The problem with ‘casual’

Robin Hunicke and Jane Pinckard both went to the IGDA San Francisco chapter meeting, where people from Telltale Games and Ubisoft held a speech on the CSI games.

They both comment on the use and misuse of the ‘casual’ label for games and gamers.

Jane:

It struck us both, I think, that the core audience for the game exhibits anything but “casual” behavior. They are crazy for the game. Over 80 percent finish the games, and 76 percent (I think – I don’t remember the exact number) are repeat customers. They probably don’t play any other game but this. Isn’t that sort of focused attention the definition of “hardcore”?

There’s a big semantic problem here. The tendency these days is to almost ghettoize the games that don’t appeal to the standard male 18-34 demo as “casual games.” Hence, everything from mobile games to kid’s DS games to free flash games to CSI The Game are lumped into “casual.”

I agree. Ample evidence has floated past on the web in the last year or so to suggest that so-called casual gamers can get very hard-core about their casual games. In my opinion, what is really happening is that people in the industry often tend to hand-wave a bit too much when defining their audience (similar to game duration, see an earlier post). Usually a vague definition is good enough, partially because of group-think, partially because the overall level is crap. I would hope big game companies (e.g. EA, Activision, Microsoft) know their audiences, and I’ve seen some signs that they do, but who knows.

As a small developer, you probably have neither the funds nor the know-how to really find out about your audience. You might have access problems too.

The ironic reality is probably that ‘non-casual’ gamers are a niche market…

(More on Robin’s post later.)

Update: Here is some news about a market research company who divide the market into 6 groups. It seems to me people could belong to more than one group, but hey, that’s simplification for you.

Update: ‘Is The Core Gamer A Myth?’ asks Next-Gen in an article about a report on gamer segmentation by The NPD Group.

The Video Gamer Segmentation Report separated gamers into six groups: heavy gamers, avid console gamers, mass market gamers, prefer portable gamers, secondary gamers, and infrequent gamers.

Update: It turns out Robin has blogged about this before. I must have missed it.