As the gaming audience changes and expands, so does the casual gaming market - with more and more companies realising that there is money to be made in a sector which is already turning over healthy revenues.
But will casual games ever pull in as much cash as PC and console titles, and how important is it to strike a balance between established brands and new IP? GamesIndustry.biz talked to Greg Harper, president of casual gaming company iWin, to discuss these issues. Read on to find out more.
GamesIndustry.biz: How different is the demographic of the consumers purchasing iWin's casual games compared to traditional gamers?
Greg Harper: That's an interesting question. I assume that by "traditional gamer", you mean the 18 to 34 year-old men who are thought to drive the PC and home console game market. In those terms, the demographics of iWin's audience are quite different.
iWin's audience is primarily female - 70 per cent - ages 35 and up and, for the most part, would never consider themselves to be "gamers". However, I think that as games become an option on an increasing number of platforms - be it your phone, your iPod, your Zune, your PSP, your DS, the list goes on - we are going to have to redefine what we believe makes up the "traditional gamer".
What's proving more popular with casual gamers - single or multiplayer titles?
Both are extremely popular for different reasons, and both are experiencing strong growth. At the moment, we are seeing more single player games being released into the market. That's where developers are investing most because there is a proven business model where they can get a clear return on their investment.
One of iWin's major initiatives for 2007 is to focus on multiplayer games and community. We are going to introduce our strongest lineup of multiplayer titles yet, with new versions of original titles as well as several multiplayer games based on top brands.
How is casual gaming matching up against the traditional gaming market in terms of revenues? Is this likely to change in the future?
Today, the casual game market is smaller on a revenue basis than the PC and home console game market. However, thanks to the proliferation of new platforms and devices that are quite literally putting casual games into the hands of a much larger audience than ever before, it is expanding at a faster pace than the traditional game market.
We expect the growth of the casual game market to continue to accelerate and close the gap between the two over time.
Why do older brands such as Monopoly and Risk remain so popular with consumers?
Their board game counterparts have been known, played and loved by families for years and years, and people develop a strong connection to games with which they have fond memories from the past. Downloadable PC versions of these games allow every member of the family to re-live those memories with ease.
iWin is particularly proud of our ability to take a known, loved license and develop a casual game that respects the integrity of the brand by preserving the quality and feeling of the original game while making it a fun experience on your computer.
One criticism that has been levelled at the casual gaming market is that there's not a lot of original IP - but there are an awful lot of copies of hit games such as Bejeweled, Tetris, Brickout and so on. What kind of balance does iWin try to strike between original IP and old favorites?
While there is certainly an established base of perennial favourite casual games, we are also watching the market evolve and starting to see new game mechanics and genres being introduced. Players are starting to embrace new game genres, such as light RPG and RTS games, which are relatively new to the online downloadable casual games market.
Games like Virtual Villagers, Westward, and Nancy Drew are starting to climb the charts. iWin focuses on providing a mix of original games, sequels to our franchise hits, and only the very best top branded games.
Why produce original IP at all, when it would seem that tried and trusted brands offer the least risky way to make big profits?
The reality is that original IP has created the biggest profits in the casual game market. Since the "try-and-buy" model allows people to sample a game before purchasing it, only truly great games sell, whether they have a recognisable brand or not.
What would you say to a developer thinking of entering the casual gaming market? What pitfalls should they look out for?
My general advice to new developers is to take some risk and try something different for which they have a real passion. On a specific level, we would advise them to invest time upfront to refine their core gameplay mechanic to make it as fun and addictive as possible.
Generally, successful casual games are very accessible to customers on all levels - UI, gameplay, art et cetera - and provide early and frequent rewards to engage players from the very beginning.
What do you make of the rumors that Apple is to move into gaming? Is this something iWin is interested in?
We believe that almost any device with a screen is a good platform for casual games. This would certainly apply to the iPod, so we are very encouraged by Apple's recent moves to support games on the iPod.
The fact that the number of platforms with casual games is growing can only serve to help developers and publishers of casual games and expand the overall market.
What's next for the company - what new ways of earning revenue are you currently exploring?
We believe some of the most significant innovation in the casual game market next year will emerge in the form of new revenue streams. There are several new dimensions to the business model which are currently being explored and will appear on the market.
I can't get into any more specifics right now but, as they say, watch this space for updates... If we do it right, developers, publishers and customers should all reap the rewards.
Greg Harper is the president of iWin. Interview by Ellie Gibson.