Casual Gaming – Big Business in Online Games

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The market for casual games has grown over the years to become dominated by many big business companies yet still remains a viable option for independent small game developers. First what makes or comprises a casual game exactly? Casual games are defined as a game that has a simplified or easily accessible game mechanics and the overall difficulty of the game is much lower than a traditional game. Players should be able to able to pick up and play the game within a few minutes of introduction to the product. This simple aspect of casual games has helped grow the industry into what we see today.

The industry was fairly new starting in 2002 but now to the market to date has grown to over 2 billion dollars in yearly revenue. This is a remarkable statistic despite the fact that many of the companies involved have very little brick-and-mortar representation. Most of these games cannot be found at your local shops. You might ask how this is possible without having products for sale on store shelves but the key lies in the ability of these games to spread through the use of game portals on the Internet. The success of casual games can be attributed to the use of many varying business models. The types of business models used in this industry can include the following:

Try and Buy

This is often the most simple and straightforward method. A potential customer can download and try for free any game they see on a games portal and after a set amount of time playing the program will shut down. Using this model game sales are shared with the developers profit and in turn encourages further promotion of the game by various game affiliate web portals.

Web Trials

This is a variation of the traditional method mentioned previously but offers a version that requires no download and is playable in a web browser. Typically the games can be played an unlimited amount of times but they are limited in quality over the “upgraded” versions which can be purchased. These games are also often published in many game portals to achieve maximum brand presence. Sometimes these free games are supplemented with ad revenue which help offset the costs associated with developing the title.

Subscriptions

Because the traditional “try and buy” method often results in a very low download to sales conversion rates, ranging usually in the single digit percents, subscriptions have appeared as another way to entice customer sale conversion. Among the several types of subscription options used would include the “Unlimited” package where the user pays a fixed amount every month in return for unlimited play in all the games offered in the package. “Title Of the Month” is also another subscription model which the consumer pays a fixed amount a month and in return gets one or more games free.

Pay-to-play

This is a newer business model that is a hybrid approach for games sold through some casual game portals. Similar to the arcades of old, users would pay with credits or small micro transactions for usually about 25 cents a play. Because this model is new not much information has come to light regarding its success.

The main distributors of casual games are what known as game portals – websites devoted exclusively to games; free or for purchase. The major game portals include MSN Games, Shockwave.com, RealArcade and Yahoo games for example. Other key portals in the casual games categories are AOL Games, Miniclip, Pogo and Big Fish Games.

The most popular types of categories in the casual genre would be Sudoko, Puzzle, Mah Jong, Word Games, Casual-Action games, and Card & Board. This is by no means all of the types of casual games you will find on the Internet but do comprise a very large portion of the games played today. One of the most popular casual games is Bejeweled developed in 2001 by PopCap Games. Impressively it has been downloaded over 150 million times and has sold over 25 million retail copies. Countless clones have been spawned as a result of the success achieved by Bejeweled and comprising its very own type of game design known as “match three”.

With its rapid success and multiple approaches to doing business it is easy to see how casual games have become a part of the big business of creating video games. Continuing growth in worldwide markets, particularly Asia, has opened the doors for companies large and small to develop casual titles which should see revenue generate steadily rise as time goes on.

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