Look around your average casual games site and you’re likely to think you have double-vision. Clones and copy-cats abound, whether it’s the latest gem-swapping game or the next version on Sudoku. It’s enough to make you think (and many people do) that the casual gamer has been figured out. Casual gamers, the argument goes, don’t want something new – all they want is the same safe gameplay in a new package. Nobody is interested in innovation.
Look a little closer, however, and you start to see a different picture. Let’s just take one example from the top ten lists: Granny in Paradise. On the surface, the content seems familiar. There’s a cute senior, a horde of lovable cats, a brightly colored tropical setting (a casual game staple!) – it’s everything you’d expect from your Yahoo!s and Reals.
But play the game and you find something new. There’s no gem-swapping, no piles of tiles, no bumper to rebound anything. Granny is a character you maneuver through a series of platforms. You dodge and trap enemies. You jump and collect power-ups. It’s an honest-to-goodness arcade game…and it made it to the top-ten on several sites.
Of course, Granny in Paradise isn’t the only platformer that you can find in the downloadable space. There’s Turtle Odyssey, for example, and Tamale Loco from a few years back. And Granny certainly isn’t an original in its gameplay. The basic idea comes from an old video game called Lode Runner. That game had the same running up ladders, digging holes to trap enemies, and progressing between single-screen levels. Granny is just a casual reinterpretation of an arcade classic.
Let’s highlight that point. Lode Runner was an arcade game. The kind that ten-year olds played on their Ataris in the eighties, and hipsters reminisce about in snooty, overpriced bars. Those are the kinds of games that gamers play. Casual gamers are supposed to be turned off by that geeky, retro stuff.
Wrap it in a casual skin, though, and it’s a hit. And it’s not the only game to break out of the basic Bejeweled and Collapse world. There are shooters like Platypus, sports games like Gutterball, sims like Insaniquarium, action games like Diner Dash, and even totally new (for casual games) play patterns like Zuma. All of these games were highly successful, and all of them deviated from the copycat path. Who at the time thought that a restaurant simulation would capture casual gamers’ hearts, or that there would be hundreds of clones – and even genuine evolutions in gameplay – of a weird puzzle game about shooting balls from a frog’s mouth?
And that’s the point. There are games coming out all the time that don’t fit into the traditional casual game genre. Some quickly disappear into the archives, but some succeed, and a few go on to become genre defining themselves. Casual gamers don’t just want a new face on the same old. They want something new. And that means one of two things – either there are some of you out there that we designers don’t know about, or that all of you have broader taste than we originally expected.
It’s true that people like the gem-swapping, and there will certainly be more of those for sale soon. But it’s also true that there are a whole lot of other games out there. If you haven’t tried them, check them out. You might find you’re part of the majority of casual gamers who likes something new sometimes.