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Rewriting the Rules

Denki's Colin Anderson explains why ten rules of traditional gaming don't apply to the casual market.

Last week, Denki boss Colin Anderson discussed the evolution and current status of casual gaming in part one of his guest editorial.

Here, in part two, Anderson explains why the old adages of PC and console gaming don't apply to the casual market - and puts forward an alternative approach.

Old Rule 1: Bigger, better, faster, more

"Anything published more than two generations of video cards ago is ancient and will not be accepted by gamers."

Technology rules - that's been the guiding principle of the PC gaming market for more than a decade. The good news is that a huge chunk of the casual gaming audience will be playing games on PCs that are more than two or three years old - so you can't rely on them having 3D hardware, the latest operating system, or even the newest browser. Think small, think simple and think fun.

Old Rule 2: More is good

"The number of hours of play offered by a game is a sign of quality."

Forget any ideas you have about 20, 40 or 80 hours of play being a determining factor for casual gamers. You need to make sure it's fun in the first minute and in every 3 minute chunk thereafter. Forever.

Despite the name, most casual games can be played for up to eight hours per week. However, you won't get this sort of use unless it's fun for players immediately - and lets them continue until they decide they've had enough.

Old Rule 3: Looks mean everything

"Gamers have certain expectations when it comes to the way the games they play look."

Okay, production values are always important, but fun is what it's really all about. Transparency, subtle shading and smooth animation only make a difference if the fun box is ticked first. Gamers will try something which sounds like it's enjoyable and if they like it, they'll stick with it - regardless of the bells, whistles and polygon counts.

Old Rule 4: Games need depth

"You need to introduce depth to the game with characters and plot and background and..."

Wrong. Most hardcore gamers skip cut scenes on console games. In casual games you can more or less expect people to move swiftly past anything stopping them from playing.

Casual games may give some context for what the player is being asked to do - the reason why they're matching tiles, making words or busting bubbles - but it had better not get in the way of the fun.

Old Rule 5: Keep pushing the player

"If you don't vary things, introduce new controls, characters or skills, players will get bored...

There may be some truth in this, but not for the reasons most people think. For casual players, messing with what they know or asking them to master new skills can be a major disincentive.

The best games walk a very fine line between stress and boredom. It's called "flow". If you donât understand the reasons for this, itâs a safe bet your design will be focusing on all the wrong elements.

Old Rule 6: Beating the game is reward enough

"Completing the game is the ultimate reward."

Nope, sorry. Casual gamers like their hard work to be recognised. Constantly. Give them badges, medals, rewards, certificates, new content and their name in lights. If players know they've done well, they'll be back. Again and again. Tell them often how special they are, or better yet, show them.

Old Rule 7: The end is the goal

"We will decide how many levels the game has."

If your game finishes or has a fixed number of levels, then you're turning away your most dedicated players. Keep things going and people will keep playing.

Old Rule 8: The more buttons the better

"We've got a mouse/keyboard, or a whole joypad - we can do lots."

Complex controls turn people off - quickly. The moment your player thinks, 'I donât know how to do that,' youâve lost them.

Old Rule 9: Everyone likes 'X'

"We can stick to the genres and game types we know; games are games."

Unless the 'X' in that phrase is 'fun', you're wrong. There's a reason console games are not embraced by the whole world. Racing, fighting, role playing, strategy, flying and even platforming are complex concepts for an awful lot of people.

We have the opportunity to reach a whole new audience who will NEVER pick up a joypad in their lives and who probably agree with the Daily Mail about the evil influence of games. Yet they'll play Bridge, Online Poker, Bejewelled or Word Crunch because they categorise them quite separately from console games. Think outside the whole gamer market.

Old Rule 10: Fun Costs

"Casual games now require massive investment and experience."

No, no, no, wrong, wrong, wrong. Just because the market is approaching mainstream acceptance, it's not the exclusive domain of companies which can throw hundreds of thousands of dollars at a project, or that can claim 20 years of game development experience. The casual games market has opened up opportunities for new developers and smaller creative companies to reach players worldwide.


Casual gaming really is one of the most exciting new developments in the games industry for years. We can make gaming a mainstream activity and every one of us can benefit from a bigger global audience.

Despite what Iâve said, not everything we know is wrong. Not really. We just need to forget about some of the prejudices and expectations the games industry has burned in to us over the past 20 years.

It's all about the fun, as nebulous and transient a concept as that may seem at first glance. But think about it - why is that a problem? Isnât that why we chose to work in this industry?

Colin Anderson is managing director at Denki.

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Ellie Gibson avatar
Ellie Gibson: Ellie spent nearly a decade working at Eurogamer, specialising in hard-hitting executive interviews and nob jokes. These days she does a comedy show and podcast. She pops back now and again to write the odd article and steal our biscuits.