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Breakfast Topic: Casualties of casual gaming

Zach Yonzon

The other day over dinner, my wife and I were talking about a new game on Facebook and how easy it would be for us to game the system. My brother-in-law stopped us mid-conversation and asked, "What the hell happened to you two? You used to be hardcore raiders! Now you're talking about min-maxing a Facebook game!"

My wife and I looked sheepishly at each other and hung our heads in shame. This is what it had come to. While we're committed to playing together come Cataclysm, we had now been reduced to the most casual of casual gamers -- playing browser-based games with no real, complex story or engaging gameplay. At least, nothing as complex or engaging as the World of Warcraft. But the reality is that casual gaming is a bigger phenomenon than we can imagine. Zynga's Farmville has over 61.6 million active users -- that's almost six times WoW's 11.5 million subscriber base. Never mind that World of Warcraft is subscription-based and that not all of Farmville's players are paying customers. Forget about revenue for a moment. That's 61.6 million gamers playing one game.

Social gaming is an entirely different animal altogether and has turned people who wouldn't normally consider themselves gamers into game addicts. Farmville's evil, real-time component forces players to log on at specific times or risk losing valuable crops. We've seen this kind of mechanic before, such as harvesting in Final Fantasy XI, but nothing has quite gotten people so hooked as these new social games. It's gotten so bad that Time magazine listed Farmville as one of the 50 worst inventions. Be that as it may, social gaming is here to stay. One might even say that it will dictate the future trend of gaming. Take Blizzard's Real ID, for example, or the new -- baby steps in the social gaming direction.

It merits a longer discussion, certainly, but how do you think these casual, social games affect World of Warcraft? I'd like to see it as a positive. Since more and more people play games now, they're more open to playing more intensive games, and I can easily broach the subject of WoW to these people using browser-based games as common ground. On the other hand, one could also think that these games -- since they're free and require variable time investment -- can whittle away at the game's player base. Or do these two player bases simply not intersect or affect each other?


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