Lending more credence to the idea that casual gaming deserves a lot more attention from the industry and the gaming press than it does currently, a survey carried out by Macromedia on its casual gaming site, Trygames, has found that just under a third of people that use the site spend over two hours playing games per session. Of those, over a third visit the site nine times per week. Although these findings may surprise many people in the industry that believed casual gamers tended to play games in short bursts, the idea that casual gamers aren't just gamers that play sporadically has been well reported on over the last couple of years. The Guardian and the BBC both ran interesting articles on this issue recently.
We've already seen how reviews on large game sites and in magazines have very little influence over what hardcore gamers buy and play, so it's obvious that the effect should be even more pronounced for casual gamers. This is partly due to the "viral" nature of casual games (they often spread through word of mouth offline, or online via social networking sites, IM or email) and the fact that a large proportion of casual gamers are female. Larger commercial games are often very male orientated, which reflects the fact that many game development companies are made up of men and therefore the majority of games that come out of these companies are designed to appeal to men.
There's another possible reason for the lack of a connection between the industry (that is largely tuned towards the needs of hardcore gamers) and real mainstream, casual gamers that don't consider themselves gamers; the simplicity and low access requirements of casual games. Many so called "casual" games are available in bulk on online portals and require not much more than a small download and a double click to play. Everyone knows the rules of popular card and puzzle games and that's why they're amongst the most popular types of games for casual players.
Games like The Sims, Myst and Geometry Wars are examples of games that have attracted casual gamers through simplicity and have gone on to become extremely popular as a result. Keith Stuart on the Guardian GamesBlog called casual gaming the new hardcore just over a year ago; it's "stigmatised, unconventional, comparatively inaccessible", just like hardcore gaming used to be. So why has this not changed in the year since this article was written? Research has long shown that casual gaming is an under appreciated market that is already disproportionately large for the amount of coverage it receives. So why does everyone in the industry continue to be surprised to see that casual gamers are actually quite prolific gamers?
[Image credit: Stuff on my cat]