This past Thursday, I moderated a panel "The World of Casual Games, Presented by Girls in Tech" in San Francisco.   Ironically, as moderator, I took horrible notes.  Fortunately, Girls in Tech organizer Tina Tran took great notes and she posted the actual video of the event on her web site (nice)!

I can share with you some of my observations from the discussion:

  • For an industry that caters to women as our customers, women are still woefully under-represented in the industry. Theories were tossed around as to why this is the case, from our education system that discourages women at a young age to study math and science to a venture capital system where all purse-strings are controlled by men, to a gender gap in how men and women network. We did not come up with an answer. In fact, we did not even agree whether it really matters who creates the games (as long as they are good). The fact remains: in an industry where 50 – 75 % of the customers are female, at best 10 – 25% of the workers are female (some human resources group needs to do a study). As I pointed out, imagine going to a Mary Kay Convention where most of the attendees are men.
  • Whereas the rest of the world is in recession, casual games continue to thrive. Why? One, casual games are low-ticket items compared to other forms of entertainment so more people are playing casual games. Two, over the past year, new platforms (Facebook, iPhone, the Web) have popped up and they are all relatively open. Shervin Peshivar from SGN proclaimed that a billion dollar market has been created as a result of new and open-platforms. In the past, if you wanted to create a game for a console maker, you would have to be approved as a vendor, submit a proposal, get approved for the game, find a publisher to fund your project, spend three years on development and pray that the publisher does not cut funding mid-stream or that the console maker releases your project. Now, anyone can create a game for the iPhone or Facebook for a relatively low cost and soon both these platforms will be inter-connected. The flipside is that if everyone can quit their day job and develop a game, how do you break through the noise in such a crowded space (and before prices drop to zero)? Obviously, buying ads on Gamezebo is an option, but there is probably more to it than that.
  • Though among the most popular games in the casual social world, there seems to be a back-lash brewing among game developers on violent games like Mafia Wars. In the past week, two key executives from social gaming companies told me that the biggest unexploited opportunity is creating casual games that inspire and that are kid’s friendly, or social-learning games.
  • The last question I asked was to imagine you are in the movie The Graduate and someone asked you to pick one word for success in casual games. In The Graduate, the word was "plastics." The words picked were. . . "Viral," (must be spread via word of mouth), "iPhone," "distribution," and "entrepreneurship." My word was . . . "China!" Consider China a giant laboratory of 1 billion people who like games. If it’s big in China, bring it to the US.

I would be remiss if I did not list the members of the panels, who were all very intelligent and made my life easier:  Sharvin Peshiver (SGN), Ada Chen (Mochi Media), Sharyn Efimoff (Zynga), Wally Nguyen (Super Rewards).  Thanks for ngMoco for the space and Tina Tran for the cool event. 

Many of you may notice that there was no discussion about download games in this entry.  The reason is that San Francisco is more a center for social and iPhone games (Seattle is the center for download games, in the US at least).  The second reason is that there is not as much "buzz" around download games these days at industry events.

This shall be the subject of my blog post next week, as well as my thoughts on recent price drops on the games download market.