GDC Keynote: Casual games are the future?

The future of gamingGDC is always an interesting little time in the industry. You gather all the best minds of the gaming industry together in one building, and every last one of them thinks they know how to save gaming. In a keynote address, CEO of Playfirst, John Welch, made some noteworthy comments about casual gaming in a speech titled, "The Promise of Casual Games."

Of course, nothing ever really changes from all the talks and roundtable discussions, but damned if that stops anybody from running their mouth off. You may have noticed by now that my attitude towards this particular statement is one of displeasure. That is because I find myself completely at odds with his remarks.

"Casual games are really, really big." said Welch. "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."

First of all, allow me to point out that the reference to television as an analogy is a dangerous one. Remember what happened when television stopped caring about quality and artistry, and tried to cater to the largest audience possible? "Dancing with the Stars" is what happened. "Big Brother" happened. "The Biggest Loser" happened. The analogy between casual games and reality TV, I believe is an apt one. It’s what happens when companies start thinking with their bottom line in mind rather than their viewers, so they try to put as little effort and talent in as possible while still reaping maximum benefits.

And just as I’m sure TV executives were thrilled when reality TV became the standard, so will videogame executives and stock holders be thrilled when cheap shovelware becomes the norm.

Welch believes that the cell phone is the ideal platform for casual games, but he says he can’t understand why they haven’t taken off. "Everyone has one," he said. "Everyone has one at all times. But who is actually using that phone to download games? Everyday folks don’t download mobile games–yet."

Were I allowed a rebuttal to his keynote I could explain to Mr. Welch the reason cell phone games haven’t taken off. Cell phone games haven’t become big business, because everyone thinks they suck. Most people have at least played a cell phone game before, and have realized that in general they just suck. Many people have even bought them, but you can only sucker someone into buying a game about throwing penguins as far as you can so many times before they start to make assumptions about the whole of the market.

This is what is happening now. People associate cell phone games with crap. He concluded his speech by saying: "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."

He’s right, there will be a lot of bodies left on the side of the road. Any time a market puts all its resources into appealing to a fad adopted by the masses, there is an inevitable bust. Whether you’re looking at the dotcom bust, Pokemon (a lot of people lost a lot of money towards the end of the Pokemon craze with Pokemagazines, and other Pokemerchandise), or Beanie Babies, it’s pretty clear that the masses are an extremely fickle bunch.


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Myspace
  • Google Buzz
  • Reddit
  • Stumnleupon
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • Technorati
Author: Andy Groen View all posts by

Leave A Response

You must be logged in to post a comment.