Are We All Casual Gamers Yet?

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Find out why there really is no difference between casual and hardcore gamers, and what it will take for the rest of the world to become players of casual games in the third panel from Digital Media Wire’s LA Games Conference 2008.

Casual Games: What’s Next Now that Everyone’s Involved?
Peter Blacklow, Pres., WorldWinner (Liberty Media subsidiary), EVP, Digital, GSN
Kate Connally, Vice President, AddictingGames, MTV Networks
Eric Lavanchy, Director of Gaming, Endemol USA
Matt Turetzky, VP, Non-PC Games, RealNetworks, Inc.
Dave Madden, EVP, Sales, Marketing & Bus. Development, WildTangent
Moderator: Mike Vorhaus, Managing Director, Frank N. Magid Associates

Give a profound or controversial comment with your introductions:

Dave – I think that casual games are generally going free, with monetization inside and and at the back end of the game

Matt – News Flash: Gaming division is about to spin off from RealNetworks as a publicly traded company – and that’s all I can say about it

Eric – I’m convinced that within 5 years there will be no game shows or reality shows without a significant online component that intimately involves and integrates people into the show.

Kate – This is a profound question, not a statement. What will be the successful types of games that are going to spring to life on television?

Peter – Celtics in 4 over Detroit

In such a crowded old space, how do new casual game titles break through?

Dave – It depends on how you define casual, psychographic or demographic. If casual is a game found online, no money spent, no time investment required … in that world, it’s going to be much bigger than the traditional game business is today.

What’s the next new thing in casual games?

Kate – We’re looking at platforms like Facebook and MySpace engaging a much bigger interactive audience daily than ever before who are looking for something to do. You give them an interactive experience while they’re on their web page, and you have a much better chance of engaging with them. There are also some innovative game styles emerging but they are still early stage, like the viral vampire games which are interesting at first but seem to become annoying.

Matt – Obviously there are a lot of interesting things happening on social networks, but in general I don’t think there’s much new. We’re all to blame for focusing on things that have been successful over time, but that sameness will open the door to brands, like Scrabble, Mattel and Hasbro.

Eric – It needs to be remembered that this is a very nascent area; Facebook as a platform has been opened for all of two years now. In the early days of TV they were filming radio plays. We probably haven’t seen the thing that can really get accomplished through social media yet.

Peter – This whole industry – online casual games – is still brand new. Particularly at GSN, we hear a lot from people who enjoy the game shows on TV and who have no idea that they can go online and compete in these games. Wheel of Fortune is the number one syndicated show week after week after week, and while Sony is doing a great job trying to move people online, the viewers and loyal fans are just beginning to move online.

What tools do you use to get viewers on to game sites?

Peter – Back to TV shows, none of these should happen without an online component. Example, Bingo America, GSN was getting 2000 registered users per day, not many. When we launched Bingo America with prizes and contests, that jumped to 22,000 registered users a day.

Is there really a difference between the casual gamer and the hardcore gamer?

Peter – I also work with GamerDNA, a company that I’m on the board yet, which is focused on hardcore gamers. This segmentation around casual, hardcore, etc. games doesn’t work the same way in any other industry – people listen across music genres for example. We’ve all lost sight of the gaming consumer, who don’t define themselves that way.

Kate – We’ve also defined gamers by the way games are delivered, the platform, vs. the games that are differentiated by brands and programming vs. platforms.

Matt – There’s a perception that casual games are for women 35 plus. If you look at the traffic coming to RealNetworks is much more balanced, 50/50. Casual is just about monetizing.

Dave – The credit card is the gating factor for gaming online, who has it and who has access to it in order to buy the game. I load up my iPod at 99 cents a song but I can’t do the same thing in gaming, to break the price down and sample games on a bite-sized basis. It’s dependent on microtransactions and other forms of monetization, the ways people can pay for games.

Kate – Or advertising.

Can Eric talk about mobile vs. internet entries?

Eric – We’re trying to minimize the distinction, and that’s how consumers see it.

How about voting, mobile vs. internet?

Eric – Because of the way we advertise and make money from the calls, it’s 90% mobile vs. 10% internet but that will change over time. If you look at Current.TV, over 40% of the audience is having a two screen experience while they watch.

Are people interested in learning about or improving themselves through gaming? Self-awareness?

Eric – Nintendo has a whole line of such games

Kate – We’ve done research, and the drive for personal achievement and accomplishment is a big part of the motivation. Consumers say it’s the one time they can actually finish something.

Matt – Our research indicates the same thing, that our users play games for relaxation, entertainment and also a sense of achievement. When you want to relax and feel good about yourself, you might want to pop balloons vs. do math problems, because the frustration level gets in the way of the sense of accomplishment.

Peter – When we started to benchmark people’s scores against others in tournaments, we doubled our conversion from free to money.

Are you looking at all at casual gaming as a way of affecting how people engage and connect with each other, and understanding the effect on others?

Mike – The SIMS is the closest to what you are describing.

Kate – The concept of collaborative play is creating awareness that people can accomplish more in groups than they can individually. Collaborative play is an exciting new area where we are seeing a lot of interest from gamers.

How do you determine content synergy with consumer lifestyle?

Collective hmmm… from the panel

For example, in the videogame Crimes of New York, who was creating that lifestyle and how do you create synergy with the games.

Eric – Some Endemol examples – Extreme Makeover Home Edition. We’re aggregating people based on lifestyles and interests, allowing for social interaction.

Kate – We have a whole category called News Games based on things that celebrities and politicians do. We have a whole team of creative developers who make those choices and let fly.

But the kids are playing GTA IV, etc. Who’s keeping this real world?

Kate – It’s the responsibility of the game publisher

Eric – We’re starting to see platforms for user generated gaming content. So the whole question of control won’t matter over time, you’ll control it, the consumer will. A few years ago, that wasn’t possible.

Kate – At Addicting Games, 70% of our games are coming from independent developers who might be teenagers learning Flash. Our most popular game last year was developed by a 14 year old in Sweden.

Dave – The same plumbing being used by Real Time Worlds to launch their games is being structured as a Wiki. Individuals will be able to create their own story lines, story arcs, etc., and a $50 million bet was just made against it.

Who’s the hard core gamer and who’s not?

Dave – If you are an aggregator of games, you don’t need to worry about it. But the payment models is where things get interesting. The number one game played by RuneScape, Habbo’s users, is free. There’s a whole slew coming out like this where you get in for free, and then pay for new capabilities on a microtransaction basis or through advertisers.

Eric – To answer an earlier question, what happened to the paid download model for casual games – it’s not gone yet but there consensus that it’s going away.

But the paid download model is paid and growing, it’s bigger than PC retail!

Matt – We agree with that but the mix is moving toward online and free, ad and microtransaction supported.

Peter – As you know I don’t like the hardcore / casual distinction. At Worldwinner, all of our gamers are hardcore casual gamers. On average, they spend $400 a month on contests. Our commission is 15-25%.

Dave – That’s called gambling addiction and people do it at the horse race all the time.

Peter – The gamblers don’t stick around very long. People know they are going to lose $300 a month but are doing it for the entertainment value not because they think they are going to make money.

What’s going to get the other 250 million people involved in casual games?

Matt – It’s a question of ubiquity. We’re distributing our games through as many portals and locations as possible to drive that reach.

Dave – It’s a huge addressable audience, the way you make money is multi-faceted but it’s going to be a huge market from an advertising perspective.

Kate – We need to make great efforts to diversify the types of people who are making games. To date it’s been an outgrowth of technologists but we need people from artistic and creative backgrounds.

Eric – It’s about taking gaming out of its box and immersing games in other participatory experiences.

Peter – Television. Liberty Media, by buying our small skills based gaming company and merging it with a television network, is saying that they are going to drive people from TV to the internet to play games.

[tags]Casual Games, LA Games Conference 2008[/tags]

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