As of yesterday, PopCap are now the proud owners of an experimental game label, called 4th & Battery. Named after the intersection on which their Washington HQ can be found, it's a place where they plan to put their more raw ideas. Which strikes me as a potentially splendid thing.
It's a place where they say their designers and developers can be more experimental, test out more strange or esoteric ideas. It's also somewhere where the studio will release games they're describing as "more mature". Perhaps they will use longer words?
“4th & Battery is a pressure valve intended to keep our heads from exploding,” is the rather lovely way it's put by Ed Allard, Executive Vice President of Studios. (You can tell when a company is rich when it starts having to make job titles that convoluted. He goes on to explain how PopCap is apparently better than God's dog, before explaining a bit more.
"But our standard game development process is therefore long and involved, and doesn’t really accommodate all of the creativity pumping through our collective veins. 4th & Battery gives us a way to quickly try really strange or marginal ideas, and to give our designers a safe area to hone their chops."
We're further warned to "expect weirdness", with the developer/publisher reveling in the chance to develop games without deadlines or even a planned market. It sounds to me like they finally got rich enough to be able to have the freedoms of an indie developer again. What a strange and circuitous route it is to rediscover that freedom.
And to prove it all the first game has been announced: Unpleasant Horse. Sadly, this peculiar sounding creation asking people to destroy birds and crash-land on nicer-looking horses is currently only planned for iOS. However, 4th & Battery is planned to release games for PC too. (And Facebook, of course, but importantly, distinct from planned PC output.)
There's a great post about it all on the 4th & B site, in which they celebrate the fun of a sandbox, and explain that a lot of what we'll see will be the peculiar prototypes that could never find their way to a fully fledged, family friendly, PopCap release. Ideas they love, and want to see live.
So let's hope for great things.