Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Casual Division

There is a strange division currently in casual games, that continually mystifies me. Answer the following questions for yourself. [I added my 'answers' in ()]

What is EA's most valuable casual property?
(You could make an argument for Pogo, though it's probably the Sims)

Who are Pogo and the Sims targeted at?
(I'd say they have the same audience, casual gamers)

Can you buy the Sims on Pogo.com?

An ever lingering question in my head is 'Why Not?'

One of the most interesting things about the new casual games industry is the disconnect it has with the mainstream game industry. There are many games that were previously released at retail that I'm convinced would sell really well to the audience that the casual game portals have assembled. Games like the Sims and Roller Coaster Tycoon.

However, when you go to Pogo.com, there is no mention of the Sims. In fact EA has the Sims in its own separate division. The original Sims is not available even from EA as a downloadable product. Roller Coaster Tycoon fairs a little better. It is available through one portal: Real Arcade. However that is the only portal through which it is availble.

The division between two kinds of casual, those that are popular on the PC at retail and those that are popular on the game portals is one of the most curious things in the gaming business. A good rule of thumb is to always distribute your games everywhere you can. That will help you to maximize your revenue.

The division probably has something to do with the roots of casual games, which was a counter movement to retail. Still, with so many hot properties, from the old Humongous Entertainment games like Freddi Fish, to current popular TV shows like Dora, and even to those silly Big Game Hunter games, the time will come that the 'casual' games that have sold well in retail stores will join those that have sold well online. When that happens, I think you'll see another big expansion in the audience that the portals take in.

Why isn't it happening? Especially when some of the companies involved, like EA, simply need to get their right hand to talk to their left?
There is a large list of guesses why that is so. Some of it is the amount of difficulty that arises in getting something done in a HUGE company and some of it is the mainstream industry's perception of casual games. (mainstream still sees casual games as the place where formerly good execs are sent after they've outlived their usefulness)

As casual games continue to increase their profit, they are becoming less and less the red-headed step-child of the games industry, which should lead to some very interesting changes in the online portals (and big increases in their audience). It's going to happen as soon as publishers realize how much money they can make off of their old back catalogue. It's going to happen as they discover a new market for old games like SimCity 2000 and Theme Hospital. The only question is: when?

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