The Casual Gamer?

For those not directly in the gaming industry, you may not have heard the phrase “the casual gamer”. Effectively this is a label embracing all the potential game players who don’t regularly play video games, but potentially or occasionally do play. This audience is (theoretically) larger than the “rest of us”, those of us who play games because we enjoy gameplay.

In my mind the casual gaming audience consists of all the people who are willing to spend their Entertainment Bucks (the cash they don’t need for food, housing, diapers, whatever). For them games are one potential outlet on which they will spend these Entertainment bucks, in that way games are competing against books, television, recreational activities, movies (et cetera). A ‘gamer’ is going to buy games, especially from their favorite developers or genres, regardless. The Casual Gamer needs some convincing.

And so game developers adjust their games to increase the likelihood of a Casual Gamer to purchase the game (and hopefully enjoy it and convince others to play it as well). This makes sense.

More copies sold, equals more profit, equals success! Go us.

It is a great idea, right?

Not necessarily.

See, the Casual Gamer is fickle. The game is in direct competition not just with other games, but with entire industries. The movie industry is especially tough competition and the desire to lure the Casual Gamer from movies to games, has radically increased the production costs of games. A team making a game today is (at least) ten times the size of the team required to make a ‘comparable’ (in terms of gameplay, not art/video) game ten years ago.

That’s expensive.

But hey, if you get more sales, it might be worth it. Okay, but there may be other issues you run into. There’s a theory (and I truly believe it is only a theory, propagated by people whose only contribution to game development is ‘sex and violence sells!’) that the Casual Gamer needs a simple, sexy gameplay experience. The theory boils down to style, not substance. (In another post I’ll get around to explaining why I think the theory is bullshit and that Casual Gamers can enjoy the same complexity of gameplay as a ‘gamer’).

So what if you start watering your game down so it begins to lack the gameplay your fanbase desires (sometimes so much to the point that it begins to not be a game anymore but more of a multiple choice video presentation), and possibly a short one at that, what might have used to be a sixty hour game is now a ten hour game. What happens then? Maybe you increase sales (if you’re lucky) but you’ll start losing some of your entrenched fans.

So what? We’ve increased sales!

But those more loyal gamers may not enjoy your titles anymore. Shortterm sales (may) have increased. But longterm the people who used to play your games obsessively may not be so passionate about them, and in worst case, may have moved on to other games. You’ve lost them.

And now what if a recessions happens and the casual gamer has fewer Entertainment Bucks and $60-$70 for a game starts looking really expensive compared to $15 for a movie?

More on that later.

“The Casual Gamer?” copyright 2009 by Brent Knowles