For as far back as I could remember, I’ve always had a deeply profound love for video games. I don’t see gaming as a hobby but rather as a passionately engaging medium and a lifestyle choice that constantly evolves from one generation to the next. I also don’t consider myself a fanboy because I don’t favor one console over the other and genuinely keep my interests centered on the actual video games themselves.
With all that said, the one form of gamer that I have found to be quite interesting is the casual gamer. While being dominant for quite a while, recent developments have caused me to question the strength of this market moving forward and into the next generation of consoles. Of course, to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a casual gamer you first would need a proper definition on the matter.
A casual gamer is often defined as a person whose time and interest in video games is limited. These types of people are normally drawn towards games that are easy to play and less time consuming than more traditional titles. Demographics have also stated that a majority of these types of gamers usually are predominantly older females who don’t own consoles. While all of the facts remain obvious, these particular customers have been targeted for quite a while by some of the industry’s biggest brands.
When Nintendo first launched the Wii way back in November of 2006, they made sure that these customers were their primary target audience. This console was not only meant to appeal to their loyal fanbase, but also to encourage people who don’t normally play video games to try them out. The older female demographic I mentioned earlier tends to care immensely about keeping in shape and thus Nintendo aimed to answer that call by offering fitness like experiences on the device. They also ran ad campaigns featuring famous celebrities or musicians to entice this crowd even more. Shortly after these tactics worked, Microsoft and Sony felt the need to add these features to their consoles in the forms of Kinect and Move technology. The main goal of going after these customers was and will always be to show them how easy and exciting it could be to get into gaming.
As casual gamers tend to only play games in short bursts of time, more and more companies started to catch wind of this theory and implemented these practices into their own business models. Both browser based games and Facebook games appeared out of nowhere once people started surfing the Internet and social media sites more frequently. Alternatively, both Apple and Android platforms made it easier to play games on both their tablet and smartphone devices. With so much technology and forms of media to consume, customers became overwhelmed with data and companies benefitted from it. Then suddenly without warning, things started to shift back to reality.
Having been immersed in the Silicon Valley culture, I learned the meaning of the term bubble in relation to startups. This generally refers to a trend that is popular in the beginning and slowly starts to wear off over time. I would classify the casual games market as currently being in this particular state of influx. For starters, infamous games studio Zynga has suffered several studio closings and layoffs over the last few years. Given that they are important to Facebook, this would indicate that perhaps not as many people care about games like words with friends as they previously did before.
Another example of this decline lies solely in Nintendo. Once they released the Wii U, they made it clear that their intended focus was to attract hardcore gamers by having third party games on their next-gen console as well. While this is all a business strategy in the end, it gives the impression that they may not entirely be behind the casual gamer angle as they once were in the past. Unfortunately for them, these statements had little to no affect on third party publishers because they still don’t have faith that Nintendo can sell games to their types of audiences. Therefore, one could say that Nintendo pigeonholed themselves with this Wii U release and would be making a very valid point in doing so.
My personal opinion on casual gamers and the trend in general is that it’s a pointless title to begin with. While life is by far more important than video games, I feel that if you’re a gamer then you will obviously put in the time to play any and every game that commands your attention. Anyone that only casually plays games in general are effectively robbing themselves of the full experience whether it is through learning something or just unwinding after a long day of work. It’s important to remember that the medium is a form of entertainment and escapism from everyday life, and sometimes we all could use a break once in a while.