The Casuals are Coming

The more casual end of the player base who wants to do a bit of hack and slash, hang out a bit and do a quest or two is going to have a lot more high quality free options in the coming months and years.

You honestly think there will be free games that are able to match the breadth and depth of WoW? To the point that they will actually cut into WoW’s subscriber base? This would not surprise you?

Because the hardcore whiners were clamoring for a rhythm guitar game. I mean, a semi-open world shooter set in the aftermath of Chernobyl. I mean, a game where you shoot a ball at little dots and watch them pinko their way down the screen.

Oh wait. All of those things were innovations. And none of them were asked for by the hardcore whiners.

I think we already covered this, but for you city folk . . .

Chicken eggs do not hatch! They are not fertilized! They are just eggs!

The farmer fools the hen into making eggs by showing them a rooster. No rooster needed to make the eggs. No magic immaculate conception chicks growing in your store bought eggs. Kthanksbye.

No, I don’t think they will match the breadth and depth of WoW. But I think for certain segments, they will become a viable and attractive alternative to a game with a monthly subscription fee.

The trouble with this assertion is it is going to be impossible to actually prove or disprove, because the two business models lack a common metric to compare. I probably should have phrased it in terms of time spent instead of market share.

showi me the rooster!

Interesting analogy. I honestly wonder if extremely niche games might seem more palatable to publishers if the retail price point was 10 times that of their main stream cousins. Has no company ever tried that before?

It’s been tried.

So-called hardcore games are already about 3 times the cost of most casual games (going with a $60 vs. $20 comparison).

I still don’t see the problem though. A certain percentage of casual gamers are likely to try more detailed games once they have broken the gaming barrier to begin with. That should lead to MORE customers, not less. If you take the numbers of the hardcore systems from this generation (the 360 and PS3) vs. the numbers from last generation at the same point (basically just the PS2 and Xbox right?), aren’t they pretty similar?

Also, I really like some casual games. Peggle is awesome, and I like a lot of flash games.

If it’s meant in time spent and not market share, I submit that the trouble with the assertion is that it’s meaningless. If people are spending their time playing free games but still paying Blizzard $15 a month, I don’t see how anything noteworthy has changed.

It’s fuzzier than that, because when someone cancels their WoW account (or simply starts online gaming, but doesn’t play WoW) you can’t easily measure motivation. It doesn’t mean it isn’t there as a significant influencing factor, but it’s very difficult to account for numerically.

So, not meaningless, just not easy message board fodder :)

It should be noted that the “hardcore gamers” on QT3 are discerning in their choice of games in a way that is not typical of hardcore gamers at large.

As with any perceived fad, “casual” has somehow become a buzzword wantonly misused by both gamers and executives alike, as if it represents some new, mysterious evolutionary avenue for our beloved hobby. As anyone with a sensible grasp of gaming history can tell you, this is nonsense.

I have a sensible grasp of gaming history and I’ve worked for casual game companies. Casual games are very, very big revenue, but they are largely aimed to tap into markets that ‘AAA’ MMO, Console and PC titles don’t. It really isn’t an ‘evolutionary avenue for our beloved hobby,’ the real money in this is from a specific combination of small, simple games targeted at people who are easy to market to. The primary target demographic and moneymaker for casual games is much different than the male 18-34 demographic that Madden, Call of Duty and Bioshock are aimed at.

Casual games executives aren’t thinking about those people at all, but they know their target demographic very well: females aged 40-60, probably white, probably married, probably unemployed, probably live in the midwest, probably lower middle-class, probably homeowners, definitely have credit cards. They vote republican, they like Oprah and their first gaming experience was sitting at their computers all day playing Solitaire or Minesweeper. They are inept with computers. They still run Windows 98, tend to read spam, get PC viruses, and they are stupendously easy to advertise to. The secondary demographic is office workers who play quick games during lunch or breaks at work. If you are an executive who knows marketing and sales, this isn’t an opportunity to evolve an artistic medium, it’s a fucking gold mine.

If you are looking at Games-as-Medium, then this is a few sub-genres that happen to appeal to different people and can be monetized in various ways. It can be groundbreaking in terms of replayability (sort of a Tetris Effect), but there’s no point spending to develop graphics for people who are running old hardware and no point in pushing storytelling depth for people who aren’t going to play for more than a few minutes, or even if they are, the best way to get money out of them is to keep the games short and charge for play.

This isn’t a fad or an evolutionary shift, but it is as far from your interests as General Hospital is from Generation Kill. This is a separate market where Popcap is more important than Valve, where short and simple and pretty is better than dark and complex, and where the holy grail isn’t to make a game so good everyone upgrades their computer to buy it, but to make a service so profitable on a daily basis that satellite and cable companies beg to use your service as a backend to theirs.

With World of Warcraft being as cheap and affordable as it is, and Blizzard making even further effort to increase accessibility by lowering the costs, the grind and making it easier for friends to invite friends and reward them for it, it’s highly doubtful that those crappy MMORPGs are going to steal any kind of player base from World of Warcraft.

As it is, they’re just cannibalizing each other. Most people who play World of Warcraft either stick with it or swear off MMOs altogether. The only games that have any kind of potential to steal away the player base are big titles like WAR.

So the first thing Dan does in that editorial is attack anyone who disagrees with him as whining babies. As someone who doesn’t completely agree with him but understands how people could hold differing viewpoints without being idiots, I don’t find that terribly persuasive.

The fact of the matter is that it’s a lot of the same publishers making games for both the wide and narrow markets. With the wide market having larger potential audiences, lower development costs, and less risk, it’s going to become increasingly difficult for these publishers to justify greenlighting $50 million AAA blockbusters based on original IP when they could instead crank out a minigame collection for a fraction of the cost. Every dollar that gets spent on a narrow market product is one less dollar that publisher has to spend on safer mainstream bets.

And don’t expect the wide market hits to fund the narrow market risks, since publishers (especially publicly traded ones) are oblilgated to get the best return on their expenditures, which just means more mass appeal fare. I don’t think the casual boom is the end of the world by any means, but I’m not about to brand people as idiots just because they’re not certain how it’s going to play out.

Anyone who thinks that the wide market profits are going to fund the development of narrow market products is either mentally retarded or a total fanboy of the company, or both.

To cite some examples, when Interplay announced that it was making the casual ‘action-adventure’ games BG Dark Alliance and FOBOS, a lot of these guys figured that if the games did well, they’d put the money into funding the development of Baldur’s Gate 3 and Fallout 3. When BGDA did reasonably well, the money went straight into the development of BGDA2, and the budget for BG3 was actually scaled back, and the artists who were working on Icewind Dale 2 and BG3 were all moved over to the development of BGDA2, thus damning one game to lacklustre polish and another to straight to oblivion.

Did the “fanboys” learn from that? No. They held hopes that FOBOS’ success would result in the creation of Fallout 3, urging everyone to buy the piece of shit. Of course, by then most people had wizened up to the situation and so the game only ended up selling 24,000 copies – abysmal sales for a PS2 title. Fallout 3 (Van Buren) was predictably got fucked by the whole event.

Those are but a few examples of casual games fucking over the hardcore titles.

So the first thing Dan does in that editorial is attack anyone who disagrees with him as whining babies.

It is EuroGamer.

Those are but a few examples of casual games fucking over the hardcore titles.

Actually it’s just a couple of examples, and they’re both from Interplay, a company now legendary for being run into the ground by a single determined idiot(Herve Caen). Perhaps you have more compelling anecdotes?

Majestic 2 got canceled because the developers found it more profitable to make business-education training games.

The way I see it, casual games will grow increasingly popular and we’ll see fewer “core” games for awhile. Then the casual gamers who are under 40 will demand something more nuanced and we’ll see a return to making the big blockbusters. I see the future of the industry happening in cycles.

Frankly, I’m more disgusted by the people who haphazardly dismiss really great casual games than I am by the sheer number of casual games available. After all, there are a lot of great casual games hitting Wii almost weekly that a lot of “smart” hardcore gamers never give a chance (and thus never get to enjoy).

I’ve been playing games pretty steadily for 20 years now. I’ve played them across all sorts of genres and I’ve built up huge credit card debt supporting my habit. I’m hardcore. And yet, I still enjoy totally casual games like Order Up! and Emergency Mayhem and Little League World Series Baseball 2008 and other similar fare. I also enjoy stuff like Puzzle Quest.

The only time we should really worry about casual gaming’s popularity is the time when the worst games sell the best. So far, contrary to popular opinion among many of the hardcore camps, that hasn’t been the situation. People aren’t being tricked into buying bad games, not en masse. They’re buying the games they themselves enjoy. Sometime in the future, maybe they’ll enjoy the next BioShock or whatever.

Well, sometimes you have to look at Japan’s PC market, which isn’t big, and realize how the only games that sell on the PC are casual games. I’d classify dating sims are casual games, too. The hardcore games that sell in Japan only go to the consoles.

I’d really hate to see that happen to the PC market elsewhere in the world. It’s not going to happen any time soon, especially with Blizzard and Valve’s dedication to the platform, but hardcore games sometimes threaten teeter over to the console side of the industry because of piracy and lack of profit. I recall a time, before World of Warcraft, when VU wanted Blizzard to start making console games exclusively, beginning with Ghost.

I don’t really know what the deal was back then, but I’m glad to see that things have changed.