To: The Game Industry
From: Gen Katz, Editor
Topic: Casual Connect
Date: Aug 2010

Bopping from E3 (in LA) to Casual Connect, July 20-24 in Seattle, is like going from Mars to Venus. The only thing that two organizations share is that they make money by making games.

The attendees at Casual Connect are very different -- mostly developers and producers - older, and suits are not looked at askance. As the name says - Connect - is the operative word here. Everyone is available - sitting behind a table. For meetings you pull up a chair and try to get out of the stream of traffic. Occasionally there is a back room available for a quiet conference. Attendees are well fed and partied-up and while the attendance doesn't anywhere a match E3's - it's top cream - all those you want to meet.

This year the hot item is social gaming - a perfect match for casual games and their portability to all the new mobile devices. Already it has begun to transform the casual game landscape. It has attracted Electronic Arts, who has purchased Playfish, a casual/social gaming company and Merscom, an old established casual game producer, has been acquired by Playdom - a heavy hitter in the social gaming area. Name tags indicate that some of the core establishment are attending for a look-see.

Free-to-play is currently a central core to casual games. And so the concern is monitization - a term previously not in my dictionary. How to get players to pay for content after 60 minutes is important as to how the game is designed. Can players be tempted to buy virtual goods? A big fraction of the income comes from a very small number of players. Branding came up in a couple of sessions as a way to attract and keep customers - Diner Dash; Wedding Dash - is a way to keep a product name in front of customers.

The Casual approach is concerned with pleasing their players - who happen to be largely women over 35 - around 45 million of them. The abiding rules are - eliminate frustration, no dying and starting over, games in the short bits of time available to the players - oh yes, and good stories and great graphics. Games that follow this mantra will include guides, contain help lists on goals required and accomplished; a help screen that indicates the hot spots for each scene; and an in game WALKTHROUGH. None have to be used, but they are there for the player. New Premium casual games are surfacing - games that link seek-and-find games with the adventure genre, or are simply an adventure game. Adventure games may be dead in the core gaming industry but they have been welcomed by the casual players.

For me, it is very satisfying to see an older group of men, touting the requests that women made ten years ago that were simply brushed off. More women are in high levels in this industry and their concern about knowing who their customers are and how to please them is what is directing the casual game industry.