Define "Casual Game" please

August 15, 2009

When someone asks me what kind of "gamer" I am, i rarely say "hard core".  But by most definitions I most likely am a hard core gamer.  But I think of myself as a casual gamer. I don't have a huge library of games, sorry to disappoint you, and it takes a lot for me to buy a game at full price.

But there's another definition, a casual GAME vs a hard core game.

Are casual games the type of game where we don't care about the winner?  Is it that we don't keep track of wins and losses, or is it a game where we don't obsess over the little things that make us better at playing it.  Or is it how difficult the game is to play?

If you use the last one, when does a game become too difficult to not be considered casual?

LAst week I spent a good part of my Saturday shooting zombies in Left 4 Dead.  Normally I'd call that a hard core game... but... all you do is move and shoot.  Is there an easier game to play?

Or casual might refer to the subject matter.  One of my favorite games to play is Uno.  Its very simple and really easy to teach people how to play.  But if you have ever played this game on the XBOX using the camera, well, its not casual at all.  (I think I'll do an entire post on what people do on that camera)

Left 4 Dead cover (Windows version)Image via Wikipedia

The most common distinguisher that I have heard is a simple question: "Would your Mom play this game?".  Which for some small number of Moms the answer to the question with Left 4 Dead, is yes... My mom hates zombies. In her mind Left 4 Dead is a casual game.

But I think most of game developers don't look at it the way my mom does.  We think of Uno, or Bubble Spinner (from as more casual games.  A game we can leave in the middle of and not feel bad that we left our hard fought progress.

If we say that a casual game is one that's easy to get into, the rules are easy to understand and we can leave quickly and easily with no remorse... how does World of Warcraft not qualify? With some 13 million people playing it I think we can assume that there are plenty of Moms, Dads, kid sisters and Aunts playing daily.

Can we use the program size?  If its a downloadable game, does that normally mean its casual?  Again WOW qualifies, but lets keep going.

Program size certainly isn't apparent to the game buying public.  My mom has no idea how big a program is, she only knows it either comes through the Interweb or on a DVD.

Can we use price?  That would make every iPhone game made, and a few on XBLA, casual games.  We know that's not true.

How about development budget?  Again the public doesn't this figure, but it is a good indicator of depth.  If a game takes a long time to develop, there must be a lot of something in there.

World of WarcraftImage via Wikipedia
Lets explore that depth idea.  Depth isn't about a game that ends vs. a game that doesn't.  There are also theoritical endings, in Bubble Spinner you could just keep popping bubbles forever.  But there is a limit to how long you can expect to be successful.

But depth of game play is our most likely dividing line.  Using depth we can see a clear division that makes sense.  WOW, Left 4 Dead (my mom aside), any game by ID or Sid Meir, these are not casual games.

Uno, Monopoly, Bubble Spinner, Tetris, these are all casual games using depth as our divider.

But where does SimCity land?  How about The Sims?   I realize, I just opened another can of worms.

So how do you define casual game?



Anonymous said...

I think casual games refer to how easy it is to understand and master game-play mechanics.

WoW is not that easy to master, neither L4D, nor SimCity. The Sims on the other hand has a very short learning curve.

Mac said...

I would agree that to really master WOW, it takes more than I would give to a "casual" game. But L4D, I felt I had mastered it within 2 minutes... you move, shoot and try to stay out of the way of the other people shooting.

And SimCity... given that its on so many platforms, I think it counts as a casual game in my book. Not that my book means much outside of my immediate area, but you get what I mean I think.


leo said...

WoW is casual relative to other MMOs; it's certainly not casual relative to console games.

To me casual means 2 things - shallow learning curve and non-nerdy dressing. To the first point, core mechanics must be simple and clear, without a lot of layering. To the second point, the game needs a relate-able, mass-appeal aesthetic. A zombie game, no matter how simple, isn't casual. Sims is casual because it's about everyday life that Mom can relate to. If the game's overly violent, it ain't casual.