Just WHAT Is A Casual Gamer?

By all reports, casual games are a booming sector of the gaming industry. Research firm DFC estimates that by 2011, they will have grown to a $1.1 billion industry. But this week, execs from prominent firms have been speaking out against the very concept of "casual" gaming and gamers.

Earlier this week, Nintendo Europe's senior marketing director, Laurent Fischer, weighed in: "For me, you are a gamer or non-gamer," he said. "I think most of you know that you can spend ten or twenty hours on an Internet flash game... The guy who plays these games regularly - he's a core gamer." And then the next day, Electronic Arts Mobile's European Marketing Director, Tim Harrison, followed suit: "I think the big difference in terminology here is that when people say 'casual games' they assume a certain type of game, or a certain kind of person," he told "The reality is that it's a lot more complex than that - there are certain types of people in certain types of need states, and a gamer in one environment will have a very different set of criteria to a gamer in another environment."

There's definitely some truth in what both execs say. A lot of marketers make assumptions about casual gamers based on the data that's available. While casual gamers are, on average, older and female, that certainly doesn't mean that they're all older and female -- and it absolutely doesn't mean all casual games should be designed for that audience.

But despite the odd bad assumption, there's still a use for the "casual" game distinction that shouldn't be lost.

One part of the definition that Fischer and Harrison both attack is the idea that casual games should be quick and easy, and this is where I personally take issue. The key trait of a casual game is that it's simple to learn its primary mechanics -- that while it may be possible to play for hours upon hours, such intense play is not required to make progress. These qualities are what attract a broad audience, and what convert nongamers into gamers -- the essence of casual gaming.

But that's just my take. Leave a comment and tell us what you think makes a casual game casual, or if you think the whole classification is just bunk.

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