This year’s Game Developers Conference (GDC) featured a myriad of keynote speakers, on a variety of topics. One speech really made me scratch my head in confusion. PlayFirst CEO John Welch told attendees of the Casual Games Summit (a sub section of the GDC) that “casual games” may soon eclipse “hardcore games.”
First off, I’m sure a lot of you are wondering what the hell IS PlayFirst? The short answer: it’s a development studio and third-party publisher for mobile, PC, Mac and online titles. Among PlayFirst’s Top Ten are amazing titles like Diner Dash, Sally’s Salon, Wedding Dash and the “AAA” juggernaut Doggie Dash.
Never heard of any of them? Don’t worry, me neither. I was to busy playing titles of actual quality that didn’t make me feel like I was riding the short bus.
Mr. Welch kicked things off with this gem:
“we have the opportunity to elevate video games to become a first-tier form of entertainment, like TV. We will have succeeded when ‘casual games’ goes away as a category, and ‘hardcore games’ is the niche.”
Right off the bat, I have to assume Welch has been in a coma since 1998. Video games are ALREADY a first-tier form of entertainment on par with TV. Hello, it’s a multi-billion dollar industry… 2007 was the most successful year in video game history for pete’s sake! Not to mention, that just because a game wasn’t made over the weekend and can’t be played on your phone, doesn’t mean it’s “hardcore.” Also, I don’t see how any of PlayFirst’s titles are helping to “elevate” video games.
From the way he was talking, he made it seem like every game outside of his bargain bin assortment was “hardcore.” I’ve heard of “hardcore gamers,” but what exactly IS a hardcore game? A title created by talented developers who produce feature film level entertainment that pull audiences (gamers) in and are not so easy and/or childish as to bring to mind flashbacks of pre-school? The casual game category is here to stay my friend.
He went on to say:
“For a long time, what dominated our industry was ‘Try before you buy’ games. What was a casual game? It was a game with a Web version, and to download the full version you paid $20,”
Just to let you all know that (the above) is exactly how PlayFirst makes their money. Which begs the question, what IS a casual game? A casual game is just about every Wii title. What Welch describes is an insult to real “casual games.” Casual games are titles that are easy for anyone to sit down and play. Titles that carry a firm “Family Friendly” stamp, but are still entertaining enough to keep people coming back for more.
The Wii is selling like hot cakes because THAT is what they provide. The Wii has cornered the market on casual gaming, and their welcome to it. PlayFirst’s version of “casual games” is a joke and a bad one. Mr. Welch seems to think all the non-gamers out there will flock to his form of “casual games”, but it seems, in my opinion, that those people will go for something along the lines of the Wii console, which has already proven the mass appeal of the “casual” market. Even non-gamers expect a certain level of quality and development for their money. Mobile phone, web based titles and so on, just don’t cut it.
When talking about the ideal platform for casual gaming (the mobile phone?!) Welch said:
“Everyone has one, everyone has one at all times. But–who is actually using that phone to download games? [The thing is] everyday folks don’t download mobile games–yet.”
Nobody is playing games on their phones? You don’t say! Could that maybe be because mobile phone games are trash? Specifically that ooze that collects at the bottom of your garbage can. If people want to play a game on the go, they buy a DS or PSP. Mobile phone games have a half-life of about 2 days before you realize that $5-$20 download was money you could have put towards something that is actually fun, challenging and engrossing.
Near the end of his speech PlayFirst’s CEO stressed that in order for “his” version of casual gaming to grow, there needs to be more innovation and that the $20 download model needed to be discontinued. How much innovation can there really be on a phone? The PSP is already moving portable gaming tech in the direction of portable consoles with full mobile phone capabilities.
The days of people even considering using their cell phone to game are quickly fading away. The $20 download trend is growing, not dying. Umm dude, you realize I can download mobile (PSP) games online from the PlayStation Store right now for $20 or less right? Oh wait, games like Wipeout Pure, Ape Quest and Got Puzzle are hardcore, my bad.
“There’s going to be a lot of dead bodies in the side of the road in casual gaming. If you’re a developer, beware the glut, because there’s a lot of content coming…We’re about to emerge from this cocoon and there will be all different kinds of butterflies.”
Butterflies? Really? I think the Wii and the growing portable console market are already primed to swat pesky little bugs like this out of the air. There’s obviously a huge middle ground between so-called “casual” and “hardcore” games that is not being taken into consideration here. Just reading this insanity has made me thankful that the Wii is doing so well. If I had to listen to people flaunting Flo on the Go all the time rather than Mario, I’d have to abandon all hope for the future of humanity.