#PlayAs1: Paula Wong, Plants vs. Zombies

In this week’s final installment of our #PlayAs1 series, we hear from PopCap’s Paula Wong who tells us what it was like to work on and launch one of the most successful (and addicting) tower defense games.

Plants vs. Zombies was launched in May 2009 by a small but very passionate marketing group at PopCap - mind you, the game itself was created by a team of just four individuals. Just a few years ago, before social, mobile and freemium games hit the industry, we at PopCap were in the business of crafting fun games in the $20 range for PC/Mac. For those of us in my group, PopCap’s Creative Lab, this meant creating a retail package and a marketing presence on PopCap.com and partner sites to entice players to download the game.

Internally called “Lawn of the Dead,” the first peeks at the game made it an immediate hit in Creative Lab. We simply fell in love with Zombie, Peashooter and Sunflower. Raucous laughter filled the group daily, inspiring us to do as much as we could to present the game in a way that would speak to the quirkiness and delight we found in PvZ. We planted clues in the source code on PopCap.com, and graphical hints like a little swaying sunflower on the footer along the way, culminating in a full-on insane takeover of the site on April Fools’ Day to announce the game.

One of my memorable career “moments” was seeing the video, “Zombies on Your Lawn,” for the first time. The segment was meant to be part of the game only, as a reward. It was unbelievably magical and brilliant with an enchanting song by Laura Shigihara. Ben Rotholtz, our head of marketing, convinced the studio team to let us use it to market the game.

For the launch, we sourced a papier-mâché artist to create a single zombie head, which video art director Glenn Mitsui and copy chief Curtis Kuhn used in “Temp Worker” videos; this single zombie costume ultimately spawned the zombie dance troupes at E3 and PAX. We created “Brain Ooze” drinks, sunflower seed packets and magical bean plants that when grown, sprouted a leaf that read “zombie.”

I came to PopCap in 2006 to start the Creative Lab, PopCap’s in-house creative group. My background was graphic design and management, not games. There were about 75 people here then, and it was a bit shocking to find out that I was one of about five women. I’m happy to say we now have a balanced gender mix in the group, near 50/50, of some of the best and brightest.

Is it possible for women to have a successful career in the gaming industry? The answer is yes! The creative team supporting the marketing of PvZ had strong involvement from a number of talented women. Amy Hevron, art director, has led the way on many a retail package (the latest with an accompanying YETI figurine!) that has kept PvZ popular on shelves for the past four years. Senior designer Leigh Beach is busy creating new patterns and iconography for PvZ merchandise. They are both working on the designs for the Comic-Con booth which will feature the PvZ franchise this year. Senior designer Emi Matsumoto was part of the original PopCap.com team that created the site takeover; she’s recently created a series of Zombie greeting cards for the PvZ Facebook fan page. Rachael Ellison-Taylor, our senior account manager, deftly manages our PvZ workload. And copy editor Julie Jenkins continues to make sure our Zombie brand never loses its way. It’s great to work with so many talented women who are passionate about this brand.

PvZ is on its way to becoming a huge entertainment brand. I’m extremely proud of the work that our team has done to launch and nurture PvZ along the way. Because we could all use a little butter on our heads!

 
 

Why do you think it's important to have a gender balance on game teams? Share your thoughts on Twitter with the hashtag #PlayAs1 for our Diversity & Inclusion team to read. The first 5 people to tell us their stories will receive a copy of Plants vs. Zombies, and everyone who answers with the hashtag by March 29 will be entered to win the grand prize of an EA Swag Pack!
 
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