According to the IGDA'sCasual Gaming Whitepaper (PDF), more people should listen to Mayes's mom. Almost 40 percent of people in America play computer games, and the majority of these gamers play casual games. 70% of them are women.

"If you make a game fun enough and addictive enough," says Mayes, "not only do [users] stay longer and longer, but they also tell their friends about it." Which is exactly the point. Game designers, like David Amor, call this word of mouth. But advertisers call it "going viral." When a game or advertisement reaches a critical mass of popularity, and friends of friends of friends start telling their friends about it too, you've scored a hit, whether you're selling the game or hawking the product it's attached to. Before long, you've reached the mass market.

"[Advergaming] is wildly successful," says Mayes, and he should know. Arkadium recently signed a deal with The Hearst Corporation, to create online games for potentially every single one of Hearst's publications, including Cosmo, Redbook, Harper's Bazaar, Esquire, and Teen. "If you look at companies who have no experience with advergames, but they're used to more typical forms of advertising, they're used to spending millions of dollars [on traditional advertising]. But this kind of advertising only holds a user's attention for possibly fifteen seconds, if that. [Advergaming is] so much more robust and engaging, they'll hold a user's attention for fifteen minutes, 30 minutes, an hour and the whole time they're being exposed to your brand and all your products. It's a really sticky form of advertising."

Wild Tangent agrees. Founded in 1998 by Alex St. John, one of the architects of Microsoft's DirectX, Wild Tangent has since been making its name, like Arkadium, in the advergaming and casual game sphere. And making it big.

"[Traditional publishers] are in the movie business," says Dave Madden, Executive Vice President of Wild Tangent. "We're in the TV business. We're a middle man." A middle man perhaps, but with high ambitions. Wild Tangent, according to their own website, was named the 5th most popular online game property by comScore Media Metrix and if you buy a new PC this year, chances are you'll also be buying a Wild Tangent game. Over 85 percent of all new PCs ship with the Wild Tangent game client pre-installed, giving users instant access to Wild Tangent's vast library of web-based games, and Wild Tangent access to you. Wild Tangent, according to Madden, is out for nothing less than "ownership of the desktop," and if 85 percent can be considered a majority stake, one would have to argue that they've made it.

According to IGDA's whitepaper, the advergaming market will account for over $500 million in advertising and sponsorship revenues by 2008, and casual games as a whole over $2 billion, which is more than the GDP of a significant number of westernized nations. To say casual games, therefore, are taking over the world, would not be too far from the truth. To say they're taking over the industry would be even closer.

"The Other 90 Percent"
"Web development is so fast," says Arkadium's Tom Rassweiler. "You can have an idea - a simple idea that's totally out of the box - and have a prototype to test in two days. [By contrast] we were talking to somebody one who was working for a long time on this game that they knew probably wasn't going to work, but they [had to] get it further. ... And there's pressure from the top and it's already in production ... talking about this 10-month development schedule for a game that they know isn't any good."

That kind of pressure is all too familiar to anyone who's worked in the trenches of traditional game development, but web-based casual games, for the most part, have eliminated a lot of that pressure. Whereas the typical blockbuster game (Like Gears of War) may take anywhere from 18 months to several years and millions of dollars to develop, casual games, by contrast, average only a few months, and a fraction of a million dollars. But that doesn't make them any less compelling or any less fun. Again, judging by the numbers alone, one would have to argue the exact opposite.

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