Casual Connect 2011: Games Industry Fishbowl?

With Casual Connect, the fish analogy is easy. You’re gathered in Seattle, surrounded by the sea, partying in aquariums, and hell, I even roomed with a finned friend this year. Our hotel pet (affectionately and temporarily named Sarah) stayed in her fishbowl out of necessity. But will the casual gaming industry do the same? Are we in a fishbowl, and is that even a bad thing? Depends on who you ask…

Sarah the goldfish might say to bust out of the family-friendly fishbowl and swim as fast as you can. I guess long-time MMORPG industry vet Cody Bye would agree. I mean, what was Zam doing at Casual Connect this year anyway? They cover hardcore multiplayer games, right? Hmm…

Facebook’s Sean Ryan might tell you to stay in the fishbowl until it gets a little cloudier. His talk covered the social gaming gamut, but one key takeaway was that developers should look to good games from the past to find great ideas for the future. Not just the obvious casual gaming genres that have yet to be fully explored in a social sense (ahem, hidden-object games)… but “midcore” games from Zelda to Counterstrike that could be redone for a social context and be more awesome for it.

Point is, there is still room for talented game developers to make money in this casual fishbowl, but maybe the industry should broaden its perspective on the size of the fishbowl entirely. In a panel led by Chillingo‘s Levi Buchanan this week on “Why Mobile Games Appeal to the Mass Market”, he asked if we should even be using “social, casual, mobile” game descriptors at all anymore. Levi might tell you the fishbowl is a myth. Panelists all agreed – games are games – mobile, console or otherwise. Case in point: when a developer shows his mom a cool new project, she isn’t likely to say, “that’s a great mobile game, honey!” The whole industry is moving and converging so quickly that the fishbowl won’t even exist in a few years. Besides, games without a cross-platform plan are going to have trouble in today’s market  anyway (but that’s a different panel, a different post).

RockYou‘s Josh Grant (a TriplePoint client) would probably agree with Sean Ryan. In the “Mergers & Acquisitions with Buyers” panel, Josh said “you only know you’re in a bubble when it bursts.” In other words, keep swimming, keep pushing the limits, keep making great games – just be smart about it.

There were a lot of sessions that talked about how to reach players and keep them playing. There were sessions about how to make successful social gameplay experiences. There were sessions about buying, sessions about selling, sessions about all the things developers discuss. And the consensus? Make engaging games. That’s it. It’s simple. Make great games that people want to play. Worry about the business model afterward. It’ll probably be free-to-play with micro-transactions, but you can figure that out later.

Fishbowl or not, there’s a lot of competition in the casual gaming space right now. Stay on your fins or you’ll get flushed in no time.

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Harshil Patel
Harshil is a tech enthusiast with the zeal of changing the way people look at technology. He is often found testing out new gadgets when he's free!
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