Those attending the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco this week may have noticed that a not-so-subtle revolution is going on in the world of computer games. A "movement" is afoot—call it the casual game effect. This movement is being sparked by the Nintendo Wii and the fact that a plethora of low-cost games with minimal graphics are hitting the market. In addition, cell phones are emerging as an important casual-game platform in the U.S. Put this all together and it's easy to see that the high-end 3D graphics-intensive game market is not necessarily at the center of the gaming world anymore.
Sure, Alienware and Voodoo PC still rule the high-end gaming PC market, and game console platforms, such as the Xbox 360 and the Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3), still dominate in the world of high-end gaming graphics. It's also true that this is still a lucrative market where big bucks are made. But from a larger gaming perspective, the shift to less graphics-intensive games is where the big numbers will come from in the future.
One of the biggest surprises in video gaming has been the strong demand for the Nintendo Wii. This Wii is the biggest-selling console in the game market, outselling the Xbox 360 and PS3 combined. Its easy-to-use wireless interactive user interface has gotten the attention of folks from all age demographics—from senior citizens to toddlers. And the fact that it costs less than the PS3 and Xbox 360 has made it more accessible to a larger number of people.
It's important to point out that casual-gaming software already brings in significant revenue. The Casual Games Association (CGA) recently published a report (http://www.casualgamesassociation.org/research_news.php
) updating its look into the casual market. It used data culled directly from game creators and vendors, as well as Pearl Research and Screen Digest. According to the results, the CGA found that the casual market brings in $2.25 billion a year and is currently growing at a clip of 20 percent annually.
Here's another interesting fact about the gaming market. According to Microsoft, the average Xbox online gamer is male and age 28. By contrast, CGA found that the online audience for casual games is nearly evenly split along gender lines (48 percent male and 52 percent female)—and is more than 200 million strong. Surprisingly, the report also found that men are a bit more frugal when it comes to actual purchasing power: The numbers showed that women make up 74 percent of paying casual gamers. According to the report, the most popular casual games are Solitaire, Tetris, Bejeweled, Diner Dash, the QQ Games Collection, and Mystery Case Files.
Various analysts who cover the gaming space say that the overall revenue brought in from computer video games worldwide was just north of $35 billion in 2007, with about $15 billion coming from the U.S. market alone. Many predict that it could grow to become a $50 billion worldwide market by 2011. Also, according to Strategy Analytics, revenue for the online gaming market in 2006 was $3.8 billion, and this is expected to triple by 2011. By comparison, the entire movie industry saw worldwide revenues of around $25 billion in 2007.
As you can see from the numbers above, the casual-gaming market is still a small percentage of the overall video game market. There was a lot of discussion at GDC about the need for programmers who could be tapped to create simpler, less graphics-intensive casual games. It turns out that most of the serious game developers have focused on creating games with sophisticated, intense graphics, and they're not thrilled about the prospect of being "demoted" to casual games. In fact, one game executive told me that the lack of creative programmers who could develop innovative casual games could be the one thing that keeps the casual-gaming space from growing rapidly.
That said, one cannot help but realize that more and more people are getting into games. For the longest time, the computer industry looked at gaming as a niche segment, but they're finally seeing it as more of a mainstream entertainment activity on a par with watching television. That's a big change and one that could, from a sociological standpoint, have an impact on both the TV and movie markets and, to some degree, even sports.
One of Creative Strategies' research projects found that "millennials"--kids and young adults ages 14 to 24--spend 30 percent of their entertainment time playing video games. This age group has already adopted gaming into their free time, which, of course, takes them away from TV, movies, and watching or participating in sports. Gen Xers and even early baby boomers have started playing computer games as well, albeit mostly casual games, and it's likely that their time spent gaming will increase.
If you add casual games to the mobile phone space, the market for casual gaming is set to explode. According to Juniper Research, the global mobile gaming market is poised to grow from $3 billion in 2006 to $17 billion by 2011.
All of this information points to a major shift in gaming, as casual games become more broadly accepted by users of all age demographics. Up until now, most of the gaming market's growth has come from young males who have demanded high-end, realistic, 3D game systems and software. While these systems and games will still be a major part of the industry, it appears that casual gaming is ready to develop into an even more important part of the gaming marketplace, and in the process, become a larger part of people's personal entertainment experience.