GDC '08: Are casual games the future?

PlayFirst CEO John Welch thinks hardcore gamers will soon be in the minority as the masses embrace pick-up-and-play titles.

by

SAN FRANCISCO--In his keynote session for the Casual Games Summit 2008, taking place as part of this year's Game Developers Conference, PlayFirst CEO John Welch talked about "The Promise of Casual Games." In his opinion, the "promise" in question is that the once scoffed-at genre will soon eclipse hardcore gaming as non-gamers flock to it.

"Casual games are really, really big. You can tell just by the size of the room we're in this year," Welch told a packed room. "The point here is 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."

One of the big problems is that it's hard to define what a casual game actually is, Welch told the audience. "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," he reminisced. These days, casual games can only be loosely defined as those titles that are friendly to new/occasional users and are intuitive and accessible.

Welch believes that although the mobile phone is the ideal platform for casual games, for some reason it just hasn't caught on. He 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."

Ultimately, the executive said two things need to happen for casual gaming to continue to grow: There needs to be more innovation, and the $20 download model needs to be discontinued.

He concluded, "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."

Discussion

205 comments
mr_gouda
mr_gouda

"Hardcore" games will never disappear. These are the games that sell graphic cards and systems. They are the equivalent to Hollywood blockbuster films. The "hardcore games" have big budget, mind blowing effects, imersive gameplay. These are the games that you whip out when you want to show off your shiny new system and HDTV to your friends. The ones that make people go "wow!"

hattorihanzo32
hattorihanzo32

first off if u think the wii is for casual gamers you need not comment on this article, you are either only 15 years old or you know nothing about games and the gaming industry. if you think because a game has lame graphics it is a casual game you should probably stop playing video games. First off there is nothin like a "hardcore" gamer , if you belive this and that you are one you probably bought a game called halo 3 and thought it was a great game. A hardcore gamer is jus something made up by microsoft and sony to sell their consoles.why you ask the answer is simple, these two console makers in reality are run by ceo's and marketers that know nothing about gamers except that it is growing industry with money to be made. this is not so you say, if you think im lyin look at their inabilty to come with a new controller design, no x360 is not significantly different enough to be included, if you do not know what im talking about then i told you to stop playin video games since the beginning of my comment. remember what is the basic entertainment value in a video game it is its interactivity. the reason games have been able to move forward and why there are console generations is beacause of new and innovative methods to play games. this did not happen this generation what u got was the same old games with a higher pixel count. most of the games that come out for ps3 and 360 could have been done on the ps2 and xbox except only for better graphics which does not say much. this is why consoles like the wii are doing so well because of something called innvotion.also by allowing thousands of non gamers to start playin video games they saved the industry yet again.

MynameisSauron
MynameisSauron

It'll just be like music. 'Casual' games will become the norm, but real games will continue. In music pop is the norm, and it, in my opinions sucks, but great music is still being released in decent quantities. I'm not saying it's not bad, it is, I have an aspiration to be a video games programmer, and no where in my dreams does it mention working on crappy 'brain training' or something like that. I also enjoy being the minority ^^. I am a geeky gamer hillbilly punk girl that is very opinionated....but if it gets to the point where production of real games is being majorly compromised then that sucks.

ninjasam
ninjasam

Agh, darn it. If you guys don't notice, you have seen thi news many times before, except pleasantly sugar coated. Stories like game hardware and software sales are up, games mad an amount of blah blah whatever to lazy to get exact numbers. This is due to the casual gamers replacing money spent on board games and movies with games. Hopefully it will never get to the point where its not worth the money to make the hardcore games, and companies instead decide to fund games for the wii, or the next generation of Nintendo's console. It is already happening people, be scared!

thibbledorfP
thibbledorfP

@ hotrider 12, it is a common statement that 'all hardcore, new games are violent and stupid! All you do is blow stuff up!'. This is not true. There are many different genres of games. Strategy: Civilization 1-4. I hardly think all you do in civ is 'blow stuff up'. By your definition, civ is a dumb stupid game because it is new (there is a new version). Uhh, if anyone thinks Civ is easy and dumb, I think you should actually try playing it! There are many other strategy games, WarCraft 3, Warhammer, Heroes 1-5 etc. These are intelligent games that require strategy, well most of them. How bout roleplaying games like Neverwinter Nights 2, or slightly older hardcore games like baldurs gate, arcanum, fallout. Are these dumb and shallow? Even with shooters, this is not true. Half-life anyone? Bioshock? I dare you to try and say HL and BSHOCK are dumb, shallow games with no story or point to them in a room full of gamers. Bring a large shield with you. People who say Pacman and Pong were the best types of games, and games made after the 80s are shallow and heartless, use the same argument. They simply do not want to invest the effort or money to try new games, so they say they are all crap. I realize games are expensive, and I am not mocking people who do not want to spend to play new games, but you cannot say they are all crap if you have never played them. I mean, besides the fact that the statement that all new games are violent shooters is ignorant, see above... some of those 'violent shooters' are pretty darn fun, and full of strategy and challenge. COD4 is a great example. Tight narrative, intense gameplay. It shows you the horrors of war, it definitely would not encourage anyone to go and fight wars. If you think going back to the 50s will make society better, this is not true. The average movie from that period glossed over violence, and this does not respect the people who do fight to defend our respective countries. The modern games that are war shooters are pretty respectful (ww1-2 games) in imitating the time period. Other shooters are obviously fantasy and just for entertainment. As for the argument that games encourage violence, it is both off topic and could lead to ranting, so I will go off it. Bottom line, hardcore games are very important to the industry. They are an important source of entertainment, and gosh darn it, a lot of them have something to say if you give them a chance. Casual games have an important place, but they should be a minority of games IMO. A large minority? No problem, but never a minority. That would rob games of their guts. Young adults and teenagers need more dynamic, edgy interactive activities to enjoy their life. The world is not made just for kids and families. Let games provide a release for these people. Now many youg adults and teenagers enjoy playing casual games, and this is fine. There are some people who mostly play hardcore games, there are some who mostly play casual. To each their own. But the artistic future of games relies on a large percentage of hardcore games. Pacifying everything does not lead to passive people, my friends.

caossbr
caossbr

it must have a balance...if the future of gaming be carnival games,****** sports,and those casual wii games,this will be the end.

NikBZero
NikBZero

Casual gaming will be the end of video games not the future, don't forget it's us hardcore gamers who helped it video games wher ethey are today!

Space-Q
Space-Q

"However, I believe that current "hardcore" games will continue strong next to it's new, younger brother." Don't you mean older brother? But hey if you think pong and pac-man are hardcore, don't let me tell you otherwise.

raahsnavj
raahsnavj

There are so many things wrong with this whole story... First of all, there is a 'Summit' for Casual games that can't even define what casual is? Second, the example of 'trial first - then $20 pay'... I don't know about you, but that was called Shareware when I grew up. Wolf3D and Doom were both that distributed with that model. So does 'casual' now mean, new school shareware? WTF. I can't believe people haven't even figured out the definition of 'casual' yet. Can someone please donate some dictionaries to the VG industry please...

Junior_AIN
Junior_AIN

If it is, I curse the future of gaming...

Briantb_2008
Briantb_2008

Fine i'll be a minority in my dominite white town, thou I think the minority in my town is the gamers to beginning with.

AnimeNewtype
AnimeNewtype

I'm gueesing this guy thinks that since his company that no one's ever heard of is making money, it means that casual games are the future. What an idiot. Yeah, we all know that 10 years from now people won't be playing GTA or Halo anymore, we'll all be playing Carnival Games 2 and rushed budget titles based on movies like Harry Potter and the Diamond of Magic or Land Before Time XXII. That, or a bunch of Wii minigames no one likes. If hardcore gaming were ever to be washed out, it would be the demise of the industry. This Welch guy should shut up and go back to making his E10-rated party games with N64 graphics.

Space-Q
Space-Q

@ Great_Ragnarok exactly. it's just like music. and every other form of entertainment. I guess casual games are the pop music of the games industry.... the safest most easily accessible genre. same for movies safe, easily accessible casual movies like Pirates of the Caribbean break records but a a more "hardcore" movie like there will be blood is only recognized by a the more hardcore movies goers. Personally I will take the things that require more attention from the viewer. Just because they are always the most rewarding. I'll keep playing games like Metal Gear. I'll keep listening to Tool. and watching Arrested Development.

Great_Ragnarok
Great_Ragnarok

oh and as I'm still part of this generation of gamers.In my opinion Hardcore means the level of immersion,time and effort one spends on a game.oh also the ability to adopt the gaming mechanics very fast. i.e ME!!!:lol:

Great_Ragnarok
Great_Ragnarok

ahhhh whats casual and hardcore is defined by the current generation.and when us Experienced PC gamers and violence loving ninja gaiden fans leave uni to get jobs and family these new young wii players will take over and define that to be hardcore.:lol: just like music!!

bugtrip
bugtrip

Sounds like the gateway drug to me.

des_kong
des_kong

PlayFirst should change the name to ThinkFirst!!! Stop dreaming dude!

Prophet2b
Prophet2b

No duh casual games sell a lot. People who are more hardcore gamers will enjoy them, and people who aren't hardcore gamers will enjoy them. Why is everyone so concerned with "what is the future"? Both obviously are. With the way the Wii has sold, casual obviously sells. With the way games like Crysis, Bioshock, Assassin's Creed, Halo, etc. have sold, more hardcore obviously sells. They're just two different things. One can hardly even compare the two. It's like asking, "Will boardgames or card games be the future?" Uh... They're two different things that appeal to different people. So... both? But go us for arguing back and forth about nothing all the while using bad logic. Woo!

jpfondeur
jpfondeur

I've heard this before, no they're not.

ksolorio
ksolorio

As long as there is a market both the hardcore and casual games will be made, and quality won't be sacrificed on one condition, the gamers pay for it. Simple business knowledge can be applied here. If a company is expecting to move hundreds of thousands of units the fixed costs such as salaries, office leases or payments, computer equipment, etc can be spread out reducing the per unit costs. If the number of hardcore gamers shrinks so the title will only move a few thousand units, the price is going to go up, if the gamers don't buy it at this new price, the production will cease, if they do buy it, production continues. I work in the industry, and from my experience, gamers are cheap, so good luck. I should probably start looking for another job :)

white_light91
white_light91

Casual games are okay, but hardcore gamers will NEVER be "eclipsed." And, did he forget the possibility that casual gamers could become hardcore gamers?

mitu123
mitu123

lanista, yes we know about those games, I play those games as well, those games have far more gameplay than casual games too. hotrider12, there is some innovation in these violent games(but not a whole lot) and we use these games for pure entertainment, have you ever seen a violent movie? And games don't tell people to kill people in real life, they basically want you to kill people in the games, you know killing is wrong in real life, why do it. The people who play violent games that kill people(in real life) are just plain stupid. I agree with you about gamers killing other gamers for a PS3 though, that's just wrong.

lanista
lanista

hello? anyone hear about driving sims like GT or Forza? not violent at all, but they are hardcore if you want to get everything same with games like tomb raider or TES. hardcore games are about the commitment not the violence nuff said

hotrider12
hotrider12

you guys got it the wrong way hardcore games are crappy. all u do is blow people head off every damn game. no matter what title it is nothing new or innovative its always military style nothing new. dmc4 , soccom,cod4, halo. all those games are violent!!!!!! you dont hear in the news or read the news paper someone got killed over a casual game like those violent games teenager killing parents,cops, judges other gamers killing other gamers for ps3........p.s. I dont care what you all think of my comment facts!!!!!!! is facts

BrianC6234
BrianC6234

Hard core gamers will be in the minority? Hahaha. He better hope not. That would be a disaster for gaming. We need more real games, less casual games. There's a place for casual games but I don't want just casual games. And casual gamers won't buy many games so they can't carry the gaming industry like hard core gamers do.

Glade_Gnarr
Glade_Gnarr

This would mean the demise of videogames as an industry of it's own and would bring forth a new era of decadence in the final quality of the products, people would buy less games and eventually even gamers would walk away, meaning videogames would end up just like another toy.

AngelCage
AngelCage

Soooo more and more cheap minigame compilations and silly games is the future of gaming and hardcore games (that means: good games, great games and for-the-normal-people games) will be a thing of the past.... Cool, just what we want: Crappy games!!!!!

teknicz
teknicz

It started, but no one's really taking advantage of it. All the office drones playing Solitaire and Hearts, and the insane amount of various kinds of people who play Hold 'Em on their cell phones prove that there's a market for this kind of thing.

asimplerapper
asimplerapper

I think it has started already. Look at what nintendo has done. The wii and DS seem to consider harcore as a minority.

JJpenguin
JJpenguin

in my mind, this is very worrying, but casual games will be a fad, because by their very nature, they are shallower than most "hardcore" (though i despise the word) games so people will invariable turn to these other games as a means of getting more enjoyment out of gaming, but then again, look at COD 4 and Halo 3 while i detest the last one as a game, what it has done for the industry is phenomenal, it has brought so many people into gaming, what we need is for people to stop alienating newcomers by reffering to arcade games like doom (back 20 odd years ago) as the pinnacle, because frankly, forward progress will spur this industry for far longer than appealing to minorities

KingOfTheNubeis
KingOfTheNubeis

Everyone starts as a casual gamer.I started on Q2 on line. Then after Half Life 1 came out a little Mod called Counter Strike started to seen on severs.It was like giving me the gaming equivalent of crack . Fast forward.... now I'm playing COD4 on line most nights. I say bring them in...soon they WILL want more, Simple Mario won't cut it. Their appetites will expand ,Then before they know it.......... .ONE OF US ....ONE OF US......ONE OF US ......... Once of the Path they can never go back :)

GlaciusXL
GlaciusXL

Make all the "casual" games you want, but leave the challenge and complexity where it is. One annoying thing is when a franchise changes because they "want to appeal to a larger group of people." That should not be the goal. Its like removing complex dialog in favor of street slang so that more people "get it". Its great to not isolate people but at some point you've got to say "If you can't handle this, then do something else." Imagine if a "casual" athlete wanted to get in on some basketball so they made the basket 4 feet in diameter and lowered the goal 6 feet. While that may bring in some people, its also just chased off a lot more. If you're casual at something, you shouldn't expect to be awesome at it. If you're a casual artist or a casual weight-lifter you will get the results that reflex that effort. Again, make as many new games with that mindset as you want. Just leave established games alone. Truth is though, people will be hardcore about casual games and still destroy the casual gamers. So at some point the casual gamer just has to try a bit harder.

gutterdude
gutterdude

What games now classify as "casual" games besides things on the wii and DS i wonder. Movie license games? errrrg.

chimichanu
chimichanu

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Humorguy_basic
Humorguy_basic

Anyone here saying bad things about 'casual gaming' needs to understand that without it, PC hardcore gaming will disappear! Publishers will be more willing to make a $100,000 profit on a hardcore PC game if it has made $20 million on a casual game. No casual game and just that $100,000 and that publisher is not going to be in PC gaming at all. As many are not already! May I also remind people that the peak of PC gaming ( in terms of unit sales) was in the mid to late 90's. And then we had many many genres some of which could have been called 'casual' gaming. For example, if released today, for the first times, Firebird's Sentinel would have been a casual game, Railroad Tycoon would have been too. Plenty of other games like Midtown Madness and Dungeon Keeper might be seen today as borderline casual. In fact, anything that isn't a shooter or RTS ror heavy simulation seems to be seen as casual. A sophisticated RPG called Space rangers 2, because of it's 2D graphics was dismissed in many corners just because of it's so-called 'simplistic' graphics - and yet it was more detailed as an RPG than Oblivion! For hardcore PC gaming to survive we need multiple genres, not just one or two. Casual gaming can only help hardcore gaming - so support it!!! (By the way, I have been playing PC games since the early 90's and would be considered by most as a 'hardcore' gamer - so don;t accuse me of being a 'casual gamer'! After all. one description of hardcore gaming for most PC owners is: 'My PC won't play it!'!!!)

Coolvetica
Coolvetica

Casual games are fine with me...why? cause it gives me something to do at work all day :P that and read/post on forums such as this.

Collin20
Collin20

Hardcore gamers helped build this industry. They can't leave us to be the niche

baker_boy
baker_boy

I blame the Wii and the DS for this, they get old ppl and young children playing games, making more of a demand for this stuff.

console-deity
console-deity

The only good that can come from "casual gaming" is it may act like a gateway game and get people into real gaming, sort of like gateway drugs only games are good for you.

Rontor
Rontor

Casual Gaming is the death of good Video Games!

ff7cloudking
ff7cloudking

Wait, did he say elevated to the level of TV? lol, TV sucks

ChuckNorris82
ChuckNorris82

Casual Games Summit 2008...........WTF!!!!!! I want VIOLENT ACTION PACKED GAMES WITH BLOD AND GORE!!!!!!!! WOOOOOO!!! Thats how I like it baby!!! HAHA!!! But thank god for the US of A, for ALL THIS FREEDOM!!! YEAH!!!! O and Paul The Great I 100% agree!!!

Hvac0120
Hvac0120

I think Casual gaming will get bigger because it will encapsulate all of the current "non-gamers." However, I believe that current "hardcore" games will continue strong next to it's new, younger brother. It is my opinion that those who enjoy Casual games may eventually become hardcore gamers and start looking for deeper experiences to compliment their mini-game collections. Casual games are doing a lot for the industry, but don't get so cocky as to think that they will completely hurdle hardcore games for very long.

shadowcat2576
shadowcat2576

I think a lot of people have misunderstood the type of games he's talking about. It's clear that by the download and then buy model, he's talking about games like are on Pogo and YahooGames. The type of stuff my mother sits infront of the computer for hours and plays, or you goof off at work with. Face it, Solitare is probably the most played game on PCs by a wide margin and it's been that way for years.

vass86
vass86

casual games are just like pop music. gaming is becoming mainstream and this means more money but many more shallow "casual" games

Angelos13
Angelos13

What a load of BS. Just because making casual games is easy and very profitable (look at Wii Sports) doesn't make it the future of the industry. The future of the industry are games like Mass Effect, rich, emotional experiences, not lame rip-offs, just because people are buying them. Jesus, how can someone expect the videogame industry to match films and literature when everyone (except for a few-the best- developers) chooses to simplify their product so they can appeal to the masses?

ManOfTeal
ManOfTeal

Um I got news for ya, hardcore gamers have ALWAYS been the minority.....

jord121290
jord121290

I don't buy this at all. Casual games will do what any other casual toy has ever done, be popular for two to five years and then die out when something more 'fun' is brought out for families. The hardcore market has a struggle ahead in the next few years sure, but in the end it is those users who stick with gaming and the developers will have to come flocking back when times get tough. Somehow I just can't see the hardcore devs ever having their label on casual games, it would be an insult to their talents to be perfectly honest. Sure the mainstream publishers like EA will kiss the feet of those who lap up simple budget games, but there will always be those developers who will continue to market to the hardcore segment of the industry, however much in the minority we become.