Gaming the Industry: Defining, Pitching, and Monetizing Casual Games at Casual Connect

What exactly is “casual” gaming? My impression was that it’s a term to describe short video games that are usually played online with a minimum of software downloads and time commitment—things like solitaire and various brainteaser games. As opposed to “core” gaming, which spans the role-playing, virtual-world, and shoot-em-up market segments, traditionally played on consoles. Although both have huge markets, the conventional wisdom was that the two types of games don’t overlap much in terms of their players.

But times are changing, said Paul Thelen, founder and chief strategy officer of Seattle-based Big Fish Games, in a keynote talk yesterday morning at the Casual Connect gaming conference in downtown Seattle. Thelen presented survey results that showed, for instance, that heavy-action core gamers (typically boys and young men) are also likely to play casual games that involve puzzles, trivia, and hidden-object searches (usually thought of as the older female demographic). “Continuing to categorize a gamer as only a core or casual player is limiting,” he said.

That point was driven home in the next keynote by Trip Hawkins, founder and CEO of Digital Chocolate (and founder of gaming giant Electronic Arts). Hawkins, an Xconomist, spoke about the massive potential for games to reach not just core or casual gamers, but also everyone else—what he calls “omni” gamers. That includes people who don’t own consoles or play games online, but who might play Guitar Hero or Wii Sports at a friend’s house (like me).

I caught up with Hawkins later in the day to follow up on a few points. Right now, he said, each segment of the market might have 50 to 100 million gamers worldwide. “But we need to address a new market segment, the next billion gamers…the ones who don’t think of themselves as gamers.” And to do that, he added, games need to work in Web browsers instead of requiring downloads, and they need to work across the full spectrum of computing devices. “You’ve got to make a more agile form of software that will work on different platforms.”

As a step towards that vision, Hawkins mentioned that Digital Chocolate, which he called “the Pixar of mobile games,” has sold some 40 million downloads for mobile phones, for $5 to $10 each, and is making inroads on social-networking sites like Facebook.

It’s definitely a new world out there. Distinctions between casual and core gaming seem to matter less and less, while the ability to push games onto phones and social websites is becoming increasingly crucial to business. And, perhaps, to society as a whole. Hawkins argues strongly for the mental-health benefits of games and the increased … Next Page »

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