The rise and rise of casual games
Have you ever engaged in a round of Sudoku online? How about “Bookworm”? Or “Peggle”?
Do you stop by Pogo.com for a quick game of “Word Whomp”? Or perhaps MSN for some “Luxor”?
Do you find yourself spending more time playing “Geometry Wars” on your Xbox 360 than “Halo 3”? Are you still trying to improve your bowling game in “Wii Sports” after all these months?
If so, you’re one of the millions of people who make up one of the largest and fastest-growing segments of the video game industry: the casual games market.
Casual games range from card to trivia to puzzle titles, but they all are marked by similar features. They almost all can be played in short bursts, are easy to learn and offer a level of challenge that can prove to be addictive.
“I do it for relaxation,” said 60-year-old Dianne Sheaffer of Middletown, a registered nurse who plays “Bejeweled” and “Freecell” on her computer. “I don’t play them every night, because I’m too tired, but I probably spend about eight hours a week.”
She cites the “addictive factor” as what makes it fun. “You try and try and try and three hours have passed,” she said.
Casual games appeal to a much wider demographic than traditional PC or console-based video games.
“We are inclusive, not exclusive. Casual games appeal to everyone,” said Jessica Tams, managing director of the Casual Games Association. “Everyone plays casual games, even the hard-core gamers.”
“You don’t need a manual. You can jump in and in 15 seconds you can get it. It’s very broad in its appeal,” said Garth Chouteau, spokesman for PopCap, developer of such popular games as “Bookworm Adventures” and “Peggle.” “They’re games that don’t make great demands on your time.”
It’s that broad appeal that accounts for the games’ growing popularity. Approximately 60 million casual game downloads occur each month, according to the CGA, and by 2008 the industry is expected to reach $690 million with a worldwide revenue of more than $1.5 billion.
Worldwide, more than 150 million people play casual games online, considerably more than those who own traditional video game consoles.
“We’re seeing a rise in interest in casual games because a lot of folks who grew up on Nintendo and Sega are now working adults, they may have families, and there just isn’t as much time as we used to have to play really involved games” said Bryan Trussel, director of content and platforms for Xbox Live. “So casual games have filled that void.”
Perhaps the most interesting thing about casual games is that older women such as Sheaffer make up a sizable chunk of the market, a demographic that hard-core publishers have been either uninterested in or unable to court.
According to Beatrice Spaine, a vice president at the casual games site Pogo, more than 55 percent of the site’s players are women over the age of 35. Considering that the site has more than 1.5 million subscribers and more than 15 million people playing its games online — almost twice the number of people playing World of Warcraft — that’s not an insignificant percentage.
“Would your mother play ‘Halo’? Probably not,” Tams said. “That mind set does not appeal to women.”
Also, Tams notes, most women today have less free time then men, having the responsibility of work and primary caregiver. For that reason, it’s not terribly surprising that an online round of “Poppit” might hold more appeal than a 40-hour investment in “Final Fantasy XII.”
“Casual games aren’t training wheels for more core games,” Spaine said. “While you may see many of our players being passionate about their scores and their games — we don’t expect a mom who loves to play Scrabble on the weekends to pick up a controller and play ‘Madden’.”
Most casual games can be found online at sites such as Pogo, MSN, Yahoo or PopCap, where visitors can take a “try before you buy” approach to the game, allowing users to demo the game for free online and then pay for and download a more full-featured version if they like it.
Part of the huge spike of interest in casual games is due to the increasing availability of broadband networks, making it easier for people to play games online.
Another reason for the sudden increased notice is the arrival of the Nintendo Wii.
Nintendo’s little wireless console was designed to appeal to the non-hard-core crowd, and its success, as well as the success of the company’s handheld DS console, have gotten quite a bit of attention.
“The recent popularity of the Nintendo Wii and DS has put a big spotlight on the casual games industry,” Spaine said. “Attention like this will open up the world of casual gaming to more people.”
But Nintendo isn’t the only console maker interested in courting the casual games market. Sony and Microsoft have made active efforts in that direction by offering downloadable games such as “Flow” and “Uno” via their respective consoles, the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360.
“We’re seeing more and more members of the family playing on the Xbox. They like the simple, fun games that are available to them now,” Trussel said. “You’ll also see core gamers enjoying a few rounds of ‘Uno’ while taking a break between sessions of ‘Gears of War.’ ”
Traditional software publishers such as Midway and Majesco are following suit by offering titles such as “Touchmaster” and “Cooking Mama.”
The true future of casual games, however, might lie with mobile phones and other portable devices such as Blackberrys and pocket PCs.
“Mobile is potentially a very fertile market,” Chouteau said. “It’s not designed for game play per se, but it can be done.”
While we’re waiting, anyone up for a quick round of “Cake Mania?”
Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007
Labels: video games