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Postcard from the GDC 2004: Casual Games Summit

The Casual Game Summit at GDC 2004 kicked off with a panel discussion emcompassing a brief history, different genres, their evolution, tips, tricks, advice, and more.

The Casual Game Summit at GDC 2004 kicked off with a panel discussion moderated by Steve Meretzky, principal game designer of WorldWinner.com (www.worldwinner.com).

The event began with an examination of the prevalent definitions for casual game. Historically the term has been used to describe "games for which the intended audience is someone for whom gaming is not a primary area of interest."

The panel outlined some of the common characteristics of casual games:

  • low barrier to entry;
  • forgiving structure;
  • short playing time;
  • highly repeatable gameplay;
  • convenient/quick start;
  • addictiveness;
  • inexpensive pricing.

The full-day event was divided into a design panel, business panel, technical panel, and production panel.

Reinventing the Classics. Design panelist Dave Rohrl, producer of EA's Pogo to Go (www.pogo.com), advised how a simple card game could be enhanced with animated graphics and thematic backdrops to keep the player captivated through the sessions. He cautioned developers against drastically altering the core structure of games (such as Solitaire or FreeCell) founded on well-established victory conditions. Casual gamers, he pointed out, were not likely to have the type of patience demanded by an extensive tutorial to master a new set of rules. "Keep UI simple and clean, and differentiate through representation," said Rohrl.

Design panelist Patricia Pizer, founder of the Boston Area Game Developers' Network and former creative director of Turbine's Asheron's Call 2, described the recent movement among some publishers to embed short puzzles within traditional games.

Lost in Translation. Moderator Meretzky shared his experience in translating trivia games across different cultures. The common pitfall in such a project, he pointed out, was the failure to recognize the cultural background and regional knowledge necessary for the player to understand and answer the trivia questions.

Other tips dispensed by the panelists include rewarding players with narratives and allowing players to customize their in-game avatars.

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