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Electronic gaming since its inception, has always been considered somewhat of a niche market. Along with being niche, it also came with a stigma: the hardcore gamer was seen as someone who was filthy, unkempt, vulgar, and perpetually infantile. Since 2006, with the release of the Wii, gaming has begun to leave the hands of the hardcore gamer and started to create a new breed: the casual gamer. Someone who liked to game, but too much, as they had things to fit into their busy schedule.
This past weekend, Peter Vesterbacka, head developer at Finnish mobile gaming company Rovio and one of the head designers behind runaway hit Angry Birds, said at a South by Southwest panel that gaming on dedicated consoles is dying out, and that it will eventually be replaced by gaming on smartphones and tablets.
And there’s a grain of truth to that. With a reported one in three smartphone users being regular gamers, it’s obvious that more and more people are finding there way to mobile games, be it on their phones or tablets. What is the major difference? It cannot be simply for social connectivity, as games are built to exploit that (they are on phones) and there are even services such as OpenFeint which allow for cross-platform social interactivity. I believe it the major difference is the bite-sized nature of most mobile games. We as a generation already engage in ‘data snacking’, consuming information in tiny snippets on the go, so it’s logical that we would want other things in the same format. Although short, quickly ended or stoppable games have been popular on consoles (Wii game series Raving Rabbids being an example), the fact that they’re on one’s phone means that they are available whenever one has free time.
And if consoles aren’t dying, they are rapidly changing. Launched in June of 2010, OnLive is a cloud gaming service. Wherein traditional gaming consoles are standalone units that require constant replacing, cloud gaming keeps all of your gaming information on the internet. No longer does one have to worry about whether they have the latest machine, because as long as they can stream video (at 480p, 720p or 1080p, whichever they prefer), they will always be able to game, as all the actual computations are done on OnLive’s servers. In addition to the social aspects that are already present in different pay schemes, you can try a little before you fully commit, perfect for someone that wants to game snack, and sample all the latest games.
At the SXSW panel, Vesterbacka also notes how he’s tired of hearing the term “casual games”, because, as he puts it, there’s no such thing as “casual movies”, and I’m inclined to agree with him. While I still believe in the dichotomy between hardcore gamers and the non-hardcore, much like how the “social” in social media should be dropped, the “casual” should be dropped from casual games. While they were a niche, they have come to represent a growing majority in gaming, and it’s not likely to go away anytime soon.
Bruce Porter Jr the Social Networks Manager