Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Is the casual boom over?

There was a time a few years ago when casual games seemed to be the BIG THING. Almost everyone was making a game where you matched 3 things. Then they all cloned Bettys Beer Bar (You might remember the first clone – Diner Dash). Then they all cloned Zuma, then… etc. I lose track of who everyone was cloning after a while.

This wasn’t the golden age of indie game development. In fact, it was the golden age of actual indie game developers rolling their eyes and wondering what the hell people were thinking, when developer after developer announced their ‘innovative’ new clone of whatever was #1 on bigfishgames last week.

Not surprisingly, a lot of casual games bombed and made virtually no money. At least, for the developers. The aggregators, who owned the platform like BigFishGames and Relfexive probably made a fortune. I wasn’t immune, I had Kudos and Rock Legend on a number of those portals. I still get the royalty checks for them, although it’s nothing to get excited about.

Nowadays it seems everyone is cloning farmville, and I think I might have glossed over the bit where everyone was making a browser based MMO game. In 2010, I’m sure there will be a new goldrush (maybe the new mac thing) where indie developers all chase trying to cash in on the latest #1 guaranteed way to make millions.

Because I don’t make games aimed at casual portals anymore, or even ones they would be interested in stocking, I’ve taken my eye off the ball. I have zero interest in games like that right now, I always only make the sort of game I personally think is cool at that point in my life, but I am curious as to the state of the market. Has it collapsed? Or are more and more people each year still shelling out actual money for the latest reskinned dress-up or clickfest time management game?  That would be (as a game designer) a bit depressing, but  it wouldn’t stun me…

7 thoughts on Is the casual boom over?

  1. I think the market for casual games is growing(I think it’s still growing) because of the internet. More people, who where not gamers to begin with, are getting used to computers and they sooner or later got their eyes on some intresting games to kill their time.

    Farmville is a great example. Non-gamers who joined facebook soon found out about that game from their friends status messages “XXX found a lonley sheep in his farm”, at least that was how I found out bout it. Some of them decided to pay for in-game things to avaid the grind, and I understand why. The other reason, but I am not sure how big a part this plays, is piracy. Hardcore games know much more about how to pirate things. (but I may be wrong)

    My friend has a large farm, and we estimated that he had 500 tiles of crops. He always planted things that took 24 hours to grow, so he ended up clicking and clicking… 1500 monotenous clicks per day! (I assume you can avoid that by paying in game, the harvester must do something, right? I may be way off track ;) )

    I ended farmville after calculation wich crops would give me the most money per hour and suit my online times best. After a week I was so tired of the grind to continue.

  2. I tried some demos a few years back and I was foolish enough to actually buy a couple of “casual” games. I found they were the kind of game I would get bored of playing in less than a day because they were just too small-scale with no room for different ways of playing the game. I guess the name of the genre should have been a warning. I found I was always waiting for that moment where the game finally got interesting, but it never really came.

    I guess that’s why I like your games, Cliffski. It’s because you can actually play them again and find new or different ways of playing them.

    I think that the casual game market is still strong, especially “free to play” ones that give you new stuff for “micro-charges”. I think this is partly due to more and more “blockbuster” games leaning towards casual gameplay. They’re the kind of games that offer you a cinematic experience but don’t really allow you the freedom to do anything differently the second time through because everything is scripted.

    It’s kinda sad when you look at the lack of real variety in many games that come out now. In the past I think developers were a lot more creative because they didn’t have to worry about the finance department breathing down their necks the whole time. Look at Sanctuary Woods, for example. They did a Wolf Simulator and then a Lion Simulator as a sequel! I’m not saying they sound like especially brilliant ideas, but at least they were fresh ideas. Developers weren’t so shy to take risks in those days.

    I guess in some ways that’s why more people are starting to buy “indie” games more than they used to. It’s because it’s people making games because they love games, not because they want to get rich quick. Some indie games even started as mods; projects where the developer wasn’t even expecting to make any money!

    Anyway, I’ll stop ranting.

    Happy New Year Cliffski!

  3. Well I think you can be depressed if your goal was to become insanely rich. Because the truth is, majority of people will rush over “iterations”.

    It’s not a “casual game” phenomenon, at least not in what you describe as casual. For years people are buying iterations of sports games, racing games, shooter games. The big blockbusters are not the original ones, with new concepts. No, the games making the most money are for the most part the “basic” ones, hollywood-like special effects, same easy gameplay to not reduce public to a small range.
    Games are supposed to be good looking and easy to play, to please the most. Who cares about 5% of hardcore gamers whining about too easy game when all the others are amazed by the hollywoodian action?

    The democracy series is amazing, being at same time really precise and intelligent in its gameplay, and original, since there is almost no concurrent in this field. But it will never be sold as the basic blockbuster game, because it is difficult for the casual gamer, and its graphics won’t attract many. It targets a really specific public.

    GSB has gorgeous graphics, but its precise gameplay allows so many possibilities, that it actually asks you to think about your fleet, about orders to give. It is great for the gamers who want that, but again, most people won’t like that.

    If one day you are desperate for money, you can make a “Popcap” version of GSB, which would approach something like plants vs zombies: some resource to click on screen to “harvest”, a defined set of ships with each a particular purpose (no editing possibility, too complicated), and a system which lets you call one ship from the left side when clicking on its button, if you have enough resource for that, to resist waves of coming ships.

    There you will have it all: gorgeous (and gratuitous) space battles, easy gameplay to please the most. Sure, hardcore gamers will complain about the lack of possibility to edit their ships, the disappearing of most of their tactical planification, but again, they are a minority, and gameplay from this version would please the “casual” wave of people who just want to put ships to fight without thinking about which modules they should use.

  4. Having attended AGDC last year, I think I’ve got a good feel for what the current ‘hotness’ (i.e. fad) is. A few things come to mind.

    – Browser based, virally spread, social games a la Mafia Wars, Farmville, all the Playfish titles.

    – Anything using the ‘freemium’ payment model. The business guys in the industry don’t shut up about it. Pretty much all the kid-friendly MMOs use this model.

    – iPhone, obviously.

    Like all trends, a few guys are making millions, everyone else is copying without really understanding and not getting any traction. Better to do your own thing :)

  5. I don’t personally play these sorts of games, but my girlfriend (who’s a pretty casual gamer asside from a strange obsession with GTA: San Andreas) seems to play them all the time (but just the free ones or Zuma on her phone).

    I have little to no intrest in making my own.

  6. Well I think the future is going to be 3D web based content via technologies like WebGL, this will allow hardware accelerated 2D and 3D games to run in the browser and link into social networking sites!

    In effect all games are going browser based!

    So the platforms to choose from could become Chrome, Mozilla, Explorer, Opera and SNAIL -> MSN, Facebook, Myspace, Bebo!

    Google Games anyone!

    Darn it why am I still developing puzzle.exe style games?

    SNAIL -> Socal Networking Application Interface Layer

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