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The Rise of Casual Games

The New York Times reports on the trend towards smaller, more accessible, more casual games:

While many developers in the multibillion-dollar video game industry seek to extend its appeal, profile and profits with bolder, flashier and ever more engrossing games -- some so difficult that learning curves outlast players -- a different sort of video game is quietly asserting itself into the mainstream.

Do not expect thunderous six-speaker surround sound. Forget about hair triggers, menacing artificial intelligence and fully immersive 3-D environments. This is a tamer universe of games with names like Snowball Fight, Bejeweled, Tumble Bees and Bookworm Deluxe...

At Yahoo Games, the leading online game site, Nielsen/NetRatings reports more than 8.5 million visitors each month. Daniel Hart, the site's general manager, said that its visitors spend more than 5.5 billion minutes a month playing its casual games -- an average of more than 20 minutes a day per user.

"Casual gamers represent a substantial part of the overall game audience if you include every possible game outlet and genre," said Jay Horowitz, an analyst with Jupiter Research who follows the video game industry. "In terms of audience, 70 percent of the online community play casual games."

Mr. Horowitz was quick to point out that even playing solitaire, a video game included in Microsoft's Windows operating system, running on millions of computers worldwide, qualified as playing a casual video game.

But he and other video game experts say the surge in casual gaming is about much more. Rising costs and production times for sophisticated games for hard-core players have helped give companies like Gameloft, WildTangent and Hexacto incentives to produce more and better casual games. So have improved wireless services and handsets, advanced gaming software formats, and firmer pricing structures for the sale and delivery of games online. And as those already drawn to games grow older and have busier lives, they are looking for less time-consuming diversions.

Dave Madden, executive vice president for sales and marketing at WildTangent, calls the phenomenon "fast-food gaming."

"You pop in, play and pop out," Mr. Madden said.

A successful casual game can be produced in a few months for as little as $40,000, said Wade Tinney, a founding partner of Large Animal, a casual-game developer based in Manhattan. A premier video game for hard-core console players can easily cost $5 million to $10 million to develop and take two years or longer to complete...

Along the way, the availability of casual games on cellphones and hand-helds is spawning a diverse group of players, including women and older adults who would be unlikely to play video games any other way.

"These are games created for people that weren't sitting down for hours to play games," said Mr. Tinney of Large Animal. "They're taking a break from something they're doing and play for a few minutes." In contrast to the audience for hard-core games, he said, "women play these games as much or more than men do." ...

"The growth of this market and the people paying for these games last year has been dramatic," said Andrew Wright, general manager of RealOne Arcade, a major casual-gaming site that provides games for cellphones and hand-held organizers but focuses mainly on Internet-delivered games for PC's. The average age of its players is 40, Mr. Wright said.

Mr. Wright estimates that there are at least 40 million casual-game players online alone, with the potential for far higher numbers as better games are developed and more consumers turn to high-speed home Internet connections.

This article (read the original for more detail on wireless gaming) resonated with me. As a 40-year-old former game designer (Tom Clancy SSN, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six), I have to say that I don't find most modern games to be so appealing. There's a fast twitch reflex (for playing first-person shooters) and a massive multitasking ability (for playing real-time strategy games) that I think most people have to acquire while growing up if they're going to be competitive. I played Atari 2600 games as a teenager, but not as a younger child, and besides, 2600 games were far simpler than the mainstream immersive games today.

I love playing Halo with my kids, but only because they're my kids -- I don't mind it if they can consistently beat me even while handicapped. When Halo 2 comes out, and I can go online and play against people on Xbox Live, of course I'll do so -- but how quickly will I tire of being whipped by total strangers?


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This is what is so great about casual game downloads. Everybody is slowly but surely getting the hang of popping in to play games and leaving quickly.

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