In the last couple weeks, two events have shone the spotlight a bit on the recent rise of indie/casual games.
First, there was a nice BusinessWeek article covering the Indie Games Conference, but talking quite a bit about the rise of Casual Games. Second, Greg Kostikyan announced and blogged about his new company Manifesto Games, which sounds like an attempt to build an indie games hub/publisher/portal.
Both BusinessWeek and Kostikyan are nominally talking about indie games, but they’re also touting the success of Casual games, as when BusinessWeek states:
Casual gamers now make up about 1% of the $20.5 billion game-software market. By 2010, that figure may surge to $2.1 billion, or 5% of sales, says David Cole, an analyst at gaming consultant DFC Intelligence.
In fact, while Casual Games and Indie Games are related, they are NOT the same thing, and the rise of Casual Games doesn’t necessarily mean that Indie Games in general will also rise.
Casual Games are usually defined as small, simple, downloadable games, sold primarily through web portals such as MSN, RealArcade, Pogo, and the like, with a 60-minute free trial period, and a $20 price point. Examples include Bejewelled, Zuma, Ricochet, and Diner Dash.
Indie Games are generally defined as games made by very small development teams (1-3 people), not sold through traditional channels, and targeting niche/forgotten markets (wargames, Ultima-style RPGs, updates of classic arcade games, etc.) Examples include Spiderweb Software and Matrix Games.
Some Indie shops target the Casual market, and a decent percentage of the Casual hits are made by small Indies. But it’s stretching things a bit to consider the biggest and most successful Casual game makers (PopCap, GameHouse, Reflexive, MumboJumbo) to be indies – they’re all established companies with 20+ employees, decent bankrolls and decent payrolls. And as the Casual market grows, inevitably production values will increase, and many of the developers will get even bigger. Venture Capital is already flowing into the market (PlayFirst is VC funded).
Some developers want to cultivate an "I’m too cool to care what’s commercial" attitude. That’s fine. But 99% of consumers don’t care if you’re "Indie" enough or not. Consumers don’t even know what indie is. But consumers do know Casual games. They may not know them by that label, but they go to MSN, Yahoo, Real and other portals, and play and buy these games. If PopCap goes and creates a hard-core wargame, it’s not going to sell, regardless of whether PopCap is "Indie" or not.
Anyways, my company fits the bill as both Indie (I’m the only employee, working with a contract artist and musician), and Casual (the game I’m close to finishing is a Casual game along the lines of Bookworm). But the Indie part is meaningless to me – it just happens to be convenient to my lifestyle at the moment.
In the film industry, there is a clutch of loyal ‘high-brow’ movie-goers who clamor for ‘Indie’ movies – winners of awards from Cannes and Sundance. But there’s been no evidence so far of any such interest in gaming. Perhaps that’ll grow over time, but for now, I’m betting on the growth of Casual games, but really don’t care much one way or the other about Indie games.
Fun Link for the Day
An adventure game implemented entirely in HTML (no, not DHTML, just plain ol’ regular HTML.)