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Paris GDC: PlayFirst On The Casual Gaming Revolution

In a Paris GDC lecture on the casual games revolution, publisher PlayFirst’s (Diner Dash) CEO and president, John Welch, noted that, even with bigger publishers now entering the casual gaming field, smaller studios will continue to dominate the m
In a Paris GDC lecture titled 'The Casual Games Revolution: Saving Games from Themselves', PC casual game publisher PlayFirst’s (Diner Dash) CEO and president, John Welch, noted that even with bigger publisher - such as Sony and Nintendo - entering the casual gaming field, smaller studios will continue to dominate the market. Welch began his talk by emphasizing the importance of using common themes when developing casual games: “They have to instantly identify with the marketing and the title.” He went on to cite food and pets as fundamental, universal themes. He argued that the try-before-you-buy model makes developing casual games much harder than working on traditional titles: “With a traditional game, someone pays hundreds of dollars for a console, and $50 for a game. Once they get there, they are invested in it.” Welch reasoned that, with casual games, "...there are tons of things to choose from, and they’re all try before you buy. Big Fish does a game a day – 365 games. But over 1,000 games are submitted.” “In the future the biggest casual platform will be the phone,” Welch speculated. He went on to describe PlayFirst’s excitement with Apple’s video game plans for the iPhone: “The carriers take a back seat, and Apple has set up ‘questionably fair’ agreement. I’m a little worried about the fine print, but we’ll see how it shakes out.” The exec asked out loud, “Will they dominate the space like the iPod, or will they just have a better form factor? I think it might be somewhere in between.” On casual gaming for the Wii, Welch noted, “The Wii has pushed the snowball that was already rolling, in the casualization of Live Arcade, and then made casual gaming something you can’t ignore as a traditional game developer.” He had his doubts, however, on working with Nintendo to bring casual games to the Wii: “Nintendo has a tradition of not being friendly with third-party developers until it is in their own best interests, and that’s what keeps me away as a game developer.” Noting the entrance of Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft, and other big publishers into the casual gaming field, Welch reminded attendees that smaller studios can take more risks with their games. Welch recounted his thoughts on Majestic, Electronic Arts’ alternate reality game: “When EA made Majestic, I threw up my hands and said, ‘We’re done!’” “I thought they had it all figured it out, and it was just a matter of time and money before they had it all sewed up. And then they canceled the problem.” Welch concluded by describing another, perhaps related realization: “Big companies can’t innovate! Even if they get fantastic people, they spend too much money, and they can’t get money out of it. They just can’t innovate like a startup.”

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