A Casual Week

It's been an interesting week for casual gaming.  One of the items that got a lot of press was the announcement that a PopCap sponsored add-on for World of Warcraft would allow players to play Bejeweled during their in-game downtime.  This was a neat story: A corporation bringing rogue IP back into its fold in a symbiotic manner.  A nice alternative to the Scrabalicious route.

The bigger news item from the business side of gaming is that in-game advertiser Double Fusion has restructured their sales teams into core and casual teams.  From a broader scale perspective, this separation between casual and core is a smart move, since the two fields differ wildly.  It's a distinction that will be highlighted in the industry in the coming year, as the two spaces redefine themselves.


Two research items on female gamers surfaced as well. 


The first item was a survey of women on their game habits conducted by E for All and  According to the survey, 33% reported they've played games when they should have been sleeping, 32% play while on the phone, and 53% reportedly have  been late to non-professional meetings due to playing games.  That's further indication that the term "casual" is a misnomer.  The second research item was a finding by NPD that girls 6-14 are spending increasing amounts of time in virtual worlds.


Now Microsoft, feeling fairly secure with the core demographic for the Xbox 360, is pushing a multimillion marketing blitz to expand the console to casual players.  Having dropped below the $200 price point for their Arcade version of the system, and with their Netflix exclusive, they are poised for solid sales this fall. 


However, while they do have peripheral packaged games, such as Lips, slated for release, they face a high hurdle, given the complexity of the controller.  Perhaps the development and packaging of a "casual" controller with a simpler layout would provide the stepping stone needed to train new audiences in game-pad based play.  But without some measure of stepping stone, I'm not sure they will net the casual crowd.


[Full Disclosure: Josh Lovison consults for the IPG Emerging Media Lab, which works with Universal McCann. Microsoft is an agency client.]

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