Games are no longer the purview of geeky adolescent boys obsessed with elves and space marines! Whole new audiences are discovering games for the first time. The future is with the masses, not the geeks. Let us march into the glorious future of games, for it is casual!


The rhetoric of people from the "casual game industry" (if it is such) is that these are "games for the rest of us," a wholly new phenomenon that has suddenly expanded the gaming audience to new demographic categories. The claim is false, for three reasons:

    1. It's not actually new.
    2. Many so-called casual games actually derive from hardcore genres.
    3. And the people who actually pay for "casual" games are themselves hardcore - of a kind.

Nothing New

Not long ago, games that we would today call casual were a big part of the conventional game industry. Tetris made a success out of GameBoy almost by itself; people bought GameBoys just to play Tetris. Myst was a huge mass-audience best-seller. And graphic adventures classically sold to an audience that was far more female, and far older, than most computer or console games.

But over the years, games with this kind of lighter, mass-audience appeal disappeared from the shelves. For a simple reason: There was a shift in how games were sold.

In the era of Tetris, console games were sold mainly in toy stores, and computer games mainly in software outlets that stocked Micosoft Office and lots of other non-game software. Normal people shop in toy stores and software outlets. Normal people were exposed to games. When a game that appealed to an audience other than the geeky adolescents that were, and remain, the mainstay of the industry, it could find a home.

But over time, retailing shifted away from multipurpose outlets like these toward specialty game shops. Specialty game shops, like comic book and hobby game stores, are the domain of geeks.

Walk into a typical grungy comic book store with a woman sometime, and watch the eyes of the people there go wide. Oh my God, it's got tits. We don't get your kind in here very often, honey. Not all comic book stores are like that, of course, and the growth of indie books, manga, and creators like Gaiman have changed the gender mix of comics fans, but it's still a problem.

The same is true, if not quite to the same degree, of videogame stores. They're overrun with game geeks. The merchandise is crammed on the shelves and it's hard to figure out what anything is, if you don't already know - and most of the shelves are covered with tatty used merchandise. Mom can't wait to get out of the place, and so the kinds of games that appeal to Mom don't get sold there.

Puzzle games, adventure games, and simple games accessible to non-geeks - like Myst - were once a big part of the industry, but the rise of specialty game retailers pretty much killed them off.

But the fact that lighter games can be sold to an audience beyond the hardcore is nothing new; it is, in fact, something old. The "casual revolution" is no revolution at all. Instead, it's a return to the past.

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