Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Casual Affair

If you follow me on either Twitter or Facebook, you've probably already heard me talk about picking up my new phone, a Samsung Galaxy S 4G.  Yes, I love my new phone ... but that's not what this post is about.  It's more about one of the first things I did with the phone when I got it.  After playing with the pre-installed goodies and re-installing the apps from my myTouch 3G, I immediately hit the Android Marketplace and downloaded Angry Birds.  Then, after deftly using my slingshot to pummel some piggies into pork chops, I put down the phone, signed into Facebook, and checked out the latest update to Pocket God.  All the while, my PS3 and Xbox 360 just sat on the shelf, staring at me accusingly, asking me, "How could you do something like this to us?"  "How could you just throw away everything we built together?" At first I tried to deny it, but suddenly I realized that they we right ... I was having an affair with casual gaming!!

Okay, okay ... so maybe that was an overly dramatic reenactment of my epiphany, but it illustrates my point.  Here I am, a (somewhat) well-respected entertainment journalist who spends a lot of his work and free time with marquee video games like Assassin's Creed and Dead Space, as well as off-the-wall games like Gods Eater Burst and 3D Dot Game Heroes ... and I'm playing these casual games?  Does that mean I'm losing my "street cred" in the video game industry?  I mean, sheesh, how can I look myself in the mirror and call myself a "real gamer" when I'm giddily enjoying launching birds, tormenting pygmies, and yes even twirling around multi-colored jewels?  Actually, the answer is simpler than you might think.

Obviously there's a major market for casual gaming. If there wasn't, you wouldn't see things like Conan O'Brian playing a life-sized version of Angry Birds or Tetris-based furniture.  But why is the market there? What is it about these games that makes them so damed popular?  There are a few reasons:

  1. There's a wide variety of games to choose from
    • Take a look at any of your favorite casual game marketplaces (Android Market, iTunes, Facebook, Pogo, etc.) and you'll find something for just about anybody.  Feel like exercising your brain a bit? Check out Wordfeud or MonkWerks.  Want to micromanage some minions? Try Dungeon Overlord or Plants vs. Zombies.  The list goes on.  The point being that if you're looking for something, the odds are good you'll find something in the casual field suited to your tastes.
  2. They're cheap
    • Some people might get their panties in a wad over me using the term "cheap", so I'll say that most casual games are "more affordable" than their hardcore counterparts.  Apps will usually run a buck or two (or sometimes even free thanks to in-game advertising), and even the bigger PC games rarely run over the $20 mark ... still a steal when compared to the $50-60 price tag attached to most mainstream games.  And since the casual games tend to be simpler in format, their development costs are usually just a fraction of what the bigger releases have to content with.  What this means is that even at a minuscule price point, the developers can still turn a profit. Case in point: Earlier this week, Angry Birds developer Rovio announced that the hit game originally cost just $140k to create ... but has raked in more than $70 million.  That's a return on investment of 500 PERCENT!!
  3. They're just plain fun
    • Be honest ... whether you're saving the galaxy from an epic alien invasion or just playing a quick round of Solitaire, isn't the goal the same? You're playing to just take a break from the reality of the world around you.  A game is a game ... be it hardcore or casual.  They're meant to entertain you. Sometimes you might want to spend hours upon hours battling the Horde (or Alliance, I'm not taking sides here, WoW fans) in massive battlegrounds.  But sometimes, you might just need a quick five or ten minute gaming fix.  Either way, you get to enjoy yourself.
At the end of the day, there's absolutely no reason to be ashamed of being casual in your gaming, whether you're new to gaming on the whole or just enjoying a quick distraction before your next deatchmatch.  Hell, Blizzard and PopCap even worked together to allow World of Warcraft players instant access to Bejeweled and Peggle while they're waiting for raids.  Gaming is always going to be what you make of it.  And unlike those real-life "casual affairs", this is one time where everybody wins when you fool around.

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