Problems in Casual GamesJun 26, 2015 | 2 Votes by Aethyna 9 rate The massive torrent of freemium casual games is threatening the integrity and livelihood of honest casual game developers everywhere! Read on to find out more!
Casual games are central to entertainment today, particularly with the emergence of mobile gaming. However, due to the almost rocket-like rise of casual games to popularity, the enormous “niche” of casual gamers has caught the attention of many, perhaps too many, game developers and this accounts for the massive swamp of freemium (free-to-play with microtransaction) casual games we currently see on various game portals and even on the mobile app stores. This in turn resulted in several huge problems that experts in the casual games industry are vehemently fighting to curb.
The result of the discussion at the Casual Games Association’s annual Casual Connect event this year is not looking up for the future of casual games. Plenty of casual game developers are lamenting about how casual games used to be actually innovative and fun. Just take a look at what I’ve written about PopCap and Big Fish Games in my previous article. What do I mean by “used to”? Well, casual games are still rather fun right now, but are they innovative? That’s the important question, isn’t it?
Innovation in casual games is indeed at an all-time low. The Binary Family's Managing Director, Thorsten Rauser, who has worked on more than 50 casual titles in a career spanning 20 years, was quoted as saying, "If we look at casual games in 2015, what's out there is mostly crap. It's three or four game principles. We use different characters, we use different sounds, we use different setups, but it's all the same thing." This problem is glaringly obvious in games from certain companies, such as Plarium. If you compare all of their games, you’d notice a formula… and how they stick so closely to that said formula. After all, it is exactly the thing that is bringing in the revenue. However, to be fair to the company, they have recently started to venture, slightly, out of their safe zones with games like their latest games Nords: Heroes of the North.
Dreariness aside, there are still some innovative casual games in this modern times, but whenever a good game emerges, it is immediately and rapidly submerged in a torrential of clones which are extensively advertised and monetized. Taking the new match-3 RPG genre as the perfect example, ever since it was first introduced and proved to be a popular hit among casual gamers, the mobile app stores for both iOS and Android are flooded with such copycat games. The same could be said for this very unique mahjong game, Mahjongg Dimension Blast. Its rotatable 3D feature sets it apart from other casual games and if it one day became as popular as Candy Crush Saga, the game will be copied to death.
Not to mention, although the freemium model has helped casual games rise to popularity once again, yet it seems it may also be a major component of its potential downfall. The freemium model is a notoriously aggressive model - it’s all about retaining players and “forcing” them to cough up some cash to buy some virtual stuff in a game that they won’t probably be playing in a couple of months or within a year!
At the Casual Connect event this year, instead of talks on how to innovate casual games and to create better ones... the event is rife with talks of how to improve player conversion rates (the rate of turning free-to-play players to spenders) and customer retention (how to keep the spenders spending) that sometimes the use of immoral marketing strategy and methods. Now, statistics are all that rule how a generic casual game is produced... not innovation or product quality and certainly not the feedback from their players.
Furthermore, according to Todd Weidner, founder of Big Daddy Game Studios, he commented that due to freemium casual games, a new yet ghastly monetizing phenomenon has taken root. "Our industry has just been overtaken with the strip mining short term profit taking mindset that many, many other industries of the world have," he commented. "It's all about money extraction, long term consequences be damned."
For those of us who are not in the casual game industry, this might be a tad bit hard to grasp. Well, to put it simply, strip mining technique is a method where a game developing company produce a whole load of casual games at one go that are technically the same in many aspects – they just replaced the game name and art with slightly different models. And after they’ve earned a load of cash from their players, they quickly hop into another “mining pit” and start the process all over again. Using this method, any new games developing company can easily earn a huge boatload of money within a short period of time and this is particularly prevalent in match-3, arcade, simulation and building games. Again, Mr. Rauser got this spot-on when he said, “The thing is our industry has become bad; society's view of our industry has become bad. We try to get as much money out of the player as possible. That's what the job of the [casual] game designer has become. That's how people see us.”
The worst part is this freemium model has caused a very lasting effect on the games industry, particularly the casual games industry – it has resulted in the reluctance in the casual gaming community to pay for full games. Gone were the days where people actually pay for the match-3 games and here are the times, where players would prefer to suffer through loads of adverts and microtransaction pop-ups than to shell out a little bit of cash to buy another game that comes with none of that stuff. Granted that there are players who are exceptions to this scenario, they are too far and few in between. Moreover, this brutal freemium model has given the truly free-to-play games a very bad name as well.
Admittedly, the casual industry isn't completely filled with these “strip miners”. There are still plenty of people who are trying to make an honest living in the casual games industry and build a good name for their companies, but the trouble is that they are losing out to the masses of bad developers. Now that very few are willing to pay for a casual game, the quite a sizeable number of the good developers may even be forced to join the dark side to earn a living. With so many freemium casual games vying for the players’ attention, consumer fatigue may also set in, spelling out even more troubles down the road... possibly even imploding the casual games industry itself.