Wednesday, April 22, 2009

So is Casual Gaming not So Important after all?

A year ago the runaway successes of Nintendo Wii, DS, PopCap and Flash gaming convinced a lot of people (me included) that the future of gaming would be dominated by casual games.

Recently the decline in sales of Nintendo Wii in its home market of Japan has made me reconsider that prediction. Is it possible that casual gaming has shot it's bolt and more meaty games will come back into the spotlight?

From a personal point of view I am not too surprised at the sharp fall off in Wii sales in its mature Japanese market. My daughter got one for Christmas and after the initial novelty of Wii sports wore off we quickly came to the realisation that there were very few good games for the Wii. Most of the top selling titles are party games that can be picked up quickly and are fun to play with friends but ultimately they won't hold anybodies attention for too long. Contrast that situation with my gaming PC. Many of the games I play on the PC have a steep learning curve but once you make that learning investment they can deliver hundreds of hours of entertainment.

If the decline in Wii sales is an indication of a general decline in the stock of casual gaming I wonder if this is related to the unfolding economic depression. When real life is good casual gaming provides a quick entertainment fix. When real life is tough people are prepared to invest learning time in order to get high the quality escapism that only serious gaming can provide.

EDIT: Point of clarification - I am using the general description of casual game here as being a game that requires "no long term commitment or special skills to play" (Wikipedia). I am thinking of games you can pick up and learn the ropes in five minutes. By this definition even the most casual friendly carebear mmorpg counts as hardcore.


Thallian said...

It could be but be careful with statistics.. Mark Twain once said, "there are lies, #$%$#% lies, and statistics." he was right in a way because people take statistics to mean things they don't. It could be a correlation between casual gamers here... OR it could be something else. just as easily it could be a correlation between the awful stock and spending market in general. Just be careful in making too hasty of judgements based on statistics, because there are many hidden variables involved and co-performance doesn't always imply correlation.

Marty Runyon said...

@Thallian - When I read your "#$%$#%", my mind automatically saw a 21st century curse instead of the 19th century curse he really used. :)

@mbp - While it would be really nice to think this is true, I suspect your falling for the standard fallicy of assuming any particular niche will suddenly become mainstream. There will always be hardcore games, but the casual audience is not going to develop a sudden hunger for them. The same with art house films, cardboard counter wargames, and just about any comic book. Otherwise, very interesting post. :)

mbp said...

Hi Thallian, Hi Anjinn. You guys are right to call me out for covering up wishful thinking with tenuously related statistics.

Nevertheless I do have a sense that some of the gloss has gone off casual gaming and I wonder if the current economic troubles may be influencing this.

Anjinn I think it may be wrong to assume that the "casual audience" is an immutable object. After all we are all just people and our entertainment needs vary depending on our life circumstances. I can imagine that the deep escapism provided by more serious games may attract a lot more people when real life gets tougher.

As a more trivial example consider that Flash games are often something folk play on their work PC when the boss isn't looking where-as an unemployed person may find themselves with the time and inclination to indulge in an MMORPG.