Carl pointed me in the direction of this excellent presentation by Carnegie Mellon University Professor Jesse Schell. For anyone working in digital who has been asked by a client to make a Farmville clone this is a must-see video. Schell talks about the Facebook game phenomenon (Farmville, Mafia Wars etc.) and how its taken the games industry by surprise. He points out the success of these games is their interaction with the real world. The traditional idea of games as an escape from reality is therefore being turned on its had by this new wave of casual social games. Players now want their game experiences to be interwoven with real life and their day to day interactions with friends and strangers. Achievement based gaming is a good example of this idea, players get bragging rights and even single player experiences become competitive. He also talks about revenue streams in these games. Schell points out that games that require direct payment often generate less revenue than games which are totally free to play but use micro transactions or subscriptions to unlock enhanced game feaures.
His talk also inspired me to think about what else makes a successful casual game. I’m sure its been commented on before but I’ve noticed that my personal enjoyment of a casual game is often related to the ratio of active to passive gameplay. What I mean by this is the amount of time you as the player have to be interacting with the game in order to progress. Contrary to what I used to think its often games with an even split of active and passive gameplay that are the most fun. Take Peggle for example. In Peggle you line up the trajectory of the shot and then hit Fire, then you watch your action play out which can easily take 10 seconds or more. The same goes for Angry Birds, you shoot your bird and watch the physics engine do its work. This mechanism works particularly well on mobile devices, it means the player is never penalised for pausing in the middle of a game session. It also makes the effort involved in playing quite low which encourages ‘just one more go’ behaviour.
I’ve embedded the talk via G4TV.
EDIT : Jim Rossignol has posted an interesting response to the Schell video on RockPaperShotgun.