“We make games for the rest of us,” began Rob Glaser, founder/CEO of RealNetworks during his Casuality Seattle keynote on Tuesday, June 27 in Seattle, Washington. Glaser has been in the PC game business for 25 years. He watched games move from arcade to console and the game industry form a focused business on narrowed-in genres and specific consumers.
Before the Internet, Glaser pointed out, there was no easy way to try casual games. There was no dedicated place to learn about and buy them, which resulted in what he described as "shovelware". In the early Internet period, web games became popular, but advertising didn’t work well, so pay was limited. Additionally, there was not enough bandwidth for easy downloading.
However, times have changed. According to Glaser, it was, in particular, broadband that came to the rescue. Currently, 23% of worldwide Internet users have broadband. The industry standard try-before-you-buy model has yielded a robust PC download business. There are dozens of successful individual games and profitable subscription services.
With new opportunities come new challenges, in situations such as integrating with offline properties, considering new ways to monetize game play, connecting new platforms, and addressing new markets and interaction models. In the case of integrating casual game with offline properties, RealNetworks is gaining experience through a partnership with Hasbro on the Monopoly board game. Together, they are making a brand new version of the board game with both online and offline sides.
However, Real's Glaser particularly warned about what he calls the “98% opportunity.” “While there may be 750,000 downloads a day, only 2% of those result in consumers paying for a game,” reported the exec.
Early casual game ad models didn’t work either because consumers found the ads intrusive or consumers were able to ignore them. Glaser suggested the solution is making ads that are designed properly, that are both feel contextually correct and are not invasive. These include sponsorships, skinning, and product placement. He referenced the Clicktopia model of interactive media, as well as placing rich media such as video ads between game levels, something that Real announced a partnership
to do today.
Casual games are appropriate on multiple platforms, Glaser suggested. The mobile platform provides a massive number of IP-enabled devices in the form of the “ultimate go-everywhere device.” Casual games are a great fit with the constraints of mobile phones, due to small screens and relatively slow processors. However, there are issues. Developers run into problems with device fragmentation.
Glaser pointed out Real's own solution in the form of EMERGE, an evolving porting tool that allows people to develop from a single code base on over 300 handsets. Some features of games are automatically filtered out to find the optimized balance for each handset to create as rich a user experience as possible. EMERGE, according to Glaser, drastically reduces porting costs.
For the casual market, consoles are also reachable. Xbox 360 Live Arcade is bringing the casual download model to the console. “It’s early to tell, but the conversion to purchase rate is encouraging,” said Glaser. Xbox is likely to bring a new demographic to the casual games market, as well as appeal to current casual game demographics sharing consoles in a household.
Glaser stated that current research opens up even more markets and opportunities for casual games with health and education benefits. Research has shown that gaming activity that uses problem-solving skills will slow age-related declines in mental ability. Brain Age
for the handheld Nintendo DS has sold remarkably well, and opened up a new demographic to casual games. He encouraged developers to venture out into health and education related game terrain, but also to learn from companies around the world.
Although Japan is accustomed to the micro-transaction casual game model, developers in Korea and China have had to come up with ways to keep players buying content in online games. Social interaction is crucial for download buys in Korea and China. The model is to pay for items and social status, not the basic game play.
“Together, we’ve built a very successful PC industry,” Glaser said, as he thanked the audience for their efforts. He concluded that there are major growth opportunities in many dimensions. By creating PC ad-supported casual games correctly, jumping to mobile and next-gen handhelds and consoles, looking at new models around community and social status, the casual games industry will see worldwide growth - an overall message reflected in the buoyant mood of those at Casuality.