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A casual game is a video game targeted at or used by a mass audience of casual gamers. Casual games can have any type of gameplay, and fit in any genre. They are typically distinguished by their simple rules and lack of commitment required in contrast to more complex hardcore games. They require no long-term time commitment or special skills to play, and there are comparatively low production and distribution costs for the producer.
Casual games are typically played on a personal computer online in web browsers, although they now are starting to become popular on game consoles and mobile phones as well. Casual gamers are typically older than traditional computer gamers, and more often female, with over 74% of casual gamers being female.
Most casual games have similar basic features:
- Extremely simple gameplay, like a puzzle game that can be played entirely using a one-button mouse or cellphone keypad
- Familiar genre, like a card game or board game
- Allowing gameplay in short bursts, during work breaks or, in the case of portable and cell phone games, on public transportation
- The ability to quickly reach a final stage, or continuous play with no need to save the game
- Some variant on a "try before you buy" business model or an advertising-based model
The word "casual" indicates that the games are produced for the casual consumer, who comes across the game and can get into gameplay almost immediately. Every month, an estimated 200 million consumers play casual games online, many of whom do not normally regard themselves as gamers, or fans of video games.
If sold at retail casual games may have low prices to encourage impulse purchases, with colorful packaging and point of purchase sales displays. Others are usually free on-line or free to download and try (but may provide a revenue by in-game advertising). Commercial studios create downloadable games, primarily available on the PC. These games are typically addictive and are limited trials to encourage casual gamers to buy a permanent "deluxe" version for a small price (typically $20 or less). They usually have more intensive graphics and sound. Recently, 100% free "full licensed versions" of casual games have become available through advertising.
Indie game developers often create free games for online play. These games have a wide range of gameplay styles, can be played on almost any computer, and are often written to be played from within a web browser, using Flash, or at one point Shockwave. They are more limited in the scope of action, graphics and sound than downloadable games since they are played through the browser. However, many of these developers have pushed the technological envelope in what is possible through the browser – often creating full 3D games, 2 player capabilities, save games and other advanced features.
Namco's arcade game Pac-Man (1980), which debuted during the golden age of video arcade games, is considered to be the first "casual game". It is estimated to have been played more than ten billion times during the 20th century, making it the highest-grossing video game of all time.
In 1989, Nintendo's Game Boy was released with Tetris as a free pack-in game. Tetris on the Game Boy proved immensely popular, and is credited with making Nintendo's fledgling portable gaming system a success.
Microsoft's Solitaire (1990), which came free with Microsoft Windows, is widely considered the first successful "casual game" on a computer, with more than 400 million people having played the game since its inception. Subsequent versions of Windows included Minesweeper, and once Microsoft discovered the popularity of Solitaire, the company added FreeCell and Spider Solitaire. The company advertised its very popular Microsoft Entertainment Packs for casual gaming on office computers. Other casual games of the era included Sierra On-Line's Hoyle's Official Book of Games and Crazy Nick's Software Picks, Villa Crespo's The Coffee Break Series, and Epyx's Chip's Challenge.
Casual games moved online in 1996 with the debut of sites such as Gamesville and Uproar which offered multiplayer, HTML-based games in genres such as bingo, cards, puzzles, and trivia. These games required a constant server connection to keep players in sync, and did not include chat or avatars.
The advent of Flash created a boom in web-based games, encouraging designers to create simple games that could be played to completion in one short sitting. One of the most prominent casual games, Bejeweled, started out as a Flash game. Flash games commonly use per-user LSO files as a mean of saving game states.
Casual games received another boost when cell phones with large color displays became the norm because, like Adobe Flash before them, the cell phones had limited capabilities ideally suited to short, simple games.
Despite casual games being around for some years the concept has only recently gained popularity with the release of Nintendo's Wii video game console. The simplicity of the Wii controller interface has opened up the gaming market to an untapped demographic who were unwilling to invest the time in learning or intimidated by the typical gamepad input device. This opportunity has seen a number of publishers attempt to design games that appeal to the relatively low skill level of these new players. 2006 saw a growing market of console-based casual games, such as Carnival Games and Wii Play. The precursor to this previously unnamed market trend can be seen in games like Crazy Frog Racer, Shrek: Super Party, Spice World, Buzz!: The Music Quiz, and Singstar. The casual game LittleBigPlanet is also a popular title on the PlayStation 3 in which players have the power to customize huge aspects of the game, while the gameplay itself is relatively simple.
In 2008, social network games began gaining mainstream popularity following the release of Happy Farm in China. Influenced by the Japanese RPG series Story of Seasons, Happy Farm attracted 23 million daily active users in China. It soon inspired many clones such as Sunshine Farm, Happy Farmer, Happy Fishpond, Happy Pig Farm, and Facebook games such as FarmVille, Farm Town, Country Story, Barn Buddy, Sunshine Ranch, Happy Harvest, Jungle Extreme, and Farm Villain. The most popular social network game is FarmVille, which has over 70 million active users worldwide. Other popular social network games include YoVille, Mob Wars, Mafia Wars, and FrontierVille.
There is no precise classification of casual genres in the modern gaming industry. That can be explained by the easy ideas that form the basis for each game as well as a great amount of genre mixes existing in this field. According to Big Fish Games, one of the leading casual game developers and distributors, and Gamezebo, one of the most popular casual game review sites, there are seven popular genres in casual games:
- Puzzle games: Bejeweled series, Collapse! series, Luxor series,...
- Hidden object games: Mystery Case Files series, Mortimer Beckett series, Hidden Expedition series,...
- Adventure games: Dream Chronicles series, Aveyond series, Nancy Drew series,...
- Strategy games (including time management): Diner Dash series, Delicious series, Cake Mania series,...
- Arcade & action games: Plants vs. Zombies, Peggle series, Feeding Frenzy series,...
- Word & trivia games: Bookworm, Bookworm Adventures series, Bonnie's Bookstore,...
- Card & board games: Slingo Quest, Lottso! Deluxe, Luxor Mahjong,...
The Internet is the primary distribution channel for casual games. Most casual games are either downloaded as limited-time trials or delivered as Flash or ActiveX objects embedded in a web page. The evaluation copy of a casual game may limit the amount of play time, number of levels, or game sessions. Often more advanced features are not available. Some websites, such as Pogo.com, create casual games as a web-only experience first, then follow up with more advanced versions as "downloadable" games.
The ease of signing up to affiliate gaming portals has flooded the internet with such sites. These portals typically rank the games by popularity and sales. Games with strong sales typically lead to sequels and knock-offs. Games that do not convert are quickly buried.
Additionally, iPod games are made available via the iTunes Store and can be purchased as you would a music track, casual games for the iPhone and iPod Touch are also distributed in this way.
In addition to online portals, casual games are increasingly available at major retailers, particularly Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy. The success of Bejeweled at retail, where it sold over 100,000 copies in the U.S., has made retailers much more open to carrying casual games rather than value priced core games (such as first-person shooters, strategy games, etc.). As another example of the increasing success of casual games in retail, Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst was reported to be the third-best selling PC game in the United States for the week ending with Black Friday in 2007.
Casual games are also ported to mobile phones. Some mobile casual games allow players to meet and compete against each other.
A casual gamer is a type of video game player whose time or interest in playing games is limited compared with a hardcore gamer. Casual gamers can conceivably consist of any people who show more than a passing interest in video games. For this reason, games which attempt to appeal to the casual player tend to strive for simple rules and ease of game play, the goal being to present a pick-up-and-play experience that people from almost any age group or skill level could enjoy. Casual gaming demographics also vary greatly from those of traditional computer games, as the typical casual gamer is older and more predominantly female, with over 74% of those purchasing casual games being women.
- Social network games, casual game with social network integration
- Browser game, a game that is played using a web browser
- Minigame, a short video game contained within another video game
- Indie game, a game produced by individual or small team without publisher support
- Game development and Independent video game development
- Gamezebo and Jay is Games, casual game review websites.
- Wii, a Nintendo console targeted to casual gamers
- Hardcore game
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