I flew into Seattle yesterday for the Casuality conference – the main U.S. conference focused on casual game development. Some impressions:
Industry Size/RealArcade Size
The first interesting data points came not at the conference, but in an article about the conference in the local paper (Seattle Post-Intelligencer – more articles here and here) that I read in the cab on the way over. The article quotes a DFC analyst saying the U.S. casual games market will grow from $314 million in ’05 to $458 million in ’06. That’s on the high side of other estimates I’ve heard, and shows really strong growth.
Also in the article is the factoid that Real Network’s Q1 revenues from games were $18.6 million. If we annualize Real’s game revenue and assume a bit of growth for this year, we get to about $85 million for Real’s ’06 games revenue. But, according to Real, Europe accounts for ~25% of their revenue, and they have an Asian presence, too. So, let’s say only 70% of their revenue is U.S. That’s about $50 million for ’06, or about a 12% market share, if the DFC analyst is right. My general impression is that Real is even more dominant than that in the U.S. downloadable space – perhaps 25%+ market share, so I’d guess either the DFC analyst is overly optimistic with his overall revenue estimates, or that his industry definition is broad (i.e., including mobile games).
Initial Show Impressions
The show itself is in downtown Seattle, at the home theatre of the Seattle Symphony, which apparently does a side-business in conferences during the week. The main speaker for each time slot spoke in the concert hall – it was a very different vibe from the typical convention held in a utilitarian convention hall or hotel.
I had been expecting as many as 1,000 people at the show, but my eyeball guesstimate was lower – maybe 400-500 people. Seattle is the home of a number of casual game companies (Real/Gamehouse, BigFish, PopCap, and others), and each of the biggies seemed to have about 50 people at the show, so there was sort of a lopsided representation of just these few companies.
I arrived during lunch break, and fortunately stumbled into a crew of regular posters from the IndieGamer forums, mostly smaller indies, so I felt a bit connected right from the start.
After years of seeing GDC grow to massive size, it was nice to be at a conference small enough where I recognized a fairly high percentage of names on the name tags (even though of course I’m terrible with faces, even for those who I have seen in person before). There was the usual bit of wandering around the main gathering area, squinting at people’s name tags without trying to be too obvious about it (’cause in some cases it might be a person I really should recognize by face and not just by name tag…)
Users download 750,000 games a day from RealArcade
2% of downloads result in customers paying, either for the full version or a subscription (I’m pretty sure this does not mean a 2% average conversion rate by the typical definition – not sure how much of that is the subscription model)
He wants to monetize the other 98% – announced a plan to integrate ads between levels for the free 60 minute trial versions of games (based on a Zylom’s Clicktopia system)
70.5% of games purchased by mobile phone gamers are what he would define as ‘casual games’ (i.e. Tetris, Bejewelled, Zuma, and Luxor are all big hits on mobile)
Problem with mobile phone development is proliferation of handsets, OS’s, etc.
He announced EMERGE (mrgoodliving.com/emerge). It sounds like either a fancy framework or possibly a new language. It wasn’t entirely clear what it does – I think it will compile out a single source base and target the 10,000+ permutations needed to fulfill mobile carriers’ different hardware/software/network needs.
The first session after lunch was given by Rob Glaser, CEO of RealNetworks. Some data points he gave:
Next session was “Beyond the 60th minute” – a game design panel with Jason Kapalka of PopCap, and a guy from GameLab, and a guy who designed Tradewinds 2 and Tradewinds Legends (sorry – missed those names)
Mostly a bit ‘touchy/feely’ – not so many hard data points so I didn’t take as many notes, but here’s a couple:
Someone made the analogy that casual games today are like arcade games back in their golden age. They’re almost free to try ($.25 for arcade games, a 5 minute download for casual games), so the game designer has to hook the user immediately, or he will move on. But the good thing is that the low cost of trying new games means that IP/branding is of lower importance – you don’t have to have a big movie license to get users to try your game. Since it’s free, they’ll try most things, but then stick with (and pay for) the ones with compelling gameplay.
There was general agreement that a $20 casual game should provide a minimimum of 5-6 hours of gameplay.
This session spilled over into a production session that I only caught the beginning of (had to leave for a meeting). Most meaningful data point:
Somebody from BigFish implied that dev. cost for Mystery Case Files : Prime Suspects was in the $500-600K range (i.e. much higher than the ‘standard’ ~$150K dev budget that had been prevailing for high-end casual games).
I went to one last session – a ‘State of the Industry’ panel with the honchos from many of the major players (PopCap, Microsoft, Pogo, BigFish, Real, Boonty, IIRC) It was an interesting panel, but again, rather ‘touchy feely’, and I didn’t write down any real data nuggets/notes from the panel.
That’s it for today – I went to the PopCap party after the show and had a good time, but retired early (woke up at 6 am CST, 4 am Seattle time. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll have more on the show itself, and perhaps some of the more interesting (and non-confidential) water-cooler talk.