Casual Connect. This is what they’re calling it now. It used to be Casuality , but I think that sounded too much like casualty, so they changed the name of the conference to Casual Connect. Now it sounds like a lurid sub-category off the CraigsList personals. Let’s connect, casually. Wink, wink. But really, that’s what we did in Seattle last week. Those of us who make games and sell them. We connected, with each other. But not with you. There were no consumers, none of you who play the games and buy them. And this was kind of sad. I’ve never worked in an industry so far-removed from the customer.
For those of you who buy and play the games we talk about here, Casual Connect means nothing. You’ve probably never heard of it. But for those of us who make and sell the games you see every day on your favorite gaming portals, it means a lot. This is where the deals are done. This is where game concepts and prototypes are shown and often sold. It’s a schmooze fest. A glad-handing meet-and-greet. A dog-and-pony show. Wanna see my dog? Wanna buy my pony? This is our show, but it’s really your show. At least it should be. The gamers should have a show.
What gets said and done in places like Seattle and Amsterdam and Kiev (places where Casual Connect is held) has an impact on what you see in places like Shockwave and Big Fish and Pogo, and maybe if you were there too, maybe, if the real people who play the games were participants in the process, we’d have a chance to get to know you better and hear your thoughts. Novel idea? Hardly. For 20 years MacWorld has reached out to the people who buy Macintoshes’. From day one Apple has understood the value of a visceral connection to its customers. The customer is always right, but unless you hear her speak, and not with just with her wallet, you won’t get the full story.
And what is that story? I honestly don’t know, because I don’t talk with you much. I talk at you, but I rarely have a chance to talk with you, and that’s just wrong. I know that industry insiders read this column occasionally, but do paying casual game customers read it too? It sure would help if I knew the answer to that question. Because I’d like to write more for Gamezebo, and, I’d like to make better decisions about games to develop. As corny as it sounds, I want to serve you better, and unless I talk to you and get to know what you like and what you don’t like, it would be arrogant and a waste of time to continue writing and thinking in a vacuum.
A few months ago I wrote a piece called Why We Need Women and I got a tremendous response. Women wrote me and women approached me at industry events and intelligent dialog ensued. I realized that there are enough talented, driven women in this industry to make a big difference in how games are made and sold. Women can, and do, make a difference in this business, whose customers are mostly women. And I am tickled pink that Electronic Arts brought Kathy Vrabeck in from Activision to run their casual gaming initiatives. My anonymous sources tell me that she is the real deal. Someone who cares enough to listen to regular people – developers and customers alike – in order to understand the market that she serves.
Intelligence, strategy and market data is useless without humility. This business will be doomed without it. Casual gaming publishers are generally arrogant and disconnected, and the Seattle show affirms that observation. I saw some very interesting games, but nine out of ten of them seemed to have been made in that vacuum I’ve mentioned. I saw the same old clones, a slew of big name consumer brand licenses, games that were very dark, games that were very hip, and even games that were violent, and I had to ask myself, have these people ever played Cake Mania? Do they have any idea what the customer wants? Because I don’t. Forget needing women, what we need are customers. We need to sit with you and talk. We need to hear why you like certain games and not others. We need to show you early prototypes and get you in on the process early on. And we need you at the very gatherings where we talk about you!
Casual Connect is not E3. And it shouldn’t be. It’s a subdued, low-key event where much of the action goes on beyond the draped tables and carpeted halls. That’s the genius of this show. It’s like a little Cannes, and I am not suggesting we change that. It is a show about information exchanged in brief, but candid encounters in the hotel lobbies, in the meeting rooms and at the parties late at night. The conferences and lectures were very good, the speaker line-up was strong, the keynotes inspiring, but if you missed the parties and the hotel bar scenes after-hours, you missed the show. Casual Connect is all about connecting casually, and this is something that the newcomers to this space, the outsiders who are suddenly in, just don’t get.
But what we really need is an event of some kind that allows for customer participation. I argue that this would serve the industry better than an insiders-only show. Maybe we add a consumer day to Casual Connect like they used to do at E3. I love Casual Connect, but we need to give gamers a voice beyond the user-reviews and blogs. And I’m going to put my money where my mouth is. Because I want to hear from you, the gamers. I’ll listen and I’ll reply to thoughtful, non-profane emails from you, the buying public. Tell me what you like and don’t like. Tell me the games you want to see made. Tell me what we should be talking about here. Tell me how to serve you. My inbox is open: [nakedgamer at gamezebo.com].