Yesterday started off with some interesting numbers about the casual games space. Online revenue for 2005 was $715M and is projected to be $1.56B in 2008. There were 60+ million visitors to online casual game sites in May 2006 of which slightly more than 50% were female.

That last statistic is very interesting and resonated throughout the day - casual games appear to have reached out to female audience - in large part due to the social aspects of casual games.

Another interesting number is that the average online casual game player sees 10{c|} of advertising supported content per month, whereas the average TV viewer sees $50. These will converge.

Big Gordon - Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Electronic Arts

Bing is a great speaker - his presentation was very “non-bullet point” and was full of amusing dead-pan humour.

Bing Gordon - EA

He started out by claiming that casual games are the next big category and challenged the moniker “casual”. More time was spent online last year playing casual games than World of Warcraft. The big pull, like with WoW is community and aspects that keep people coming back for more. Things like badges; collectables; IM; life time scores; bragging rights.

Bing is obviously a huge fan of EA's property Pogo, which last year surpassed one million subscribers. He talked a lot about the design process for new games for the site and the customers it attracts.

An interesting point he made is that though the site looks very busy, and could be described as ugly, “one click beats beauty every time”. Incidentally, Carson Systems posted a great article last week regarding this issue as applied to MySpace.

The most difficult part of the MySpace problem is that, despite what designers might think about it, and how they might have made it look, MySpace is actually a well-designed website. Who could argue with this? MySpace has grown faster than any site in the history of the Web, and in two short years garners nearly as much traffic as Yahoo! If that growth and popularity isn't a metric of good design, then what is?

Bing went on to describe some mechanics of casual games that have served PoGo well:

  • Cooperative play is key.
  • The good samaritan role - play a card to share winnings with the player in last place; help another player win a badge.
  • Non-threatening.
  • Fulfill fantasies.
  • Metagames - trading; campaigns; guilds
  • Expert features.

Other observations:

  • Core games1 typically contain casual games (mini games, puzzles, etc…)
  • People who design games for women are typically fathers with daughters or brothers with sisters.

Coming back to the MySpace subject, Bing went through the typical phases that game players go through and noted that the “MySpace generation” is not being served right now by the casual games industry. This is a massive opportunity for someone.

Although services such as Pogo provides personalization via avatars and such, the specific elements that the social site users are looking for (extreme self-expression, massive community features, friends, etc…) are not being directly addressed. Big opportunity here.

Another issue he brought up is pricing. He detailed the “good, better, best” model where you need three levels of pricing (where the lowest level may well be free). At the moment, “best” may be around 10{c|} per hour of gameplay. This needs to move to around 50{c|} which coincidentally is the same per hour cost of a paperback book.

During his talk Bing related a lot of great anecdotes. My favourite was the time when a young kid crashed a group of older women gamers with a lot of trash-talk. Apparently they gave him the kind of talking to like “only mothers who are dealing with a naughty child that is not their own” can do. He went away with his tail between his legs.

Another point was that casual games may be short in duration, but that it's easy to pull an all-nighter five minutes at a time…

1 This was a new term for me. A core game is what we would consider a traditional, $50 retail title.