Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Musings on Casual Design

So, I've been thinking a lot about casual games and casual game design. By and large, classic arcade games (Pac Man, Asteroids, Centipede, etc) are pretty close to the epitome of casual games for the following reasons:

1) By and large, can be played and enjoyed in less than ten minutes
2) Simple controls mean instant awareness and gameplay capabilities
3) Bright colors and simple interface make initial learning curve extremely shallow

Now, I mentioned that they are close to the epitome, and in one level, they are not, their difficulty. The classic arcade games could be devilishly hard, and justifiably so: if folks didn't plop in their quarters, the game wasn't making any money, and defeated the purpose of the arcade game.

Which brings me to Casual Games, everyone knows that Casual Games need to be:
1) accessible: if someone can't pick up and begin playing the game within a short amount of time (5 minutes), then your game is not casual.
2) easy to understand interface: if someone can't make heads or tails of the game within the first two minutes, your game isn't accessible to a casual market.
3) shallow initial learning curve: if someone can't potentially be successful in the game within the first life, your game isn't accessible to a casual market.
4) short, sweet experience: if it takes more than 10 minutes to have a meaningful gameplay experience, your game isn't accessible to a casual market.

But what about depth?

Interesting question, casual games can have incredible depth. Reversi (I had a copy when it was known as Othello) an outstanding casual game. The rules are incredibly easy, the game board simple, its easy to learn the rules, and can be played by just about everyone. Reversi also has an incredible depth of strategy, maximizing your points while minimizing someone elses.

After working on games that predominantly skew toward gamers familiar with the conventions of video and computer games, I find the thought of designing casual games an interesting mental exercise.

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