Commentary

Casual Has To Go

I'm fed up, I've had enough, and I'm not going to take it anymore. Everyone seems to be aware of the issue, but no one is standing up and offering a solution. So here goes nothing: The term "casual" has to go.

It's always been a stupid term for the games it describes, as it is entirely misleading. Several studies indicate that so-called casual gamers play as often or more often on average than "hardcore" gamers. Looking at the average site visit duration on pogo.com shows an average duration of about an hour. That's not a quick, five-minute "casual" play session.

I've complained about this term before. But now I come with an alternative. What the word "casual" really describes is "easy to pick up and play without prior experience." Perhaps the term "accessible gaming" is a more appropriate one that better represents the differentiating factors. This may seem like much ado over nothing, but I've personally found myself backtracking to explain that "casual is a misnomer" numerous times when discussing the casual game market. I can only imagine the difficulty posed to the ad sales teams for casual game sites in demonstrating that there is an addictive amount of time spent in a medium termed "casual."

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A shift to the term "accessible gaming" becomes ever more important with the upcoming E3 event, where rumors already abound regarding casual peripherals for core gaming systems. The two worlds are converging, as has already been evidenced with the success of the "accessible game" "Guitar Hero." A game not usually referred to as casual, "Guitar Hero" quickly became the de facto party game due to its accessible nature, which attracted non-gamers to play. Despite the "casual" gameplay, SOE's new free-to-play MMO Free Realms (with decidedly non-casual high production values) had me sitting for four hours playing on my first experience with the title. And I'm not even the game's target demographic.

Two years ago I was aggravated with the term "hardcore" until IGA Worldwide's Justin Townsend mentioned the term "core" on one of my panels, which I quickly appropriated. Much more descriptive, and much less pornographic sounding, it fit perfectly to describe games catering to the longstanding gamer market. At E3, I'll be tossing around the term "accessible gaming" with reckless abandon, and hope others steal it as I stole Justin's term. We need to move beyond casual in order to truly recognize the massive behavioral shift surrounding accessible games.

17 comments about "Casual Has To Go".
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  1. Karl Debisschop from Pearson Education/Infoplease, May 15, 2009 at 1:52 p.m.

    To me, "accessible" suggests ADA compliance, and for that reason even though your logic is sound, I won't be one of those tossing the term "accessible gaming" around. Maybe I'll start referring to "opportunistic gaming" or something like it -- you're dead-on right that none of the teens and preteens that I watch are at all casual in their gaming experience.

  2. Anthony Giallourakis from Advergames.com, LLC, May 15, 2009 at 1:55 p.m.

    Casual gaming describes the player as much as the experience. Think of a casual gamer as someone who plays on occasion and isn't so focused in a game in particular. The gamer is has a casual relationship with gaming. There are casual games that are more involved like core games and then there are casual games that are simple and easy to pick up and play.

    Very important segments of casual game play, especially on the Internet, are Advergames. Advergames are often high end interactive experiences which meld advertising and brand building into a video game experience.

    For "Only the very best Advergames" try www.advergames.com, where you will find a great selection of all free and totally cool advergames.

    Thanks.

  3. Elizabeth Schroll from Engage In-Game Advertising, May 15, 2009 at 2:01 p.m.

    The term casual gaming is suggestive of less frequency & significance that core gaming, but I hate the term 'accessible gaming' more. Try explaining that to non gamers on the media plan. It is important to distinguish between console/PC gamers and the casual gamers. The demo is so different. I think 'web gaming' is more descriptive of casual arena. Maybe you could float that around at E3 as well.

  4. Robb Lewis from Visa, May 15, 2009 at 2:19 p.m.

    I think It's funny that this is still being discussed after it was first raised 3 years ago at Casuality in Seattle by Craig Holland from Freeze Tag. You are absolutely right that the name does not match these addictive, repetitive styled games but is it so bad that it really needs to change? And to be candid, while technically your term could be considered more accurate, "accessible games" has the brand appeal of a slug. Besides, some might even confuse the term with games for people with disabilities. Float it at E3 all you want but don't expect anyone to agree with you.

    Maybe they should be just games and take the mass market approach. Let the core games differentiate but if casual games are truly more mass market then shouldn't they be the base? Or maybe it should just stay as casual games and people can read into it what they want. While pogo.com users play 1 hour many more users who don't pay monthly subscriptions probably don't play an hour. I say leave it as casual and enjoy the irony when it exists :-) @robblewis

  5. Josh Lovison from Josh Lovison Consulting, May 15, 2009 at 2:59 p.m.

    Karl,

    Yeah, the ADA influence came to mind for me as well, except ADA compliance is in part the same core mechanic as what "casual" is doing: reaching people traditional gaming couldn't. Just like there are medical specific "serious games," serious gaming is much broader than just medical purposes. I'm certainly open to a better term, but even the comments here so far highlight the issue with casual. It's not just teens and preteens playing casual games for a long time. Of gamers, the 65+ crowd has a larger % that play 5+ hours a week than any other age range.

    Anthony,

    Your comment highlights the issue with the term "casual" - the players are NOT just playing on occasion. All the data indicates that as the age range gets older, gamers are much more dedicated to the behavior. They may not read industry news or spend much money on it, but they dedicate a lot of time to it, and on a regular basis.

    Elizabeth,

    Unfortunately it's not going to stay "web" gaming. First off, we're seeing core games move in-browser. Second, casual games on mobile are exploding with the iPhone. The DS and Wii also speak to this segment and concept of play. So web is still king, but the term needs to be cross-platform.

    Robb,

    I think the term is still being discussed because there are still issues with it. Maybe just getting rid of the "casual" part makes more sense. The umbrella for "casual" has become too large, and it might be better to talk about the game genres and platforms as indicators of the audience, rather than some catch-all term.

  6. Lee Uniacke from Kongregate, May 15, 2009 at 3:41 p.m.

    There are two distinctions to be made here. The platform and the type of game. For Flash and other browser based games, I think the term web games is the right way to go. It's kind of sexy and denotes the ubiquitous nature of Flash games. Over and above the issues raised here with accessible games, or fast start games (as I tried for a while), that's more a description of good game design than of a group of games. Wii Fit, Desktop Tower Defense, Trism and Free Realms might have some things in common, but I don't think they should particularly be lumped in the same group, under one name.

  7. John Grono from GAP Research, May 15, 2009 at 3:57 p.m.

    You know Josh I had never even thought that "casual" gaming may refer to the duration of game time. I have always thought that it referred to the frequency of game playing. You can be casual and play once a month but for hours and hours, just like you can go to the cinema once in a blue moon but go to a movie marathon. In most analysis scenarios I have encountered the term "casual" it has referred to frequency and not duration. Oh ... for a chuckle ... it could also refer to dress-code!

    Needless to say "accessible gaming" dosn't resonate with me. It sounds like it refers to some feature of either the game or the hardware it is played on, and not to a characteristic of the player. It also sounds a lot like you may need to be in a wheelchair to play it (though that could just be the way we use the term "accessible" in relation to public places here in Australia).

    Let's call a spade a spade ... and call casual gaming 'casual gaming'.

  8. Josh Lovison from Josh Lovison Consulting, May 15, 2009 at 4:36 p.m.

    John,

    You highlight exactly my issue. Casual gamers DON'T play less often, they play MORE often than core gamers (or rather, for gamers older than 50, their frequency of play increases as age increases - I assume these gamers are casual). The term "casual" propagates misinformation. I know guys aged 25-35 who have busy schedules and go for periods playing Xbox 360 maybe only twice a month. Are they playing casual games? My problem with "casual" is it doesn't accurately represent behavior.

    Lee,

    You're spot on. If I could assign a mouthful of a term, I'd call them "gradual learning curve" games. But the essence of what's being talked about, and who the audience is, changes dramatically based on genre and platform. Unfortunately, "casual" is suddenly a huge buzz term, so everyone is trying to be "casual." I just figure if we're going to be using a blanket term, use one that better describes what we're talking about.

  9. Shankar Gupta from 360i, May 15, 2009 at 5:03 p.m.

    Disagree.

    Casual gaming is called "casual" because it's easy to get into, easy to get out of, and casual gamers in general don't identify with any particular "gamer" labels. there are plenty of "casual" activities that people can spend a lot of time doing, and plenty of "hardcore" activities that people can engage in only once in a while. And I think that's enough innuendo for this comment.

  10. Josh Lovison from Josh Lovison Consulting, May 15, 2009 at 5:20 p.m.

    Shankar,

    The thing is, according to your definition, Portal is a casual game (easy to get into, short levels make it easy to get out of). Flower would not be a casual game (while easy to get into, no way to save level progress, so not easy to get out of). If you agree with that, I guess we just differ on semantics.

    To me, casual means "accessible to a previously inexperienced audience."

    As for self-identification, I agree that isn't present in casual gamers, but I think it may assume too much about core gamers. And with the penetration of gaming in the under-18 crowd, I don't know that "gamer" will be an item of self-identification much longer, any more than we self identify as "car driver."

    I'm pretty pleased with the discussion this post has generated though - a number of really good points have been raised.

  11. Shankar Gupta from 360i, May 15, 2009 at 5:26 p.m.

    I wouldn't disagree that Portal is casual. People may not think of it that way because it's built on Source and is bundled with a bunch of hardcore titles, but it's just as casual as, say, Plants vs. Zombies, which, by the way, is awesome.

    I haven't played Flower, but from what I've read, you don't really lose that much by leaving the game mid-level, so I don't know if the inability to save is that much of barrier to casual play.

  12. Josh Lovison from Josh Lovison Consulting, May 15, 2009 at 8:34 p.m.

    Shankar,

    All good points. I think maybe another issue with the term is that it ends up meaning to each person whatever they want it to. As we've seen in the comments, a number of people think it refers to the behavior (which it doesn't, and which is my issue with the term). It's just too broad a catch-all.

    I'd kind of agree that Portal is a casual game, or at least incorporates casual elements. But at the same time, the learning curve for the game would prohibit anyone who was not comfortable with FPS on the PC or Xbox to play the game. So according to the defining characteristics of how I think of casual (as easy access to non-gamers), it wouldn't be. Whereas Flower, by just using the Six-axis, is easy for non-console gamers to pick up and start playing. The game content for both games has broad "casual" appeal.

    Hopefully the whole separation just goes away eventually, as we're seeing in the under-18 age range. Girls and boys both play on the PC and console, and while the genres that appeal to each may differ, they cross-over on a number of titles, and all platforms.

  13. Robb Lewis from Visa, May 16, 2009 at 1:33 p.m.

    "strung out like a junkie on heroin gamer".

    LOL! Good one Stephanie...:-)

    or another, a "mashup" of the smashing pumpkins, "Feel like a rat in a cage" games. @robblewis

  14. Chris Scott from Progressive, May 18, 2009 at 2:47 p.m.

    "Addictive gaming" may be the most accurate. Peggle, anyone?

  15. Christopher Payne-taylor from sAY-So, May 18, 2009 at 6 p.m.

    Casual is totally more appropriate because it refers to the broader category of caring or lack thereof.

    In GamerWorld, casual games are simply those you care less about than non-casual games, which has mostly to do with the nature of the game itself. For instance, the difference between Pacman and World of Warcraft is that one entails little commitment or caring beyond the momentary distraction of playing, while the other takes up a chunk of your life you wouldn't give to your most cherished significant other.

    Net, net, one term is clear, the other a lot less so. I mean, confiding in a friend that you are in a casual relationship is a lot different than saying you are in an accessible one. The first is easily understood and, for the most part, accepted while the second just comes off as misogynistic and creepy.

    Not that this automatically implies a direct metaphorical correlation, but "fed up?" "Had enough?" "Not going to take it, anymore?" Whoa, chill, dude. Re-inventing words for words' sake may just mean it's time to re-adjust the ole' medications.

  16. Josh Lovison from Josh Lovison Consulting, May 19, 2009 at 8:59 p.m.

    Christopher,

    It seems almost everyone who has defended the term casual has, in doing so, made my case for why I dislike it.

    If Pacman were available on XBLA, it's not casual, or rather, it wouldn't appeal to casual gamers. So there is an element to the accessibility of games and the audience that plays them.

    As for time spent, I think most casual gamers would take issue with your definition, as well as most casual game developers/publishers. Most core games that don't involve multi-player elements can last 20-40 hours. I have little doubt that many of the more popular casual games see the time their players spend on them before abandoning the title at an equal or higher number.

    My whole point is that in "GamerWorld" (as you call it), the term casual doesn't mean at all what it means in "RealWorld." Casual relationship = non-committal. Casual gaming = doesn't have a steep learning curve for non-gamers. Casual gamers are NOT non-committed. They have their favorite games, there are "fanboys" (and "fangirls"/"fanladies"/"fanmen") of different titles, who will defend or criticize games in their genres.

    As long as the industry continues to call all Xbox/PS3/3D PC games "core" and "Wii"/Flash/iPhone games "casual," they should consider redefining the terms to be more accurate. That's my point. And despite your patronizing, words are important. Using one of your own scenarios, consider if your significant other walked in and asked to be in a "casual relationship," when really what was meant was "a relationship where we can increase the frequency of wearing jeans and Hawaiian shirts." Clearly, words are important.

    P.S. Go rent the movie "Network"

  17. Christopher Payne-taylor from sAY-So, May 20, 2009 at 5:50 p.m.

    Josh:

    While there is obviously an element of accessibility in casual gaming, it is not by any means the whole story.

    Yes, "core" games not involving multi-player elements can, and do, last for 20-40 hours. But Pacman or Solitaire typically do not. That's why the definition of casual gaming has to do with more than just the length of the learning curve. Time and depth of commitment are, indeed, key elements of that definition. And while EveryWorld has its fanboys and fangirls, the folks I know who play World Of Warcraft put a whole lot more time, effort, energy and money into it than the ones who play Tetris.

    Whether the industry calls Xbox/PS3/3D PC games "core" and "Wii"/Flash/iPhone games "casual" is not terribly relevant. GamerWorld routinely tosses around terms like "Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games," under the assumption that the non-initiated actually have a clue as to what that means. Meanwhile back at the layman ranch, Wikipedia simply describes casual games as those "typically distinguished by their simple rules and lack of commitment required in contrast to more complex hardcore games."

    I apologize for any patronization, but sincerely doubt if my significant other walked in and asked to be in a "casual relationship," I would mistake that for a sartorial comment, and therefore, need to think up another, better word I might call it. I believe the two being used would be quite sufficient.

    P.S. On "Network," I think we agree. Great movie!

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