Recently, I’ve developed an increased liking for, and interest in so-called “casual games”. The definition of a casual game centers around the fact that it should not require any big investments (in terms of time, effort or money) before one can play. This means that they’re rather “simple” games by design. However, this doesn’t make them any less interesting than big, expansive “core” titles.
I’m not the only one who has developed a liking for casual games; the genre has conquered an increasingly large market share in recent years. Looking at Newzoo’s “Casual & Social Games Trend Report” from 2012, online casual and social gaming took up 39% of the 215 million daily hours spent on gaming in the USA, while the genre generated 29% of the earnings in the industry. Note that these figures are specifically for online casual games. It is unclear if this includes apps for smartphones, and how large the market share was for other casual games. Without purchasing their results for 2013 (they’re rather expensive), it should be safe to assume that the market share has increased even further over the past year.
What makes casual games so popular? I’d say it’s a combination of factors, centering around the fact that they have a very low threshold to start playing. Because their learning curve is never steep, anyone can play, and get immediate enjoyment. Many of these games are also suitable and attractive to a wide audience, because they contain little to no violence. Levels are typically either short, or endless, because the player should be able to quit when he/she wants to, without feeling like they’ve given up in the middle of things. This makes them an ideal time-killer, to be played anywhere, anytime (to the annoyance of many employers). The fact that these games are typically free-to-play (with business models that center around ads or micro-payments), makes them even more accessible. Finally, the social aspect can help to really bind a player to the game, and lure in potential new players.
Still, designing a good social game isn’t as simple as opening Adobe Flash CS, facerolling on the keyboard, and putting the results up as a Facebook app. The gameplay needs to be as engaging and appealing as for any other game, or players will quickly put the game aside. Perhaps even more so than with traditional games, because the player has no investment in a casual game at all — no financial investment, no prior expectations and a strong desire for instant gratification. If you don’t grab them by the nose from the first minute, players will simply move on to the next free game.
Over the coming days, let’s take a closer look at some social games. I’ll include some of the genre’s most popular, as well as some personal favorites. Stay tuned!