Like an object hidden in a puzzle, where oh where is Joel this week?

Well, guten morgen where you are, and guten tag from Germany.  I am in Hamburg for Casual Connect.  Though it is freezing outside, I am here to share you the warmth and excitement that is Casual Connect: Hamburg.   

Hamburg is not Amsterdam, but….

It’s not that bad of a town.  

The beers are flowing, the schnitzel is cooking, and the meetings are aplenty.

I have heard from some attendees that the show appears to have less people this year than last year in Amsterdam.  But, it’s an optical illusion.

The venue is actually about 10X bigger and according to Jessica Tams of the Casual Games Association, there are 20% more attendees at Casual Connect: Europe this year than last year (over 900+).

Meet me in Moscow

Most of the attendees from the show speak fluid Russian.  I have decided to take advantage of that fact and have met with a variety of Russian and Eastern European companies to date.  So far, today I have met with Playrix, Realore, and Alawar.  All three companies are coming out with a lot of games this year, with Alawar going to launch over 50!  From what I saw, there are a lot of great games coming out of this region of the world and I have been given assurances that we’ll be able to share previews of all the games with you the closer they are ready.

I get by … on $9.99?

The biggest topic of discussion at the show so far is Amazon’s decision to sell games at $9.95 with no club membership.  Many believe that this is too low of a price to sell a game at launch and the fear for many developers is that games will soon be priced too low to make it worth developing the game.

I spoke with Ernie Ramirez from Reflexive (which was bought by Amazon and is powering their store) this morning and he pointed out that 60 million users go to Amazon each month and 80 million people have purchased an item on Amazon in the past 12 months.  

He believes that exposing casual games to this huge opportunity for developers and that $9.99 with no club membership commitment is the sweet spot for the casual games, smack between $20 per game and $7 per game with a 12 month club commitment.

He does raise a good point:  What’s the issues with $9.99 games when the majority of games have been sold for $7 or less in club packages for the past year on Big Fish, GameHouse, PlayFirst, iWin, etc?

Big Sales on Big Fish Games

My day started yesterday with my happy go lucky panel on the recession and its impact on the casual games industry.  

I’ll write more about this later, but the one factoid that jumped out at me was Paul Thelen from Big Fish Games saying that whereas the average consumer purchases 3 games on a casual game site, on Big Fish the average user purchases 20 games.  That number is huge and is a testament to the fact that Big Fish is offering a very attractive games experience (both web site and club) for casual gamers.  I’d be very curious to know more how many sales per customers its competitors do.  

Old Guy Who is New to Casual Games

The most interesting panel/speech I heard yesterday (aside from my own panel, of course), was the keynote by John Barbour of RealArcade, a self-described “old guy who is new to casual games.”   I plan to write more on the subject later, but in the meantime, here are 3 tidbits from the speech and my follow up discussion with him:  

Content is king (or queen) in casual games.  There is an over-supply of games in the market (due to past demand and the current recession) but a lack of really good games.  Those developers who focus on creating good games will survive and thrive during this recession.

Exclusives are bad.   According to John, exclusives offer a short-term fix for developers but are bad in the long run in that they limit distribution across all channels and lower the chance of creating good franchise titles.

Currently, only 7-14% of all women play casual games means the market has the potential to grow 10X its current size.  Casual game companies need to focus on hitting the remaining 90% of gamers who are not playing casual games.

During a day where fear of the recession was on top of everyone’s minds (in the words of one attendee, the goal of 2009 is to survive), it was nice to hear an optimistic take on the industry.  In the words of Mr. Barbour, it’s better to work in casual games than the auto or financial industries right now.  I tend to agree.

For more details, read VentureBeat’s coverage of this session.

Final Thoughts of the Day

I am actually a fan of VentureBeat as you can see above, but I have to call them out on their casual games coverage from yesterday.  

First, in writing about casual virtual world ourWorld’s distribution deal with Miniclip, one of the largest online casual game community of free games, VentureBeat noted: “Virtual worlds are a crowded market. Small players have to cut these kinds of deals to survive and reach new users.” ourWorld did not sign this deal to survive; they signed it because it sounds like an amazing business deal.  I would sign this deal in a heartbeat, and I don’t even know what the terms are.

Two, in covering Last Day of Work’s announcement that they are working on a new game Virtual Families, Venturebeat pondered “I’m not sure why it would want to take on EA, which has The Sims coming out this summer.”  

Answers:  It’s not taking on The Sims, its an extention of the Virtual Villagers franchise, one of the most popular casual game franchises both online and offline.  The Sims franchise has been around for awhile and chances are that EA may not innovate the third time around.  And finally, why wouldn’t you want to take on The Sims, a best selling game series of all time?  Was it a smart move to come out with Halo because Half Life was a success?  I think its an awesome move and I can’t wait to find out more.

OK, I’m off to my next meeting.  More news tomorrow (assuming I can finally find a Wifi connection, that is…)