What Will Online Games Look Like in a Year? Three Early Trends from Casual Connect


What's Casual Connect? Read yesterday's post, What's Casual Connect and Why Should I Care?, for the quick lowdown.

The annual Casual Connect conference in Seattle is underway, and big ideas from this year are already starting to crop up. Here's a sampling of some trends you might start to see in your favorite online games.

Increased Focus on Friends

Larry C. culled this from a social games panel he attended: Friends game play data as a mode of engagment. Friends who play more have more value. In other words, games that show players how their friends are doing seem to encourage the player to play more -- and friends that play more will encourage competition among their friends in turn.

This helps illuminate the exponential growth of certain games on social networking sites, particularly Facebook, which has an application development framework that makes it easy for game creators to pull in data about the player's friends and display statistics about their play inside the game itself. Some games (such as Facebook's Mafia Wars) even tie friends' accomplishments in the game to the player's own.

Facebook's Gareth Davis noted a few other aspects of the social network that make it a unique place to develop games. For one, Facebook allows players to easily distribute the games to their friends by inviting them to play right through the game. It also allows players to share their game experiences (new high score, unlocked levels, reaching certain goals) by publishing them in their profile.

Blurring Casual and Hardcore Lines

PopCap Games' CEO David Roberts headlined a panel this morning called, "Gamers are Casual Too" with a great carryaway message: don't pigeonhole gamers into demographics like "hardcore" and "casual" -- just make great games for everyone! Larry C. attended the panel himself, adding: Everyone is sick of labels. Casual, social, core and hard core. They are just games.

New platforms like the iPhone and Facebook are bringing games to people for the first time -- the gamer audience is growing, and it's not just more young men playing violent war games and not just soccer moms playing sparkly jewel games; it's the mass market.

In practice, this seems to mean that there's going to be a convergence of genres - games, on the whole, will cease to be either 'hardcore' or 'casual.' Many games we might label as 'casual' already have hardcore elements -- Fancy Pants Adventures on Games.com borrows elements from traditional platforming games such as the Super Mario series and its followers. Hardcore games, "video games" as opposed to "online games," in turn feature many casual elements, most apparent with minigames but also extending to the natural gameplay cycles (repeating certain actions to level up, emphasis on player to player interaction), even in games like World of Warcraft. Sure there will still be genres (in movies, we have action films, chick flicks, kids movies etc) but there might not be such a great divide between the demographic of who is actually playing games.

People Will Become Gamers With the Right Games

It's appropriate that Nintendo is the company extolling the virtues of finding non-gamer audiences, considering that their Wii console, along with games such as Wii Fit and Wii Sports, have been partially responsible for the dramatic increase of gamers in the last few years. During their keynote, Nintendo noted that in just 2.5 years, the console and handheld market for games increased by 30 million players.

"From our experience, many developers tend to narrow target to specific audience. We don't operate on those terms; rather we choose to focus on broader market; things that appeal to everyone," Prata said. "If you can make games that appeal to everyone, regardless of experience level, then one step closer to expanding the industry."

This last point compliments the previous one about blurring the casual/hardcore lines -- expanding the demographic means creating games that are going to appeal to either more people at a time or appeal to niche demographics that haven't previously been exposed to games.

Nintendo successfully did this by fostering games with a purpose -- with Wii Sports, they were able to take the real-life activities of bowling, baseball and more and creating their video game analogs. With Wii Fit, they were able to take a common 'chore' (working out) and turn it into a game that not only rewarded you with a healthier body, but also encouraged participation with in-game status reports and minigames. Of course, both games were enabled with help of a motion-sensing controller that helped bridge the gap between performing an action in real life and executing that action on the screen.


Those are just three of the many trends being discussed at Casual Connect so far this year -- we'll try to bring you another update later this week on the exciting new ideas being shared at the conference and talk about how they'll change the way you, and even those who don't think gaming is for them, think about games.

What are your thoughts on these trends? Do you see them affecting how you look at games? Are you excited to see what new games developers will create in light of these discussions?