What does casual becometh?
I love management/tycoon games. It seems the uprising of the social game is bringing my favorite genre back from a quiet period. Therefore, I love social games by association. Many social games are on the borderline of being management/tycoon games, but are not considered as such.
com·plex (km-plks, kmplks) adj. Consisting of interconnected or interwoven parts; composite.
(I’ll be picking on Zynga’s games for this article, due to their market penetration)
Example - City Building
It seems that social city-building games are not considered to by city-building games by Wikipedia's list of city-building games. Why is that? If you took out the mechanics in CityVille that require you to wait for turns, it would be very much like early city building games. Empires & Allies is much like Tropico or Utopia. They are all city builders on an island. However, Empire & Allies is a social game, so it is deemed unfit to earn the mark of a strategy game.
One company that realizes this, and is doing a great job at reaching both markets is Firaxis. With the release of Civ Revolution and CivWorld, Firaxis focused on a market that was not familiar with 4X games, and the years of growth they have endured. These games have introduced a new demographic to 4X games, and did it in a simplified way. We cannot expect a player unfamiliar with a genre to step into its most complex title first. There must be a “weaning” process. The core gamers have had the history of video games to bring themselves in to the complexity of games.
Do a comparison of FarmVille to the more recent popular social games. There is a definite growth in complexity over the past 3 years. And, it seems as if that growth is at a faster rate than the original growth within these genres. Looking at the change of complexity from the original Sim City to Sim City 4, it took 14 years and 3 sequels for Maxis to reach the complexity found in Sim City 4. Zynga and their competitors have released games on a yearly basis, with small increases in complexity. The increase per game is much smaller, but given 14 years, will social games be as complex as their "core" counterparts?
My opinion? The social market is currently weaning a new generation of management game players.
Example – Match 3
Another example of this is the Match 3 genre. One of the first versions of this game is Shariki, in the mid 90’s. Since then, PopCap has revitalized the game type with Bejeweled. This is a genre I rarely play. However, I have noticed an increase of depth and complexity within the genre. Compare the first Bejeweled to its upcoming successor. The original Bejeweled had two games modes. The third has 8, with various options in each. In three titles, PopCap has grown the complexity of Match 3 exponentially. And, the market is following them. Games such as Puzzle Quest are increasing in complexity, introducing a demographic of casual players to basic RPG mechanics.
These aren't the only genres that are reaching into the core realm.
A genre recently coined in the casual market, "time management", is on its way to having a niche core player base. Games like Diner Dash have paved the way for a group of hardcore time-management games, which most of us would have difficulty picking up immediately. While these games may be lumped in to the "casual" games, I would pose that the mouse clicks per minute on a hard level of a time management game is not much different from a FPS or RPG.
Plants Vs Zombies is another example of a game genre aimed at a more casual market. Defense games have existed in the flash realm (and others) for over a decade, but it took PopCap's polished game to reach a more casual market. It would be interesting to see if the casual gamers who played PvZ went on to play more challenging and complex defense games after finishing it.
What are your thoughts on this? Am I finding a correlation where there is none, or could social games be creating a new wave of core gamers? Could companies with AAA interest benefit from introducing their brand of game to a casual/social audience, in order to bring more diversity to their player base?
Will social games wean soccer moms in to playing Dwarf Fortress? Only time will tell...