Casual gaming? A parallel market
What do the (relatively) recent exploit of Nintendo’s Wii console, the iPhone popularity and the videogaming velleities of social networks like Facebook share? They all are facts which have contributed to open the video games market to a broader and broader audience, establishing the principle that casual gaming, that kind of ludic activity which does not force you to know the magic sequence “WASD” or the difference between a hack’n slash and a “pure” role playing game, is a growing phenomenon that will eventually shape the entire industry alongside its traditional technological and commercial models.
The recent inquiry International Gamers Survey, made by the research firm TNS together with Gamesindustry.com would confirm this trend by recording, in Europe, an overall expense of 1.13 billion euros (1.6 billion dollars) for year 2009. Casual gaming requires more attention even by well established producers of “hardcore” games, companies like Capcom that is almost ready to release an iPhone version of Street Fighter IV featuring - like on the other hand all the games for the Apple phone - virtual joypad and buttons overlapped to the multi-touch screen.
When afterward the traditional third-party video game publishers try to deal with platforms that are purposefully designed for casual gaming like the Wii console, their efforts to sell complex titles based on mature contents tend to fail miserably as well depicted by the very poor market results of Dead Space: Extraction from Electronic Arts, Sega’s MadWorld and The House of The Dead: Overkill and Capcom’s Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles. Sega and EA have already preannounced their intention to cut the production of new hardcore games for Wii, while Capcom has just stated it is committed to multi-platform development neither denying nor confirming a change in its business approach to the Nintendo console.
The biggest software houses don’t succeed with their traditional products on the most sold gaming machine of this generation, another clear sign of the fact that the serious games era is going downhill at the advantage of less demanding, complex and frustrating pastimes more suitable for the Sunday gamer than the teen nerd with too much free time at his disposal? Not so fast, the Cowen and Company analysts suggest.
“We reject the notion that competition from non-traditional video gaming formats such as the iPhone and social gaming have significantly impacted the traditional console cycle“, researcher Doug Creutz wrote. The relatively slow take of the market by PS3 and Xbox 360, consoles with an audience made of hardcore gamers contrariwise to the mainly casual one of Wii, would be above all due to “stubbornly high hardware pricing” followed by Sony and Microsoft. And regarding the evolution of gaming habits, Creutz continues, “we believe that these newer gaming media represent a distinct and non-competitive market segment from console gaming, which is dominated by the core gamer“.
Casual gaming has increased its weight, of course, but Cowen and Company suggests that the prevailing business in the field will continue to be the one based on more demanding, complex and frustrating games. If a giant like Ubisoft is for example forced to refocus its attentions on the “major franchises” and on Xbox and PlayStation after a drastic drop of 50% in its casual segment, recent videogaming blockbusters earn more than 1 billion dollars in a few months (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2) and still sell millions of copies (Dragon Age and Forza Motorsport 3) all over the world.
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