The second renaissance of gaming

Michaelangelo's Creation of Adam and the WiiI hate casual games.

Not the games themselves, but the term and the underlying concept. First off, it is a misnomer. Casual gamers are anything but casual – they still spend less time on average than their “core” counterparts, but that gap is much smaller than the terms suggest (a 2006 PopCap games study showed 28% of respondents reported playing casual games for ten hours or more a week, and half play games on a daily basis).

Second, the term has become a buzz-word, and is now being re-defined by every business to fit their own model. At a recent games marketing conference, a panelist claimed that casual gaming was actually all online games supported by micro transactions or ad supported models, because that’s what his business did – not noticing that this definition leaves out the Wii, which was really the business phenomenon that crowned “casual games” with buzz-word status.

So if “casual” is the wrong word, what is? I offer up a much humbler concept: casual games are the start of gaming’s second renaissance. The first was the emergence of home entertainment systems, over thirty-five years ago. By today’s standards, those games were far more rudimentary than today’s casual games: Pong was about as simple as it gets. But at the time, that was the cutting edge. As years passed, the complexity of game controllers, and the games themselves increased along with new technology and an adapting user base. With each new feature, games became harder to just pick up and play, as new platforms and genres introduced new learning curves. Casual games seem to be replicating this same evolution, but at a much faster pace – the technology for improvements is much more available.

Many casual games publishers pushing for downloadable versions of their browser based apps for enhanced features. Successful casual titles are becoming franchises, with sequels being released for their existing audiences, offering new and more complex gameplay. The Wii is adding new hardware additions for more intricate movement tracking. Guitar Hero (a semi-casual game) started with a single instrument, and now has evolved to multiple instruments and track creation. This sector is going to continue to evolve quickly, mirroring in many ways the first renaissance, but this time with a much broader audience, offering interaction through keyboards, mice, mobile phones, and custom peripherals, rather than through joysticks and buttons.