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Games, Unscripted

Are Casual Games Killing Innovation?

Everyone is a gamer.

Whether it’s a console or a computer, you are likely a gamer of some sort. Once a niche market, casual gaming was a genre long-ignored until the release of the Nintendo Wii. Despite ushering in a new age of gaming, however, Nintendo unintentionally created a monster: that same casual sector that helped bring profit to the industry, also created a seismic shift that altered the gaming landscape forever.

Despite the consistent revenue streams of today, there are signs that casual games are hurting the future profitability of the gaming industry. As sales increased following the release of the Wii, the industry trend has been to cater to the casual market and milk it for all it’s worth. The problem is, such a dearth of content has also created a dilution of quality. Games have frequently been rushed to market, often under the safety net of a licensed property. Because titles were purchased without discrimination, there were no checks and balances to prevent a bad game from being profitable.

In essence, the consumers hurt the gaming industry by blindly pumping money into casual games.

The economics of the gaming industry are no different than any other industry. The concept of supply-and-demand does not escape videogames, and it is the demand for casual games that has increased their supply. However, in attempting to meet their quota, developers and publishers have had to resort to desperate measures, often skimming over the creative process in order to finish a game within a rigid development cycle. The artistry of games, as a result, has been sacrificed because the ends justify the means — as long as people keep buying bad games, there is no incentive to innovate or improve.

Although casual games and bad games don’t always go hand-in-hand, the reality is that there are far too many bad casual games on the market.

I’ve played many great casual games; Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo stands as one of my favorite games of all time, along with Tetris, Boom Blox, and Game Dev Story, among others. So to say that the casual genre alone is killing the industry, is a bit extreme. However, the argument can be made that publishers’ excessive focus on the casual gamer is killing the industry. The best example is the ripple effect that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare had on the first-person shooter; put virtually any FPS next to a screenshot of CoD4 and you’ll see how they mimicked all of CoD4’s innovations. Rather than advance the genre, however, publishers and developers have been merely content with releasing retooled versions of Modern Warfare. Consumers, in turn, responded by buying these copycats in droves, turning more to familiarity than creativity.

Familiarity keeps us warm. It’s safe. We don’t like things that are strange to us (every alien movie ever made says “hi”), and anything strange, is automatically bad (“stranger danger!”). And yet, as much as there is a segment that craves innovation, the majority shy away from it whenever the latest Madden or Call of Duty comes out.

The sad thing is, in supporting these familiar standbys alongside the casual gaming market, game companies have realized that the easiest way to profit is to combine the two elements. We’ve seen buzz words like “accessibility” and “user-friendly,” both of which are euphemisms for “easier” and “more casual.” Unfortunately, all this has done is alienate the hardcore gamer — the very same gamers who supported the industry before it was cool to play videogames.  Bear in mind, casual gaming can work; there’s a reason why many of the best-selling casual games, stay on top of the charts. But, just because a series becomes more casual, doesn’t mean the gameplay is improved.

As with the case of sports simulations, not everyone wants a casual experience, particularly when the point of a simulation is to mimic its real-life counterpart. Trust me, if everyone could play in the NFL, they would. But since they can’t, that’s why they turn to their copies of Madden to live out their gridiron dreams.

With the rise of casual gaming, we have seen the dumbing-down of storied franchises and the dilution of an industry. While the industry is more profitable than it’s ever been, we’re also seeing it at its weakest. There is very little room for innovation, as innovation is for those who can afford it. And with publishers always looking to minimize development costs, developers can ill-afford to innovate without a damn good sales pitch.

This is not to say that there aren’t good, creative games on the market today that appeal to many demographics. Rather, there simply aren’t enough of these games because the powers-that-be have dictated that their pockets matter more than our yearning for the quality of yesteryear.

Agree? Disagree? Continue the conversation in the comments section below, or follow me on Twitter (@FranchiseSAYS).

About Max Mikado

Pro Wrestling Performer & Broadcaster. #HouseOfMikado. Writer. Humorist.


3 thoughts on “Are Casual Games Killing Innovation?

  1. Great article, I agree.

    I do think there is room for both casual and hardcore – for me casual games would be something on my phone to play for 10-20 mins whereas my main gaming time would be a couple of hours on the PS3 in the evening.

    The problem will be the next generation or two of gamers that get used to paying £2 for a game as opposed to £40. Will the ‘hardcore’ consoles find themselves deserted? I think they won’t – you just couldn’t experience something like Uncharted 3, Infamous 2 or Crysis 2 on a phone.

    Posted by GregHorrorShow | June 28, 2011, 4:57 am
    • I think we’re still another decade away from a mobile device being able to replicate a console experience, although the PlayStation Vita shows promise in making strides. The biggest issues are: 1) It’s difficult to make a portable device with the power of a console and keep manufacturing costs down (thereby keeping the price down for consumers); and 2) the amount of storage that a device is capable of, is often dependent on the amount of storage that is possible and affordable. While there are flash drives that can hold up to 500 GB without the need for an external power supply, they’re not reliable, transfer rates are limited, and they’re particularly expensive.

      Simply put, for a portable or mobile device to match the console experience, there’d have to be a perfect median between cost and feasibility that just doesn’t exist yet with today’s technology and economy. While the technology may become possible sooner than later, the economic conditions may not be preferable for consumers to make such a steep investment.

      Posted by the FRANCHISE | June 28, 2011, 10:08 pm
  2. I played GT3 on PS2 from beginning to end. I got months of entertainment out of it. I still remember the final race: 8 hours (was that it?) of straight racing with a nerve-wrecking, ultra-fast, Formula 1 car. It took me 4 tries to win that one last race. So at $49.99, it has been the cheapest game ever when it comes to hours of fun vs. price. The problem is the amount of time and dedication. I don’t have that kind of time anymore. That’s where casual games step in.

    So, we can’t blame consumers or the industry; it is a phenomenon driven by socio-economic changes.

    Posted by Darryl | November 12, 2011, 1:23 pm

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