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07/15/2007 - 07/21/2007

Casual Games Poised to Explode (in a Sort of Nonviolent Way)

July 19, 2007


I had cheezeburger, and heartily recommend it. Almost immediately on the heels of the big E3 show, the "Casual Connect" summit brought together the entire casual games wing of the industry to Seattle, Washington. This year I packed my bags and made the trip, the first time I've ever attended a show specifically dedicated to the oft-neglected casual gaming scene. And I wasn't the only one; attendance more than doubled from last year. At E3, all of the big publishers spent big chunks of their press conferences talking about casual games initiatives. Something BIG is happening here.

Why is everyone in the industry so jazzed about casual games? I think it's helpful to look at Japan over the last five years. Not long ago the Japanese game market was having a crisis: the hardcore segment had stopped growing. Everyone who was into complicated RPGs or big action games was already buying them, and not a lot of new kids are growing up in Japan to keep the market growing. The industry was stuck. Nintendo saw this coming and acted on it before anyone else: Nintendo's DS system with its stylus was well-suited to attracting non-gamers, and titles like Nintendogs and Brain Age blew the market wide open. Older people and women, especially, started playing games for the first time.

The Nintendo Wii, of course, continues this trend in a big way. And Nintendo continues to enjoy success, growing the market by leaps and bounds. Everyone else is getting in on the act, as well -- Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade, for instance, has a huge array of different titles, and casual standby Uno is one of the most popular games on the service.

None of this has escaped the attention of the casual games industry, or the wary eyes of the big publishers. Word on the street has it that the U.S. audience of hardcore gamers is getting tapped out -- and the high cost of games a low level of innovation isn't helping the situation. But the casual gaming space is poised to BOOM. From $2 Billion in revenues in 2008 to an estimated $13 Billion per year by 2012. For real.

So developers and publishers in the casual games space are rightfully excited. And you should be to. Because casual games are built with smaller budgets and can be way more innovative that hardcore games. (Yeah, a couple of years ago everyone just made Bejeweled clones, and you still see a lot of copying, but nowadays there is a lot more creativity.) Moreover, the lines are all getting blurred ... as someone pointed out at the Casual Connect summit, Wii Sports and Guitar Hero are basically casual games.

I came away from E3 and the Casual Connect summit with the distinct impression that the next couple of big leaps forward for the gaming industry are going to come out of the casual gaming space. I doubt we'll consider the results a 'casual' game -- the games of the next decade will defy categories. We'll just call them "Fun."

      -Fargo
Posted by at 10:49 AM PDT
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