what is a “casual game?” the term has been around for a while, so it does actively differentiate itself from what could be considered a “standard” game. i guess. to me it means games that aren’t as in-depth or involved as a standard game on a console or PC, but still retain that short-term fun factor. so as an example, final fantasy VII – not a casual game. farmville – yes, a casual game. we’ve seen casual gaming build up a lot of steam over the last couple of years, with either positive or negative affects on your psyche, i’m sure. how many of you have seen farmville notices from your friends polluting your facebook feeds or someone requesting that you help them in their mafia war? too many, i would gather. stop messaging me people, i don’t care that a cow wandered off of your damn farm. learn to be a better farmer. casual gaming isn’t restricted to facebook or social networks though, of course – i myself have been known to play a number of games on kongregate and test my gelatinous architecting skills in world of goo. all very fun, but i’m not doing stat calculations in the back of my head or trying to figure out what the increased damage output on a new weapon would be like in world of warcraft. i’m just chilling.
mobile platforms really made the difference though. games in the “casual” category generally don’t require fast processors or high-end video cards, so mobile makes a lot of sense for publishing. not only does it have the low-end chops to make it happen, but the market is much larger – pretty much everyone has a cell phone these days with an increasing number of them being smartphones, while not everyone has a console system or pimped out gaming rig. so now we have apple’s app store and the android market filled to the brim with these casual games as apps, from anywhere to free (on android anyway) to $0.99 to a few bucks for a download. these include stuff like fruit ninja, doodle jump, and of course, angry birds.
angry birds took flight as an extremely popular casual game on both the apple and android platforms. free on android and $0.99 on apple, the game flew by the 100 million download mark, which is for lack of a better phrase, impressive as hell for pretty much any software. but that seems to have given game developer rovio just a bit of a hubristic tone in some of the statements he’s recently been making. recently at the SXSW conference in austin TX, peter vesterbacka, “great eagle” at rovio, argued that console games are “dying” in the face of the growing gaming market. he went on to say that the model of $40-$60 per game that are difficult to upgrade simply doesn’t work anymore, and more than implied that big budget console games are stagnant and lack any new innovation, leaving mobile casual games as the way. of course i think his opinion maaaaaay have been slightly biased being the head of rovio. maybe just a bit.
which i can sort of understand on some level. console game budgets rival those of hollywood blockbusters (example: final fantasy xii was $48 million and it’s small compared to others), and the sheer amount of capital investment means that large studios sometimes do play it safe in big projects. but i think i speak for most people here when i say that doesn’t mean that i’m always going to prefer a cheap mobile game over console. if i’m in my living room, and i have my droid x sitting in my pocket, a ps3 and an xbox 360 hooked up to my tv, and a laptop nearby, chances are i’m not pulling out the phone and firing up angry birds. 9 times out of 10 if i’m not already playing world of warcraft i’ll be clicking on one of the consoles. hell, most of the time i’d click on a ps2 over a mobile game in this scenario. if i’m lounging at the house, i want something complex. something with some depth. something that will look good 46″ large. not a pocket game on my phone, and probably not a mini game off of PSN or xbox live. for me and presumably “my type” of gamer, that’s just how we prefer things. the casual mobile games or downloadable console mini games appeal to players that like games the way they used to be in the early 90’s and earlier – short, sweet and to the point.
but i’m not always home in front of my tv or laptop. sometimes i’m in a waiting room at the doctor’s, or on a train or short flight. then i’ll definitely break out the phone for something casual like angry birds. it is a fun game, and i’m not trying to knock it at all, but to me it serves as more of a short term diversion than anything else. and to be honest reminds me of catapult games from kongregate. just with birds.