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GDC Casual Summit: Blue Fang's Meretzky Defines Casual Games

Kicking off GDC 2008's Casual Games Summit, Blue Fang senior designer Steve Meretzky (Zoo Tycoon) broke down major characteristics of the ever-increasing subset of casual games, outlining its history from Pong to Solitaire to _Bejew

Brandon Sheffield, Contributor

February 18, 2008

2 Min Read

GDC’s 2008 Casual Games Summit kicked off with a description of casual games as a market, with Steve Meretzky, senior designer of Blue Fang, breaking down the ever-increasing subset of games. For the purposes of the summit, the organizers originally operated with this definition of casual: “A game intended for people for whom gaming is not a primary area of interest.” A core gamer will describe games as a major area of interest for them…a casual gamer will not. Here are the major characteristics: Low barriers to entry – no long download time, complex installs, necessary tutorials, or long tail to the fun. Should be forgiving - should give hints and reward error with only minor setback. Short play times – should be able to be taken in bite sizes. Even long story games are divided into levels or tidbits of 5 minutes or less. Highly replayable - if a game is going to be played in five minutes, it needs to be replayable to justify the purchase. Depth of gameplay revealed gradually – new elements can be introduced to the gameplay, but they have to be revealed and explained slowly and carefully. Non-violent themes - no shooting, hand to hand combat, racing, zombies, or apocalypses. Inexpensive - it’s been proven that the audience will pay for games, but they have a greater resistance to price point than the hardcore users.

The earliest games were all casual, Meretzky reminds us – even early computer games like Pong and Breakout. But then as the economic model moved from price point to retail, we started to see more hardcore games. “As we moved further into the 80s, these hardcore products forced all the casual content out of the retail channel, and casual games ceased to exist as a casual product,” he said. Something happened in the 1990s, when Microsoft released Windows with Solitaire, a game which became so popular that it had to be banned from offices. Casual games were back. Then as the internet ramped up, Bejeweled and others broadened that market.

“As we get into the 2000s we see this dichotomy, casual games and hardcore games,” said Meretzky, adding that they were very well split. But now, we see hardcore and casual merging. He then postulated, “As we see this dichotomy kind of going away and becoming a full spectrum, and the in-between space getting filled in, the question is ‘is the definition of what is casual changing?’” More and more we’re seeing games that have some but not all of these characteristics. The space is shifting and changing. Some people say casual games are on the brink of a mainstream breakthrough – but and some say it’s already there.

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About the Author(s)

Brandon Sheffield


Brandon Sheffield is creative director of Necrosoft Games, former editor of Game Developer magazine and gamasutra.com, and advisor for GDC, DICE, and other conferences. He frequently participates in game charity bundles and events.

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