Gaming Below the Radar

Gaming Below the Radar
Scrappy Kids Trying To Make It Big

Shannon Drake | 13 Dec 2005 11:04
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Talking business leads to talking about the business. I get a glimpse into a cut-throat, competitive world of scrappy kids trying to make it big, when I ask him what kind of challenges the casual developer faces. "One of the biggest challenges in casual games is also one of its greatest benefits, that is, there is a low barrier to entry to create casual games," he says, continuing, "While it could take two years and $20 million to build a top notch console game, in the casual space, it could take three to six months and cost anywhere between $50,000 to $150,000 to develop [a casual game]. This, therefore, creates an accessible market for all game developers to potentially create the next big hit, but it also creates an overcrowded environment where a game developer must compete against many others for those few promotional spots on the game portals." While the big boys battle for shelf space in a retailer near you, scrappy developers worldwide duke it out to be on top of the Games page when you're looking to kill a few minutes at the office.

Mr. Jensen then allows me to crawl inside the head of a casual developer to explore what makes a casual game. He draws it all out, showing me the basic alchemical formulas. "There are tried and true gameplay methods that work in casual games such as: Match 3 (example: Bejeweled), Shoot 3 (example: Zuma), Card Games (example: Solitaire), and Word Games (example: Bookworm)." We proceed to Casual Gaming 102 when he tells me, "The successful games over the past few years have been based on the tried and true games and then slightly alter the game play mechanics and introduce a new theme." Instead of, say, drastically altering the model of a successful game, they take something established and give it their own twist. See also: Blizzard Entertainment.

He reels off some examples for me, "Jewel Quest was a huge hit that took Bejeweled's main game design and added a unique twist. Luxor is another game that took Zuma's initial design and added a new twist to make it fresh," and as I nod along, I find I know what he's talking about because I've played every single one of those games. If you shouted "ZUMA" in an angry tribal tone, I would instantly flash back to a stone frog shooting brightly colored balls at other brightly colored balls.

Looking toward the future, mainstream publishers lament a coming dark age of sequels and series because they're engaged in Cold War-scale spending contests with their cohorts. By contrast, Mr. Jensen sees a bright future ahead for his industry when I ask him to indulge me with a little forecasting, "The market is still in its rapid growth phase. Even though there are 100 million people playing these games worldwide, it will continue to grow at a rapid pace across international markets, distribution channels, and organic growth." I find myself nodding again, when he tells me what it's going to take to succeed. "Successful developers will be the ones that come up with the original idea, execute well on game design, and are effective in gaining broad scale distribution across the global market and on different platforms." After all, you don't need a $10 million marketing budget when you go where the titans of industry aren't. You just need really good games.

Millionaire playboy Shannon Drake lives a life on the run surrounded by Japanese schoolgirls and video games. He also writes about anime and games for WarCry.

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