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I Want My Games In Bite Sized Chunks!

Some thoughts on casual gamers having shorter and shorter attention spans, and some ideas on how design games for them.

Michelle Chen, Blogger

September 17, 2010

5 Min Read

My new day job is as an iPhone developer, so the target audience is mostly casual gamers, and commuter gamers (people who play with games while they are waiting for the train, etc.)

So that got me thinking, how do I design games (although my job description is actually programmer) that would cater to this group of people.

That also got me thinking, who are these people?

When I got my first game job, a year and a half ago, our company was making casual games - Flash ones, like Match 3 and hidden object types. Those were the days of Peggle, Mystery Case Files and Diner Dash (when they were in their good ol’ downloadable form). The “casual gamers” back then, according to my professor (almost two years ago), were “soccer moms”. “Soccer moms” (pardon stereotypes) who have a lot of time on their hands that they can spend playing hours and hours of Peggle. But games like Mystery Case Files and Dream Chronicles have endings, so you wouldn’t play it again after you finish it (you would however, buy the sequel, and another sequel and another sequel). 

And then the Flash era ended, and there was Facebook, and the term “social gamers”, which are actually casual gamers, still, I think. Now social gamers are a wide variety of people, my friends, my friends’ friends, my friends’ parents, but to be more specific, according to a Gamasutra article: “Study: 53% Of Facebook’s Users Have Played Social Games, 19% ‘Addicted’”, mostly young women, 18 to 34 years old. The games on Facebook, you can play for a minute, or you can play for hours. The games don’t have “levels” per se, so you can go on playing forever.

Funny story, the office of my old job is at a Stock Exchange building, so the people there are all pretty serious guys in suits, and my officemate told me that she ran into two suits guys talking about Bejewelled in the elevator. They were seriously talking about Bejewelled. I guess, I can add them to the casual gamers list.

I guess casual games opened up “gaming” to a wider audience.

Now, we know who casual gamers are, what are they like then?

I suddenly remembered blogging, now blogs used to be really long entries, detailing every single thing that happened during the day, now with Twitter, I only have 140 characters to tell my friends what I have been up to. What used to take at least half and hour to do, became less than a minute.

Games like Mystery Case Files that used to well, at least take a day to play, became games like well, my favorite game on Facebook is actually this 1 minute game called Plock.

I also remember how I used to watch Korean dramas, that are 1 hour per episode and has like 50 episodes, but now I watch The Guild on Bing, which Felicia Day crams into 5 to 7 minutes per episode.

Okay, enough intro, let’s continue.

Forgive me for generalizing casual gamers again (like my previous previous previous blog post: A Peek into the Mind of a Social Gamer), it’s just that I find myself to be a stereotype (although they may not know who Codex is, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only tweep).

Continuing from my old blog post, casual gamers want their games cute, simple, and what’s the last one again, oh yeah, easily accessible.

Now I’m emphasizing a few things: games HAVE to be pick up and play.

Games doesn’t have to be really short, but it should be short enough so that the player doesn’t lose interest, or it has to be really engaging so that the player doesn’t get bored. Like I mentioned before, casual games are played in between, in between classes, checking Facebook messages, or during train rides.

So game ideas…

What I like about the Facebook game Plock is that it is really simple, and it’s really short, you just click on the matching blocks next to each other and see them *plock* and disappear until you minute is up, and at the end of the game, there are ranks based on your score, which you can compare with your friends, my friend Hans is like an uber alien or something.


After that round, you can close Facebook and go on with doing other things, or you can play another round and another. What keeps it from being un-boring for me, is well, trying to beat my alien friends.

So something like Plock with a 1 minute format works, oh, there’s actually an iPhone game called 60 Seconds (which also follows the 1 minute format).

And I was browsing the cocos2d forums, I found this guy (PencilLogic/ TwinThumbs/ Hima) who made this game called I.S.U.D. (It Shoots, You Dodge), which is this bullet hell game with adorable glowing bullets and patterns.

What is interesting about this game though, is that it has dynamic difficulty, which means that newbies won’t find it hard to pick up, while hard core gamers can keep on challenging themselves. Also, this, according to their website, offers great replayability.

So the solution to my short attention span: games in bite size chunks that I can keep challenging myself over and over again with.

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