Easy to Learn, Tough to Master
When asked to define casual games, the phrase easy to learn, tough to master generally comes to mind. In some ways it sums up the concept beautifully. It's such a universal truth that you'll find the phrase in the ad campaigns and mission statements of countless games and game companies in the casual games industry. It means these games are based on simple, universally understandable conventions. They combine a model of constant enticement and reward with an increasingly complicated puzzle or problem. The objective provides just the right amount of stimulation for people to enjoy. While this definition is at the heart of casual games, it can also be found at the heart of many games. A casual game is easy to learn and hard to master, but it is also something more.
Players access casual games using popular portals (Figure 1.3). Portals are online retail outlets and distribution centers. These often provide a sense of community for game players, allowing members to write reviews of their favorite games and providing a nonstop stream of new online and downloadable casual games.
Figure 1.3 Reflexive Arcade is one of several popular casual game portals.
© Reflexive Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.
The term casual is a description of the audience, not the games. A casual game shouldn't be nonimmersive or nonengaging. Casual game players can be as heavily involved in any given moment of game play as a hard-core gamer. The difference is largely that they probably wouldn't define themselves as gamers if you asked. They are looking for a game experience that does not require a significant investment. Ironically it doesn't mean they aren't going to make one.
Qualities of a Casual Game
Easy to learn, tough to master
Audience does not consider themselves gamers
Broad appeal and inoffensive content
Easily acquired, typically via Internet download
A casual game is easy to learn to play and it never makes the player feel threatened or inadequate. Another characteristic of a casual game is that it appeals to the target demographic: a forty-year-old woman with an interest in travel, pets, and gardening. She has disposable income and plays casual games quite regularly on the Internet. It's important to note that this audience is widely regarded as an expanding market, so it is likely that the demographics will continue to evolve over the next decade.
Casual games are benign and have a broad appeal. They feature subjects, characters, and gameplay that are never offensive. While they are clean enough for kids, they are not juvenile or childish. The subjects are not conflict-oriented (war games) or adult in nature. The games can be played by anyone and witnessed by anyone and are easily understood by everyone.
Finally, a casual game uses a customer-friendly, easy-to-acquire sales model. It isn't generally sold in stores. It's available online for free and then after a time asks the player to purchase a license in order to keep playing. The purchase process, handled through digital rights management (DRM) tools, is as simple and as reassuring as possible for the customer. This is critical because it introduces a fact about casual games that is often overlooked. They are impulse purchases, made because the player feels a need to keep playing that game (Figure 1.4).
Figure 1.4 A Boonty digital rights management/up-sell pop up.
© 2004 Boonty. All Rights Reserved.
Boonty is one of the largest casual games platforms in the world, operating in more than 25 countries. Since its launch in 2001, the company's customized end-to-end solutions have been implemented by major publishers, Internet portals, ISPs, mobile phone operators, advertisers, Internet communities, and PC manufacturers globally.
How many entertainment products can you think of that let you take them home and try them for an hour or two before you decide whether to buy them? The standard for top-10 hits in casual games is insanely high. It is not uncommon for dozens of new casual games to appear on the portals every week, so catching the attention of a large audience is very challenging. Ultimately it doesn't matter if an enormous number of people play the game, if very few of them actually pay to own the game. A developer could easily create a game that more than 100,000 people will play, but never earn a profit from the title. However, a developer can create a game that over a year could generate half a million dollars or more (just for the developer) and over its lifespan could net millions. This topic is discussed in Part 2 of this book, which deals with the market and the industry.
The term success is used to describe any game that makes a profit. The term hit is commonly used to describe a game that achieves substantial ubiquity and enjoys a long run at the top of ratings charts.