GDC: Casual Games Summit

I had to get up at 5:30am this morning in order to have time to write something for Game Tycoon. This is really testing my newfound infatuation with blogging.  😉

Slipped into the Casual Games Summit for a bit yesterday. Thankfully, there was little of the (formerly common) griping about “we don’t get no respect” — a definite sign that the market is maturing. Other signs that the market is maturing (as noted by Dave Rohrl, GM of Popcap’s San Francisco studio):

  • Team size is now 3-5 (as opposed to 1-3 in the very recent past).
  • Development schedules are now 6-12 months (as opposed to 3).
  • Development costs are $100K-$250K or more (as opposed to $25K-$100K).
  • The market has become extremely crowded, and consumers are learning to expect more from casual games. Dave hypothesized that the games which defined this genre several years ago would no longer make the cut in today’s environment.

In a subsequent panel, James Gwertzman (Director of Biz Dev for Popcap) made the following pronouncements:

  • Casual games need to be modified on a partner-by-partner basis to help the major game portals differentiate their offerings. Not core modifications, but things like better integration with a partner’s DRM solution, leaderboards, etc. James said it was affordable to do this for five or six companies: an unsurprising assessment, and bad news for portals below tier 1 (tier 2 and below represent just 10% of Popcap’s audience).
  • New customers are always flowing into the market, so you can’t ever stop making really simple, accessible games that suck people in.
  • No matter how powerful portals gets, Popcap can make must-have games that preserve its power in the chain. (My opinion: this is probably true, if Popcap succeeds at brand-building.)

A few other things mentioned by the panelists in general: there needs to be more editorial coverage of casual games, developers need to do a better job of supporting their brands (financially and otherwise) in order to combat clones, and there are too many single-player casual games. The argument was also made that casual game clones are no more “exact copies” than Quake was an “exact copy” of Doom.

Oh, and as a total aside: I heard from a friend that Warren Spector told a group of academics that he’d rather students get a liberal arts degree than a “game design” degree. I appreciate the sentiment. Hopefully universities will always make an effort to channel students towards creative writing, film studies, engineering, psychology, and business courses (etc), not just the game-specific stuff. There’s time for both.

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