Open Discussion: Casual Games Slow Down Innovation and Growth of Mobile Games Market!

March 9th, 2007 by Arjan Olsder Posted in Open Discussions | 6 Comments »

This morning we received an open letter from Markus Kassulke (you know, the other driving force behind German developer HandyGames) about how Casual games might sound like a great way to sell games to the public, but actually slow down innovation. It’s good reading material and we are curious what you, our readers think. Please leave your replies below!

Casual Games slow down innovation and growth of mobile games market!

The good old game Snake was the first casual game appearing on mobile devices. Was Snake a revolution? No. It was the reason why we decided to found a new company over 7 years ago with the motto “We can do better than Snake on a mobile black and white display!”.

Now, being a dinosaur on the mobile gaming market and with a huge experience what works and what works not, we think it is time to drive the market one step further. But what will be the driving force?

We have seen many articles, interviews and statements of representatives of mobile gaming companies preaching that the key to a mobile mass market are Casual games. And to be honest, we are getting tired of that misleading philosophy.

There is no doubt that you have to have Casual titles in a well balanced game portfolio. But Casual games are in most cases neither innovation movers nor titles with strong brands. Ok, there are some exceptions like Tetris or Pacman. But here appears the problem when speaking about innovation and growth on a long term view. How many new versions of Tetris and Pacman or any other well known Casual title will the mobile gamers be willing to download?

Just go back in time of the good old consoles when Pong was introduced to the mass market. Pong was a top seller, but afterward tons of clones and new Pong versions with less innovation in game play annoyed gamers very fast. This historical example should teach us! How many Break Out clones or puzzle games with colourful gem shifting functions will convince the mobile community or even first buyers?

There is also no doubt that the mobile gaming target group is a very young one with a personal focus on music, movies and games. The definition of “cool” games is somewhere between Need for Speed and World of Warcraft. For them, Online games are multiplayer games on the internet like 3D-Shooters or MMORPGs, but not Casual Flash or Java games on the web.

Mobile users who managed to download a game for the first time are normally aware of the quality of PC- and console games, even if they are not really playing on these platforms. If the first mobile game they play is a Casual title, the needed “Wow!”-factor is simply missing in most cases.

Viral marketing is a huge multiplier in Mobile Gaming. Prestige and status symbols are important in the young target group. This is the reason why someone needs always the latest handset, the coolest ring tone or the craziest wallpaper on the display. Smalltalk in the circle of friends like “Hey, I am in level 13 of Zuma!” or “Wow, I played Tetris on my mobile all night long!” is unspectacular and causes loud laughter. Because of this fact it is “uncool” for the young audience to play mobile games.

So we should not wonder why the market is not growing as fast as we expected years ago. It is a fact that even with a flood of mobile Casual games the market in 2006 came close to stagnation. And as everyone commits, we are still around 5% user base or even less. The potential is immense, but we must carefully think what kind of games and features will drive the market to 10% penetration or more.

Maybe it is true that mobile gamers play 10 to 25 minutes per game session. It is simply wrong to assume that when they are playing such a short time, they are not forced automatically to use Casual games! The magic word is: save game! Complex mobile games like strategy games, adventures, action games, sports games and role playing games can be played even on the taxi, while waiting for the bus or during boring meetings with the help of a simple save game function.

Yes, there will be Mobile Casual games, but they will play the same role in terms of reputation and revenues like Casual games play on the PC- and console gaming sector. Innovation and growth will come from more complex games and new features like e.g. networked gaming.

Mobile game publishers which focus mainly on Casual games will sooner or later get in trouble or even disappear from the market. They will not be the key players to push the market forward. And what counts at the end of the day are not only nice revenues or download numbers to convince some investors of the big story called “Casual Gaming”. What we need is a profitable growth to form a mass market for mobile games and not to sign the next financing round!

    6 Responses to “Open Discussion: Casual Games Slow Down Innovation and Growth of Mobile Games Market!”

    1. gj says:

      Wow this is stupid. In 7 years you did not managed to do what the pc casual game business did in 3. So why bother and write these letters ?
      Wake up. The mobile phone is a mobile phone. Its also a camera, mail reader, text msgs machine. Then, maybe, a game device. This what makes is 5% only and perfect for casual games market. Look at the audience of PC and mobile games: similar 50%+ women over 30. its not the 20+ that you hoped for.
      Innovation has nothing to do with it. If you want mobile innovation, buy a DS.

    2. mk says:

      I think you did not get the point. Even the fact that we have a female target group and casual games we saw no big growth on the market.
      And also think of where the big money is comming from on PC? Casual games? No. So just check the market volume of casual games and compare it to full price titles.
      Does the hardware industry increase and evolves its technology year by year by checking the quality of casual games? No. Its the demand of high quality games they are looking at…
      As Levi Buchanan from IGN comments in his GDC Mobile sum-up:
      “For the record, I like Tetris. Actually, I love Tetris. I think it is a powerful gateway drug that could bring people to mobile. My concern is that if gamers come to the deck after buying Tetris and see more classics like Pac-Man, they may wonder if that’s all mobile has going on.”
      So just think about it.

    3. So if Zuma and Tetris are too uncool for the teenage handy crowd, what are the bestselling handy games?

    4. mk says:

      Zuma and Tetris are big brands created for other platforms. A lot of money was spent for the mobile rights of Tetris (over 130Mio USD). Between 1988 and 2000 about 55 Mio Tetris copies were sold on different platforms and versions.
      Casual games are maybe one key to attract new gamers to play on mobile phones for the first time. But after playing enough Zuma or Tetris, they want more!
      How did you start playing computer games? Did you start with a multiplayer 3D game or a real time strategy game?
      I think not, because most of the people out there started playing computer games with titles like Pong, Pac Man, Space Invaders, Tetris, Solitaire, Shooting games or Jump&Runs from the good old days. And even after playing Pac Man a long time, you will come to the point when you ask for something different! And there is no doubt that Pac Man is huge successful brand.
      So will Tetris 2, Tetris 3, Tetris 4 or Tetris 5 will grow the mobile games market and double the revenues on the mobile games market? Not really.
      Again: The point is NOT to blame Casual games in general, because as I mentioned, you need to have them in your portfolio. But Casual games will not be the innovation and growth driver for the mobile games industry! People out there want more – when they see the next 10 years mainly Casual games, mobile gaming will NEVER overtake PC and console gaming as some of your competitors predict.
      And why? Because in the moment we see Casual games in the Top 10 and the industry thinks “Hey, Tetris works, so let

    5. Blueskied says:

      >> “Hey, Tetris works, so let

    6. mk says:

      Why not? Because this strategy slows down the mobile games market. Again: about 95% of mobile users are not playing! And Tetris IS out there and did change nothing.
      Why did EA Mobile had no growth from Q3 to Q4/2006? Sounds like stagnation… even with Tetris in their portfolio.

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    Arjan Olsder is the Vice President of Pixalon Studios. Opinions expressed on this publication do not have to represent those of Pixalon Studios.


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