Small Games

When I was a kid, one of my friends had a few disks of pirated Apple II games. (Well, he had a lot of disks. But I’m thinking of a particular few.) They each had half a dozen games or so on them–Choplifter and the like. The sort of thing that doesn’t take up much space on a 140kb disk. Each of these disks was labeled: “Small Games” A catchall term that distinguished them from such epics as Wizardry and Ultima 3.

I realized recently that these games were what we’d call casual games today. Simple, easy to pick up, and built around a single gameplay mechanic.

Of course, as people keep pointing out, “casual” games aren’t. Tetris casual? Windows Solitaire? When those first came out, people blew as much or more time on them than any “hardcore” game. Whoever holds the top score on Geometry Wars might be a lot of things, but “casual” probably isn’t one of them. And how much time have some of the lifelong gamers here been blowing on Uno on XBox Live?

I think I’m going to start calling these games “small games” again. It’s a nice name with no real connotations about the audience or quality. Not casual games, not simple ones, just…small.

I think that’s a reasonable differentiation, and I’m sure we’re all very happy you’ve straightened out your lexicon for us, but that said…

Casual identifies the audience, not the specific player.

Well, put it that way, and you could say there are no casual games, only casual gamers, who happen to prefer playing Damien’s “small” games. Likewise, there are no “hardcore” games, just “big” games which appeal more to the hardcore gamers than the small ones usually do. But fans of small games can be just as hardcore as fans of big games: e.g., there are casual chess players and serious / “hardcore” chess players. Likewise, small games are not necessarily any easier than big games to master, they just have streamlined mechanics: chess is many things, but “easy to master” ain’t one of them.

When you go to casual games conferences, you’ll inevitably hear a panel discussion or two about some (major) businesses hating the name “casual games”. There’s always someone who proposes other names. None of them ever work as well.

The most important traits of casual games are accessability, broad appeal, low price point, low time commitments, and generally small download sizes. So calling them “small games” only conveys one of their qualities, while I think “casual games” does a better job of giving the right overall impression.

and Bacon’s also right when he says:

… although ‘casual’ describes a lot about the games themselves, too.