“Casual Games Aren’t Dead”

“Casual Games Aren’t Dead”

Mark Twain once wrote that “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated” upon seeing his own obituary in the New York Journal. While the market for downloadable casual games has changed significantly, the reports of its demise are also greatly inflated.

It’s true that the downloadable market has consolidated around a just a few players that are good at driving value through price discounting, aggressive audience retention tactics and excellent customer service. But that’s because the other players in this industry are so terrible at actually running their downloadable games businesses.

And I don’t see why that should be the case. There is tremendous demand for downloadable games. Not just hidden object games, but time management games, match three games, and (more importantly) games that no one has seen before and defy categorization. But unfortunately, there is no marketing to drive awareness of these titles to the right audience segments. Most people have never downloaded a game in their lives. Even companies with hundreds of millions of users are not willing to make the commitments to more effectively monetize games through audience acquisition and segmentation efforts. And why do we still hold on to the notion that an hour is enough to get a sense for every game, no matter what the game is like?

One to two percent conversion (the percentage of folks who buy the game out of those that initially try it) is embarrassingly low for any industry. If you look at any online portal’s casual game offerings you can see why that’s the case. The portals have a one-size-fits-all model that is the equivalent of a car company rolling out one car model in one color for one price. And when you do download the game you realize that nine times out of ten the game wasn’t even worth your while.

Really? Is that the best that this industry can do?

Instead of fixing the downloadable games business, the games biz likes to jump onto what’s hot right now. And what is on fire is social network (read: Facebook) gaming. Free to play, pay to cheat or to boast. Online, heavily integrated with Facebook. Recently, these games have been subject to their own set of drama that shook the platform’s foundations. Facebook changed the rules in how viral applications can spread, which threw the whole growth and success model of those games into question.

Also, the iPhone and iPad are hot. These devices represent a new wave of computing and a look into the future. There are also hundreds of thousands of apps for those devices. If we thought price compression was bad in downloads, a developer has to sell a lot more of a $.99 game to make a living. And with so much competition on these devices, it’s not easy.

While fraught with peril, these new markets are very interesting and can be extremely profitable. But the downloadable biz is not finished yet.

The downloadable market lives on in spite of itself. Reporters, analysts, and execs like to trash it. But at the end of the day, everyday folks want to play a game on the device they have at home, which is a PC they got for Christmas 10 years ago, and not the latest gadget. Even with half-baked marketing, price compression and crappy content, the downloadable games industry continues to sustain many companies and entertain millions of consumers.

Now imagine what we could do if we actually applied ourselves.

About Daniel Bernstein
Daniel Bernstein is the founder and CEO of Sandlot Games, a premier publisher of casual and family-friendly titles. Its franchises include Cake Mania®, Super Granny®, Tradewinds® and Westward®, which reach millions via PCs, mobile phones, handhelds and consoles.

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