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E3 Review: Game Biz Loves Casual Games

wii_fit_source_nintendo.jpgSanta Monica, California – If there was one buzzword at this year’s E3, it was “casual gaming” in all its synonymous varieties: family-friendly games, games for everyone, usability, intuitive controls, and accessibility, to name a few. Almost every game maker in attendance had casual gaming on their briefing agenda, even if only name-dropping the idea.

There’s no need to be coy; Nintendo’s Wii is directly to blame for the recent surge in interest of casual gaming and its much larger audience outside of hardcore gamers. Interestingly, that reality is transcending consoles, something that is sure to excite independent developers looking to avoid unfavorable licensing terms. Highlights from the E3/casual gaming convergence after the break.
Electronic Arts, the world’s largest video game publisher, dedicated its entire press conference to what it suitably called its Casual Games division. The 60 minute media showcase not only profiled several games for Nintendo’s hugely successful Wii, but mobile phone software and Internet-based games as well. The company called casual gaming “the fastest-growing area within all of gaming.”

Ubisoft, world’s third largest game publisher, did pretty much the same at its presentation, spending a sizable amount of time (roughly half) on what it called its Games for Everyone initiative. In addition to showing several new Wii games, the company displayed its new line of My Coach games for Nintendo’s DS, including My Word Coach, My Spanish Coach, My French Coach, and My Life Coach, which aim to offer self-help training while simultaneously entertaining busy adults. Ubisoft expects its casual games unit to drive 20% of total revenues this year, more than double what it did last year. Considering the success of the similarly-themed Brain Age for the DS, that’s a plausible estimate.

Even Microsoft promoted its upcoming line of “family-oriented” games, complete with a big-buttoned controller similar in look and feel to a Wii remote sans motion-sensing technology, while Sony showed off casual titles like EchoChrome, basically a black-and-white perspective puzzle game. On top of that, Midway, Activision, 2K, and THQ all touched on casual games, be them for consoles, mobile phones, or web browsers.

But the sustainability of casual games’ is still being questioned despite their recent popularity.

“Nintendo seems to be the one company that’s expanding the gaming market, but there’s some cause for concern there because who they’re attracting is the casual gamer,” said analyst Van Baker in an interview with Reuters that also examines the rising popularity of casual games. “That’s something that someone picks up and does for 15 to 20 minutes and then they put it aside. The question is, in three months or six months, is the Wii going to be sitting in the corner forgotten?”

But that same argument was being made only months after Nintendo launched Wii last November, and here we are nine months later and it’s still running circles around the competition, namely Xbox 360 and PS3. Nintendo’s newly announced WiiFit, easily the most disruptive showing this year (though technically not a game), will predictably only deepen the company’s reach– not to mention its pockets.

With the biggest names in gaming fully behind both audience and content expansion, the casual play extends far beyond just core gamers and their systems now. Did I mention everyone’s invited?

14 Responses to “E3 Review: Game Biz Loves Casual Games”

  1. Blake,

    I enjoyed reading your take on the E3 conference. I’m glad you picked up on the focus on casual games at Nintendo and Ubisoft. It’s important to note that while the core gamer is key to the industry, casual gamers will have at least as much influence in the types of games and ways the games are developed, played and shared.

    The analysts are right: presently, casual games don’t make a lot of money, yet. But with the right tools casual games can revolutionize those15 to 20 minutes gamers spend to kill time. Customized online spaces and gamer-owned experiences/content will make casual games more than just playing solitare or, for that matter, the traditional MMO model. Much of the current casual game content can be found in several places online but it is the well executed integration of this kind of game experience with social networking behaviors that will drive substantial revenue growth for developers, distributors and sponsors in this corner of our industry. With these success factors at play, who knows, that time may jump from minutes to hours some day…

    (Just so you know: I’m the head of ECD Systems, a game technology company; our new online portals are designed to marry the casual and online game experience with advanced social networks for gamers and developers).

  2. ‘As soon as the big hitters – namely Gran Turismo 5, Killzone 2, Metal Gear Solid 4, PES7, Tiger Woods 08, GTA iv – come out, the end of the Wii will be upon us. . .’

    Not true methinks… Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition is definitley not a casual game. Soon to be arriving is Resident Evil Umbrella Chronicles, Metroid Prime 3, Mario Galaxy and Tomb Radier… none of which are casual games either. I think the Wii has a healthy mix of everything and I’ll be playing mine for a while yet, thank you very much

  3. Isn’t “casual gaming” where the industry started? You used to be able to pick up a game and just play it without having to invest years of your life to understand the controls and work your way through a contrived plot!

    Of course – way back then… you had the time to read the manual while the game loaded off cassette tape!

  4. Un biased PS3 fan

    The Wii is a very good console, i love going round my mates house to play wii sports.

    Unfortunately the casual perspective leads to games not having the depth, longeivity or immersive nature which hardcore gamers crave.

    He has lent his Wii to my brother now but my PS3 is still keeping me entertained (Even if it is thru MP3 and Blu-ray capabilities)

    As soon as the big hitters – namely Gran Turismo 5, Killzone 2, Metal Gear Solid 4, PES7, Tiger Woods 08, GTA iv – come out, the end of the Wii will be upon us. . .

  5. The Wii Board peripheral shown will very much so be for games. WiiFit is for the Wii Board just kind of like what Wii Sports was for the Wii Mote, it’s a technology demonstration.

    The Wii Board is using Nintendo’s patented technology that knows exactly what you are doing with your body. With the Wii Mote interaction with games were with the whole arm. Now it is going to be with the whole body.

    Imagine also combining the Wii Board with the Wii Mote and the Nunchuck, you will have interactive shooters where your whole body is controlling the charachter, skiing and surfing games, dozens of dancing games and more of the like.

    The Wii Board actually knows how your body is moving instantly upon the way that you stand on it, and there is no way to cheat with that. This has nothing to do with the Dance revolution arcade peripheral, this knows your exact body’s center of gravity, thus the position you are in, at any given moment of the game. Combine it with the Wii Mote and you’ve got a tennis game or football.

  6. Microsoft’s buzzer has FAR more in common with Sony’s Buzz! title (one of the biggest selling franchises in Europe) than anything Nintendo have done.

    I’m no huge Sony fan but I’ve heard this Wii-like controller fallacy from a few blogs now.