My phone’s ringing and it’s probably one of my girlfriends, but as much as I enjoy gabbing with her all day (as well as doing laundry, knitting sweaters and foraging for wild berries – it’s in my genes), I’m going to have to ignore her for the time being to set a few things straight.
In a recent interview with Next Generation, EA Casual president Kathy Vrabeck said, "I get less concerned about game reviews, because the casual gamers don’t read any of those things." Marketing VP Russell Aarons goes on to suggest that women aged 25 to 34 (one of casual gaming’s key demographics), are more likely to judge a game based on whether they’d hang up on a phone conversation with their girlfriend to play it.
Statements like these are intensely patronizing, not only to media outlets like Gamezebo who focus on the casual market, but also to the millions of discerning, media savvy casual gamers who drive the multi-billion dollar casual games industry. If casual gamers didn’t read reviews, I wouldn’t have a job.
If EA were to delve deeper into its target audience instead of dismissing and generalizing casual gamers, it would find a thriving and passionate community that is capable of judging good from bad.
These are people who post in forums, trade gameplay hints and tips with each other, compete for high scores on online leaderboards, and wait impatiently for sequels to their favorite franchises (for proof, just look at the hundreds of comments posted on our own site about Virtual Villagers, Mystery Case Files and Diner Dash). Most importantly, casual gamers recognize the value of aesthetics and compelling gameplay, and certainly can’t be easily conned into forking over money for any old junk.
The major difference between so-called casual gamers and so-called hardcore gamers is simply in the games that they play. Some people just want to build stuff, or solve puzzles, or search for hidden objects, or engross themselves in an interactive story instead of stealing cars or wreaking havoc with a machine gun. Then again, however, some people enjoy rolling around a big ball of crud for hours on end. Sound like a cheesy, "casual" concept? It’s actually the premise of Katamari Damacy, a quirky and insanely popular sleeper hit in the hardcore gaming world.
To draw a line in the sand between casual and hardcore is ludicrous. Some people read thousand-page novels while others like to do crossword puzzles – and many people do both as the mood strikes them. UNO is the biggest selling Xbox Live Arcade game to date (as of November, 2007), and you can guess it isn’t just housewives downloading it. Not enough of them own Xboxes.
And let’s not forget Tetris. A game that’s routinely praised as one of the best games of all time by "hardcore" gamers, has a concept that couldn’t be simpler: Rotate falling blocks to clear rows for high score. It’s also a very good game.
You see, for every mediocre game like Boogie or EA Playground, there are casual game gems like Nintendogs, Peggle, Diner Dash, Wii Sports, Puzzle Quest, Virtual Villagers, Build-a-lot and Fairy Godmother Tycoon. All of these games have one or more things in common: an addictive concept, decent production values, and compelling design based on an understanding of – and a respect for – the target audience. (Hint: 25 – 34 year old women do more than just talk on the phone.)
If there is a line in the sand to be drawn, it should be between informed and passionate gamers (whether they call themselves fans of "hardcore" or "casual" titles), and the kind of person who buys a game based on how pretty the box is or because it’s based on their favorite television show. Please don’t automatically lump casual gamers in with the latter.
Gamezebo would like to officially give an open invitation to EA: Whenever you want a review written by a site run by casual gamers for casual gamers, shoot us an email. (We’ve even reviewed a few of your games already.) Of course, that does not necessarily mean we’ll give your games a good score.
Erin Bell is the editor of Gamezebo.