Alice dev signs PopCap deal

Earlier this year, American McGee told Joystiq that his studio Spicy Horse planned to switch to developing free-to-play online games following the launch of Alice: Madness Returns. Now, McGee has revealed a little more of those plans to Gamasutra.

Spicy Horse has secured $3 million in funding, McGee revealed, which will fund a two-year plan to develop and release five new games. McGee expects to finish a game "every six months or so." Spicy Horse's focus is "definitely going to be about free-to-play online multiplayer games," he explained.

"The reason I originally came to China is that I wanted to get into that new model--I wanted to get away from console game production and retail, disc-based sales," he said, describing Alice: Madness Returns as a "beautiful distraction."


Spicy Horse isn't only creating its own games, though. Working with PopCap Shanghai, the studio is developing a 3D online version of one of PopCap's classic casual games games. For now it's a mystery which game has been selected from PopCap's catalogue, which includes Peggle, Bejewelled, Plants vs. Zombies, Bookworm Adventures.

McGee explained that the PopCap project is "a perfect example of the kind of games we're going to be working on." Launching first in Asia, it'll be free-to-play, multiplayer game supported by microtransactions.

PopCap has produced social versions of several of its games for social networking sites, but in plain, boring, stodgy old 2D.

"The sense is that while a lot of social games have built their empires on 2D, there will be a moment where the genre has to shift into 3D, and we want to start that process now," McGee told Gamasutra.

Decent, usable, GPU-accelerated 3D is on the way to a browser near you with tech codenamed Molehill for Adobe's Flash Player, the plugin powering many online and social games. While proper 3D browser games are already possible with plugins such as Unity, they don't have nearly the reach of Flash and so go mostly overlooked. Plus 2D games are typically simpler and cheaper to make, of course.

Spicy Horse recently restructured to prepare for this new model, going from 75 employees to around 55. "It has not been terribly painful," McGee said, "it's been a good transformation, and it feels like a much more efficient organization."

Alice: Madness Returns is due to be released for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on June 14. After that, who knows what exactly we'll be seeing from Spicy Horse and when.