I read through The Casual Games Manifesto on Gamasutra today and I got all the way through despite wanting to respond immediately to some of what I saw. I guess I'm a little jaded and I'm sure it didn't help in my reading comprehension.
I do agree with one underlying point of the article, you should use the portals in the casual games market to create customers for you if you are a developer. I talked about it at length at the GDC last year, and it continues to be true! ...and there is a whole additional market-place that developers aren't taking advantage of...but should...and it's a topic for another day.
One of the issues that I had with the article is the difficulty in creating customers from the portals. The portals clamp down hard on anything that looks like a link to another website or a service running on another server inside the games they offer. I'd be surprised if you could find a way to get much traffic from them that way.
The other issue I have is an on-going one that isn't exactly in the article. So the above is officially the end of my critique, and now I'm moving onto an almost related rant...
That second issue I have is the assumption that it is easy to get traffic or build up a website. Honestly, I worry that most developers, since they don't do websites, presume it is easy to create a huge website...just because they don't have any experience.
It brings to mind a favorite Dilbert comic:
Dilbert's Manager says "I put together a timeline for your project. I started by reasoning that anything I don't understand is easy to do."
"Phase One: Design a client-server architecture for our worldwide operations."
"Time: six minutes."
I can see Dilbert's stunned look on his face, unsure of what to say next.
Let's consider this for a moment.
How hard do you think it would be to create and run slashdot.org?
How about msnbc.com?
How about espn.com?
How about bigfishgames.com?
According to compete.com and collaborated by alexa.com (except alexa groups espn with go.com...) bigfishgames.com is the biggest of those sites. Stop and think about that for a minute...
That amount of traffic and what it takes to create and keep up a website of that size is ANYTHING but trivial. Creating and keeping that up is amazing. The type of thing that teams of people spend millions of dollars on and fail at most of the time. I'm not writing this to build up BFG, who we compete and cooperate with, but to just point out how enormous the task is of building up traffic like the portals have. The middlemen are middlemen because they are good at it. I encourage everyone to take on the market to the best of their abilities of course, but I wouldn't under-estimate the task.
...and back on point, I strongly agree with the point that you should try to steal the portal's traffic and re-route them to you and that you should build up a reason for that traffic to stay with you. I don't know that you can build a service into your game, but that doesn't mean you can't create a community of games that can be broken into separate pieces and sold through the portals for some name recognition...and maybe include some reasons for players to go looking for you :).