Reality Check

This past week an article from ClickZ got some love for its extreme take on the state of the industry.  Which was of course that consoles are going to die to the masses of newer, younger casual games.  Yawn.

Casual or core.  Democrat or Republican.  Vanilla or chocolate.  We humans just love to make the world black and white.  Concepts like "to each his own" don't have the appeal of divisive counterparts.  Of course, the author of the ClickZ article didn't actually qualify any of his opinions with numbers. I mean, it's obvious that casual games are going to eat consoles alive, right?

Not according to NPD.  The numbers NPD released for October tell a different story.  Reports PC World: "Console software sales saw their greatest percentage gain year-over-year of any category, according to NPD's [Anita] Frazier."  Ahem.

I have little doubt this is far from the last I'll hear from console doomsayers, despite their being just dead wrong,   It reminds me of a wonderfully similar argument I wasn't alive to hear: "TV is going to kill the movie industry."  Yeah, that's turned out pretty accurate.

 The problem that afflicts both arguments is that each assumes that the audience are a herd of "sheeple," only capable of allying themselves with one option.

Casual games are awesome.  They're a huge force to be reckoned with.  But it isn't core gaming that will need to recon with casual.  Casual will fight casual.  The rapid growth we've seen in the casual space has drawn in many new gamers.  But now that they're here, casual games can't continue to expand their territory outwards -- they need to secure their audience and siphon off a larger following from their lesser competition.  

And that's just what we're seeing.  Popcap's "Bejeweled Twist" is a great example.  The third in the series, the game has much higher production values than its predecessors, and altered the gameplay in ways that provide less of an immediate hook for new players, but a much deeper strategy for the existing fanbase.  The game had a glamorous launch party and now has more retail copies in stores than any other casual game release.  

Looking at all these factors, the line defining "casual" and "core" is getting a bit fuzzy.  Is "Guitar Hero" casual?  It is easy to pick up and play, but has high production values.

The bottom line: consoles aren't going away, and neither is casual gaming.  The only thing that happened is that the pie got bigger.

[Full Disclosure: Josh Lovison works for the IPG Emerging Media Lab, which works with Universal McCann. Both Microsoft and Sony are agency clients.]

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