I really hope not, since I have just started this blog. But one might argue that casual games are repeating all of the mistakes after the mainstream game industry. No, this won’t be another rant about clones. Casual game cloning has already been discussed many times. Too many times, in fact. In a similar fashion much has been said (or rather lamented) about the unfair strategies of game distribution portals and their exploitation of game developers.
Both cloning and portals are an integral part of the casual gaming landscape nowadays. If you have problems with it better stay away, because you can do nothing about it. A smarter approach is to use portals and cloning to your advantage, but this is a topic for a story of its own. I would like to stress another thing which is a much greater threat for the casual games market in my opinion.
Each month we can see a new wave of about 50 new casual games. The problem I see is that with passing time these games are getting less and less casual!
For me the main reason behind the unparalleled success of casual games is their accessibility. The simple fact that just about anyone can download your game and enjoy playing it like a pro within minutes is nothing but mind blowing. Loosing this property would surely mean problems to casual games in the long term, but in my opinion the process has already started. And you don’t have to look far to notice it, because as usual the darkest place is under the candlestick.
If you look at modern hidden object games, you will notice that many of them don’t have any kind of tutorials or instructions and that they are quite difficult right from the start. After all why should a developer waste his time implementing detailed instructions and scripted tutorials, or make first levels easy when “everyone” has already played one of the earlier hidden object games?
This is a flawed and dangerous reasoning, because it makes the games less accessible to new players. I know it’s easier to monetize on the current user base returning for more of the hidden object extravaganza, than to implement all the extra functionality necessary to accommodate all players including the new ones. But if we want the casual games market to grow, we need to handle both new and returning players.
It’s not that difficult if you think about it, but the difference can be huge. The best way I think is to simply ask the player in a message box at the start of the game if he or she has already played this kind of game before. If the answer is no, the game should start with a tutorial and some introductory levels with little difficulty. If the answer is yes, the game system could safely skip the obvious parts of the tutorial and bring up the challenge up from the start. Both kinds of players will benefit from this kind of mechanism. The other way is to start the game assuming that we have a player who knows how to play. But on the first sign of trouble the tutorial is launched and the rules are explained.
Actually I see more symptoms of casual games becoming less casual, but I will cover them in the next posts, so stay tuned.