The conversation on the IGDA Casual Games SIG Mailing List sometimes touches on the very tender subject of how casual games should be defined. I wrote the following post some time ago as a reply to the notion that the definition could be tied to demographics alone – that the biggest assumed audience (Women between the ages of 35 – 50) of casual games could affect what games could classify themselves as casual and what games could not. I’ve added headlines to make the post more readable. Otherwise it is my exact response posted on the mailing list.
The definition of “Casual”
I can’t agree with the assumption that demographics define whether a game can be considered casual or not. There are a lot of casual gamers that are neither women nor between 35-50 year old. 12-28 year old males can easily fall into the “casual gamer” category at times. And being in one category does not exclude you from others. If I look at me, personally, it is dictated by context whether I am a hard core or a casual gamer. It depends on the game I am playing – whether it’s game play feels casual to me or not. The definition of casual games is rather vague. So is the definition of what constitutes as a “real game”. Even the definition of what a computer game is, is really vague. Just look at ludology and the attempts made there to define what a computer games is. The Sims, for example, breaks a lot of the most common definitions because it has no fixed “point”.
It seems that all these terms are ambiguous and relative. There is no fixed point so there is a “we’ll no’em when we see’em” classification that seems to decide whether a game is casual or not. This is fine – the game community decides and we, as developers, are charged with the responsibility to have some feel for the community – what it wants and expects. The downside is that this makes it more difficult to be innovative and explore because you don’t completely know when you are passing invisible boundaries – when something you define as “casual” will be deemed as “too big” or “too complicated”.
But expanding the genre – the definition – is vital. We cannot let the current demographic solidify what the casual realm is about. There are a lot of gamers that are interested in casual MMOGs, for example – where the game play and interaction has been simplified and the user can more freely enter and exit the game without feeling too committed to it. Even women between 35 – 50 would be interested if the theme was right and the game play solid enough. If the game was good enough. That’s what it is about.
What does it mean?
So. A casual game isn’t even limited to any particular channel of distribution, according to some definitions, although it’s primary distribution channel is the internet. The demographics cannot be the only indicator, nor the duration of a play session or the game in whole. What is left is the feeling – that the game is simple, accessible, easy or – in one word – casual.
Maybe we’re looking at lighter graphics, lighter design and implementation? Is that definitive for the game? No. But today most casual games incorporate these elements. That might change without affecting the outcome being called or classified a casual game.