Last week, most of the casual gaming industry converged on Amsterdam in The Netherlands for a weeklong event called Casuality. Contrary to popular belief, the event was not merely an excuse for a European boondoggle – but also a chance for key industry folks to discuss the pressing issues of the day. These included topics such as advertising in games, the need for more regionalized content, and the impact of community and multiplayer features.

While I could spend this column regaling you about our misadventures in the land of canals, coffee shops and wooden shoes, I’ll keep it PG and focus on the biggest and most understated issue that came out of the conference: quality.

There is a belief among some people that consumers are insensitive to the quality of the games they play. That, within certain parameters, a mahjong game is a mahjong game is a mahjong game. That’s not a horribly unreasonable conclusion to draw – especially if you’ve ever been forced to watch a Tim Allen movie – but when it comes to games I think it’s just not true.

Take a look at Gem Shop or Rainbow Web if you thought that Bejeweled was the definitive word on match-3 games. Mahjong Quest is another great example of a game in a crowded genre with an original viewpoint. In a totally different vein, the new title from PlayFirst/GameLab called Plantasia brings an entirely new look, feel and play pattern to the action game genre.

My prediction is that quality games will continue to lead the pack in 2006 and original ideas will find ever more original consumers that are willing to get involved and play. Perhaps I’m an idealist, but if some of the ideas I saw at Casuality are any indication, this is going to be a very interesting year.

Oh, and while we’re writing this book report about what we learned in Holland, let me just say that some people in the industry have the most charming and beautiful spouses ever. It’s just a shame I couldn’t watch all of them salsa the night away. Perhaps they’ll let me grab dessert with them sometime. But how good is the salsa in Seattle anyway? Seems awfully far from Mexico. Others, meanwhile, spent the whole week not bringing their significant others to any events. Which I found funny, since if I had to watch all those people unexpectedly smoke (European peer pressure, anyone?), I’d think they could similarly introduce their girlfriends…or "girlfriends".