison, who reviewed both Lucky Gem Casino and PopCap’s newly-launched Solitaire Blitz within the last week. He gave the former a “Skip” rating and the latter a “Play” rating.

“The loyal fanbase is an important part of our audience,” Ryan says, when we pointed out Davison’s dislike of Lucky Gem and contrasting like of Solitaire Blitz. “But it’s not the only part of our audience. We’re interested in casino style games in general. Its connection [to our brand] comes from our mission to entertain the masses through games.”