I grew up with the occasional video game making its way into my life. Well, that’s an understatement in several ways. I started playing well-known games like Mario Bros., Frogger, and Spyro when I was in elementary school and moved onto role-playing games (RPGs) like the Final Fantasy series, Kingdom Hearts, and Xenosaga as I got older. A lot of how I met my closest friends (and even my boyfriend) had to do with a love for the same series. I never considered myself a hardcore gamer despite how much time I spent playing them. Compared to the StarCraft types who would hold LAN parties that lasted days with no sleep, I felt like an amateur. I categorized myself more as a casual gamer… until quite recently.
The exponential growth of simple gaming apps such as Diner Dash or Fruit Ninja on smart phones and iPads, or portable games on Nintendo DSes with Cooking Mama created a brand new niche market of what could really be called the casual gamer. And it’s not limited to just gaming consoles, either. Social networking sites, most obviously Facebook, have witnessed a major flood of free gaming apps for the casual gamer. Does Farmville ring any bells? How about Words With Friends, or the other slew of fun, easy-to-play games from companies like PlayFish and Zynga?
What’s even more interesting is that with the advent of casual gaming, scores of older, female gamers have made themselves known. Typically, when one thinks of gaming, the visual of a geeky, 15-25 year-old single male who likes to chomp on Doritos and use “leet speak” comes to mind. Not any longer, huh?
Based on this article, the biggest trends in casual gaming that have lead to its widespread success are being 1) free to play (and especially in this current double recession, who doesn’t have free as their favorite number?), 2) multi-platform/mobile (play the same game from your Facebook to your smart phone to your MP3 player, even), and last but certainly not least, 3) social. These games are parallel with the social networking trend. Friends, family, and acquaintances alike can play with each other and have fun. Of course, one of the factors I feel this article has forgotten is the ease of use that comes with casual games. You can be a grandma or you can be a hardcore gamer; these games don’t require a lot of technical skill, and that’s definitely appealing to groups of all ages, backgrounds, and expertise with gaming. 1 in 3 American adults now plays some form of casual game, and of those, 80% in the 18-34 age range play them regularly. Astounding.
As I fall somewhere between a hardcore gamer and a casual gamer, I have opted to categorize myself as a “semi-formal gamer” (cleverly coined from my best friend). I have played Words With Friends recently (and have found that I’m just as terrible with it as I am with Scrabble), Poupee Boutique, Pet Society, and a range of other free game apps through Facebook. I never really thought too much about how easy it was just to start the game or even discontinue it until now. If I were to stop playing Xenosaga for a few months and come back to it, I’d have to relearn all the bells and whistles before I could fully get back into the game. Also, being an old-school gamer, I’m used to playing just from a single platform like the PlayStation (2), though the multi-platform capabilities are appealing to me as well. And of course, the social aspect of these casual games makes the experience very enjoyable and memorable (if not a bit time-consuming as well). What else is interesting to me is that I see people like my parents dabbling in these games (even if they’re not too savvy with how Facebook itself works) when I’d grown up hearing them tell me that games were for kids and that they weren’t enjoyable when they were an adult. That kind of mindset has obviously taken a bit of a turn for them with the rising trend of casual games.
Because this is a relatively new phenomenon, there are a lot of questions I have and a lot of answers I would want to discover about this topic, especially with how it relates to the consumer insights course I am currently taking. A few of them include:
- What factors play a role in why casual games are so appealing to consumers beyond the ones that were listed in this blog? How about nostalgia? Games like Oregon Trail are now free-to-play on Facebook; how much of an effect does that have on somebody’s interest in a game? Does it have any at all?
- What other platforms could appear in the future to make casual gaming even more accessible, engaging, and sociable?
- Is it important to target specific groups for casual gaming? There are hardcore gamers, “semi-formal gamers,” casual gamers, and/or those who would never think of touching a game controller, all with a variety (or lack) of gaming backgrounds. If not, how can/do gaming companies make casual games interesting for everyone? What’s the insight behind that?
- Will factors such as ad sponsors for these free games be counter-productive and turn consumers off eventually? Will people be willing to pay for games to avoid ads?
There is definitely a lot to explore on this growing trend and the role it is taking in our everyday lives.