Making a Case for Casual Gaming

Sometimes you just have to take a break from saving the galaxy, rescuing the princess and shoving a double-barreled shotgun up some evil alien’s rump ? family, life and work schedules simply demand it.

Which is precisely where the concept of casual games (user-friendly, coffee break-style diversions with straightforward play mechanics, catchy themes, and value-friendly price points) come in, as I so recently rediscovered.

Touting the virtues of these offerings is one thing. Analysts such as DFC Intelligence predict the North American market for such amusements will grow from a reported $281 million in sales this year to over $1.15 billion by 2011. Hundreds upon thousands of people already flock to online providers like Pogo.com and AOL Games, the vast majority women aged 35 to 54, a market undreamt of by traditional videogame publishers. And hey, seriously? Let’s face facts. What’s not to love about gray matter- or reflex-intensive digital diversions suitable for all ages that parents, kids and even bored 9-to-5ers alike can jump right into and out of at a moment’s notice?

As for physically diving in and observing why casual games are so darn compelling firsthand, that’s another ball of wax entirely. Case in point: Titles like 10 Talismans, Super Pop & Drop, Bricks of Atlantis, Zuma, Jewel Quest, Mystery Case Files: Huntsville, LEGO Bricktopia and Saints & Sinners Bowling.

Prior to penning this article, I had a rotten week at work. Multiple features were due, editors kept calling and requesting major changes and the closer deadlines loomed, the more unforeseen distractions and last-minute emergencies started cropping up. Taking a break to unwind with a little Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories or Urban Chaos: Riot Response was, quite plainly, out of the question.

Nonetheless, I managed to sneak in time with not one or two, but all of the aforementioned stress relievers. Even stranger still, I actually managed to fully complete several, which is more than I can say for a single set-top console or PC outing in the last six months. (Never mind that my innate preferences naturally lean towards complex role-playing games, sprawling adventures and epic battlefield simulations.)

There isn’t simply a feeling of accomplishment there. You also have to take into account the fact a nervous breakdown was neatly avoided. Try squeezing in a couple rounds of Halo 2 or NFL Head Coach between your daily spate of meetings, sales calls and presentations. Yep, not so feasible, is it?

What’s interesting too is that the phenomenon, once solely confined to desktop and notebook computers, is making major inroads into the console marketplace.

Given that we’re in a transition year, with sales projections especially precarious, publishers such as Activision, Electronics Arts and UbiSoft are increasingly aware of the need to reach out to a larger, more mainstream audience. Their plan for doing so: Offering cheap, high-quality amusements that actually speak to shoppers who don’t worship Vans Warped Tour-headlining bands or appreciate the virtues of bling and body piercing, for once.

Nintendo’s new Touch Generations series for the DS proves a ready example.

Standout selections such as Sudoku Gridmaster, Big Brain Academy and Brain Age are clearly targeted at casual buyers, and a proposed means of expanding the industry’s reach. Each can be played satisfyingly within a single 10-minute session and appreciated by almost anyone to boot. What’s more, all prove handy sources of entertainment for those operating on exceptionally tight schedules, whether on the go or in a pinch.

Not to be outdone, Microsoft, via its Xbox Live Arcade platform, has additionally been racking up accolades from critics and consumers alike.

The service, which lets Xbox 360 owners purchase and download classic arcade titles, independently developed games and episodic content straight to their system, has already scored massive hits in Uno and Geometry Wars. Retailing between $4.99 and $14.99, featured selections target a variety of age and interest groups, and have enhanced the machine’s reputation as a must-have part of any modern living room setup.

Even Sony’s showing signs of interest in the market, with the PlayStation 2 now supporting a range of sub-$20 dollar titles in random categories from drag racing to bowling and billiards. One glance at the shelves at your local Target or Wal-Mart says it all. To wit: Trivia titles like The Bible Game and interactive shooting gallery NRA Gun Club aren’t exactly aimed at the same folks playing Hitman: Blood Money and Splinter Cell: Double Agent.

All of which calls into question the industry’s previous definition of a gamer (spiky-haired teenage boys) and the inherent validity of 40-50 hour magnum opuses (The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, we’re looking at you). Meaning that while suitable for some folks, the old ways of doing business aren’t necessarily the ones that jive best with the future of the marketplace.

Hence you don’t necessarily need a free afternoon, hundreds of extra dollars or a spare sick day here and there to appreciate the best the biz has to offer. Courtesy of forward-thinking manufacturers like PopCap, Reflexive, RealArcade, MumboJumbo and Big Fish Games, tomorrow’s interactive entertainment industry looks a whole lot brighter. Not to mention, that is, infinitely more capable of fitting in with everyone’s increasingly crowded daily routine.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Home Theater

Sony’s 360 Reality Audio is the epic sound revolution you didn’t know you needed

After Sony’s utterly bizarre press conference, I almost missed what was perhaps the most impactful sonic experience at the show. Luckily, I went back to Sony’s booth on the last day of the show, only to have my mind blown.
Gaming

Among hundreds of choices, these are the best 25 SNES games of all time

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System might be the greatest game console ever made, but what are the best titles for the system? Here are our picks for the best SNES games.
Gaming

This list of PlayStation 4 exclusives puts its competitors to shame

The PlayStation 4's game library and incredible selection of exclusive games could make anyone with an Xbox One or Nintendo Switch think twice. Here's our list of the latest and greatest PS4 exclusives.
Gaming

These are the must-have games that every Xbox One owner needs

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From Cuphead to Halo 5, the best Xbox One games offer something for players of every type.
Gaming

Your PlayStation 4 game library isn't complete without these games

Looking for the best PS4 games out there? Out of the massive crop of titles available, we selected the best you should buy. No matter what your genre of choice may be, there's something here for you.
Mobile

AT&T jumps the gun with deliberately misleading 5GE launch

As excitement about 5G networks continues to build, AT&T jumps the gun with a ridiculous and deliberate attempt to deceive the public with 5G Evolution – a speed bump that’s based on improvements to 4G tech.
Features

Netflix’s latest price increase heralds the end of streaming’s golden age

Netflix’s recent price rise is just the latest in a string of signs that streaming’s golden age is nearly over. As more services enter the fray, content will be further partitioned, signaling the end of streaming’s good old days.
Features

Netflix’s rate hike is a good thing. Wait, wait, hear us out

Upset at Netflix for raising its rates? We don't blame you. Nobody likes to pay more for anything -- even if they love that thing. But you really should be thanking the streaming entertainment giant. The hike in prices is a necessary and…
Mobile

Bezel-less phones are terrible for typing on, and it’s only going to get worse

Bezel-less smartphone screens look great, and foldable smartphones are an exciting part of the mobile future; but we don't like where the typing experience is heading because of these two trends.
Gaming

Blizzard's dismal updates to 'Diablo 3' make 'Path of Exile' the better option

'Diablo 3' season 16, the 'Season of Grandeur,' is live. It attempts to shake up the stale meta-game with a minor tweak, but it falls far short of what fans of the franchise want. Better games like 'Path of Exile' are eating Blizzard's…
Wearables

A wearable may save your life, thanks to A.I. and big data. Here’s how

Wearables are morphing from devices that send you smartphone notifications and track your fitness into gadgets that can monitor your health -- and maybe even save your life.
Gaming

'Wargroove' is a delightful tactics game that lets you recruit cute armored pups

Wargroove is a fantastical Advance Wars successor with beautiful pixelated visuals and rewarding grid-based combat. In addition to a meaty campaign, Wargroove has an intuitive map editor that lets you create robust campaigns of your own.
Smart Home

Will everything from lamps to fridges be spying on me? Yes, and I’m creeped out

With the debut of Panasonic’s HomeHawk lamp with built-in video camera, should we be concerned that everything -- from couches to dishwashers -- could soon be spying on us? Here’s why the answer to that question is yes.
Computing

Debunking Dark Mode: Here’s why it won’t improve your laptop’s battery life

Dark Mode is known to improve battery life for certain devices, like a smartphone with an OLED screen. Does that apply to laptops, as well? To find out we tested two laptops, one running Windows and one running MacOS.