What is a casual game? The term “casual” makes it sound like those games are simple, catchy and accessible in order to make it attractive to someone who would not have played any video games since he/she was born.
There are quite a few casual games that would come to mind such as Angry Birds, quite fun and based on physical interaction with your handheld device. There also Plants vs. Zombies, a flamboyant representation of the Tower Defense line of games that RTS experts already consider as being casual, The Sims for managing your little sister or finally Tetris, the puzzle game that even your mom has played at least once.
Casual games are addressed to casual gamers, a different crowd that the traditional gamers do not appreciate to see multiplying so fast (actually, gamers do not consider “casuals” as gamers).
The reason is that Angry Bird was a $140,000 investment and generated $50 million profit. Editors may then not be so keen in spending more money for developing real games with zombies and big guns targeted at hardcore gamers when a game consisting of tossing birds on pigs is so successful.
Then, once those companies have baited the casuals, they will try to make them shift games by encouraging them in playing games designed for hardcore gamers… And hardcore gamers do not want to play Super Street Fighter 4 with little girls and aunties who have reached their menopause.
It is in the editors’ best interest, after having seduced the casuals with simple and accessible games, to get them addicted to real games so as to try to make hardcore gamers out of them… Why? Because casuals play casually and only buy new games occasionally whereas traditional gamers like diversifying their gaming experiences which conducts to frequent purchases (of games and hardware as well).
Think about it, once the Nintendo Wii has made its way into someone’s living room so mom can try to tone her flabby bottom on Wii Fit, dad is playing Cooking Mama and Grandma tries to escape Alzheimer thanks to Doctor Kawashima, the hard part is done. The console is now at the heart of that family’s home and it becomes so easy to get them to play (or try to play) Zelda, Metroid or Super Mario, 3 main game franchises that traditional gamers like you and me were playing in the 80’s. And this is how you initiate a casual to video games…
Another way to try and get a large amount of people playing your game is to give it away for free. Mainly social games like FarmVille use this approach, but not only… Other games, such as League of Legends that would usually not be considered by casuals, became very popular thanks to its availability at no cost and allowed casuals to develop some habits and skills (online multiplayer games, playing daily in a competitive environment) that were, up to then, only reserved to seasoned PC gamers.
I can imagine a conversation between a LoL veteran and a beginner:
“What are you doing? You’ve been feeding that guy since the beginning! We told you to go top! You’ve got no business jungling you’re gonna get ganked! Back back back!
Sorry I’m new to this game.
*An ally has died*
Jesus, he’s overfed now… And what’s that stuff you’re buying?!?! Go back and play Nintendo Land!”
It is true that the emergence of casual players may have pushed developers to make games easier. We can think of the multiplication of Quick Time Events in blockbuster games, or even the fact that it is getting easier and easier to acquire epic gear in World of Warcraft in order not to discourage the casuals. When you think some WoW players sold their souls to acquire those items before Blizzard designed the game to be easily accessible to everyone…
Is it time for us to accept these new gaming partners that are the casuals? Maybe casuals are just soon to be gamers? If we helped them and tried closing this huge gap between them and the demanding seasoned gamers that we are, maybe they would share the same requirements we have and it would be the games editors that would finally have to bend to our will, and not the other way around.