"It might be more appropriate to call them non-gamers than casual gamers in some ways," says Kapalka, "since for many of them their only game experience on the computer is perhaps Minesweeper or the equivalent."
Kapalka's company has had stunning success in this market, and this experience has guided PopCap's development efforts. "At PopCap," he explains, "we have an informal system we call the 'Mom test.' Can you get your mom to sit down and play your game? Does she understand it without you explaining it to her? Does she want to continue playing after you stop forcing her to? If so, those are good signs for the game's success in the casual games market."
For the time being, that's where PopCap's efforts are primarily focused. Kapalka is quite hopeful that traditional strategy gamers "might become more adventurous in their buying habits if the PC CD market continues to constrict." That's what Hautemont is hoping for, also. But he's also confident that he can sell his games to the current population of casual players, which is where he parts company with the big online portals.
"When talking with some of the big portals," he says, "I found that they have a very low opinion of their customers." Hautemont accepts the casual market demographic, but doesn't agree with the big portals' attitude towards it. "I don't argue that those moms comprise the market. I just beg to differ on how intelligent that mom is or how engaged in gaming she might want to be."
Another objection Hautemont has come up against is that multiplayer gaming and casual gaming are essentially mutually exclusive. Hautemont points to the fact that for a long time, one of the most popular games on the MSN Zone was Reversi, a multiplayer version of Othello that matched you up with anonymous online opponents. Interestingly, Microsoft is the one company he cites as having an approach similar to his, which is perhaps borne out by MSN Zone's recent launch of Settlers of Catan Online, a computer version of the multi-million selling German boardgame. But Days of Wonder has an advantage in that they have a real synergy between their boardgame business and their online games.
"One of the most important factors in the success of an online game is critical mass," says Hautemont. "We're in a unique position because we have an existing - and growing - player base," so if you buy the game in the store, you're automatically part of a pool of players, and thus potential opponents. It's a pretty big pool, too. At last count, Ticket to Ride and its sister game, Ticket to Ride Europe, sold over 400,000 copies of the boardgame. Recently, the average wait to start an online two-player game at peak times averaged around two seconds.
Days of Wonder is releasing the standalone Ticket to Ride for the PC in December. The first printing of the game sold on the company's website will include a DVD with ten-minute videos on each of the company's boardgame titles. "Our goal is to have it so that if you watch the video, you can open the box and begin playing the game immediately," says Hautemont. Because each physical boardgame has a code that buyers can redeem at the website for online gaming privileges, the company can track the "conversion rate" of free accounts. "So far, it has been spectacular," Hautemont notes.