The future of online gaming isn’t just Halo 2 or Second Life. It’s draughts, chess, pool and other so-called casual games. There’s no guns, there’s no action, but with over 82 million players in the casual gaming sector these games have twenty times more users, while EverQuest and World of Warcraft receive all the media attention.
Online gamers aren’t just spotty teenage boys, it’s housewives, grandmas and granddads these days. Supposedly it is mainly women 35 to 54 who play casual games online. The market is worth hundreds of millions of dollars every year, mainly through advertising since most players are reluctant to pay to play such games.
Casual games seem to be reaching new audiences online. Microsoft, Yahoo! And EA are all expanding teams to release hundreds of casual games for these users, but they are all waiting to make the next Tetris.
Released in 1987, Tetris changed the gaming industry by proving that a simple shape puzzle could make millions, even next to Super Mario World and the like. Today, Tetris serves as an excellent example of how massive number of middle-aged and elderly people were in engaged in computer games for the first time. The creator of Tetris, Alexev Pajitnov is designing at Microsoft, who must be hoping he can repeat his magic for them.
Casual gaming online means games must be light on a computer’s memory, say 1 megabyte instead of 60-meg for most PC titles. The games must function on low tech equipment, like a Pentium II running Windows 98. The emphasis is on the playability or addictiveness of the game, rather than exciting graphics or gruesome characters.
EA and Yahoo! Have adopted a less risky approach. Saving money on Research & Development, they mimic or “improve” exisiting titles. EA sells solitaire, bingo, backgammon and bridge, while Yahoo! provides much the same. They make a distinction between “gamers” and “casual gamers”, but then what is casual about someone spending 6 hours on Yahoo! Chess?
Yahoo!’s biggest success is its pool. It’s cheap to produce and well known enough to not require much tuition. This pool game can be put together for just one hundred thousand dollars, compare to the multi-million dollar projects like Grand Theft Auto and Tomb Raider. With around ten million unique users each month, Yahoo! is the most popular gaming destination on the web, for pool and other casual games like chess, dominoes and checkers.