Introduction to Games Design – Defining Characteristics of Casual Games

Casual Games are very distinct in that they are generally designed to reach as wide an audience as possible. There are varying tactics that developers use to keep you hooked when they create a casual game. In this post, I aim to explain each of these.

1) Simplicity

Casual games are incredibly simple. They are designed to be quick and easy to play so that people can jump in and out of them when they need to. You do not need to invest massive amounts of time to be good at them and they can generally be played for short periods of time. Any levels that the game will have will be fairly short and the barriers to entry (menus, loading screens etc…) should be very easy to use in the case of menus and very quick in the case of loading screens.

Candy Crush Logo

A great example of this would be Candy Crush, which is a “Match 3” game. You can generally play a few rounds of Candy Crush and then leave it to come back to at a later time. Because, at its most basic level, it is a simple concept that is widely understood by lots of people whether they play a lot of games or not (thanks in part to the mechanics being introduced by Tetris many years ago), it doesn’t take much teaching and can be picked up very quickly. Each level can be played in a few minutes and it can easily be started either directly from Facebook or via the App Stores for most smartphones/tablets on the market.

Candy Crush Screenshot

2) Portability

Casual games tend to be very easily ported over to mobile apps. As a game increases in popularity, the developers tend to make the game available on your mobile phone, tablet or laptop for playing when on the move. This is an obvious choice as there is a lot of downtime during travel where you find yourself not doing anything and as such, a game would be a perfect way to pass the time.

An example of this would be Top Eleven Football Manager. This started out as a Facebook game. It is now also an app that you can download for your phone or tablet and it allows you to play the full game on the move, exactly where you left it when playing on a computer.

Top Eleven Football Manager Screenshot

3) Real Money Transactions (RMT)

RMT is a big part of casual gaming. To paint a picture of why, it is important to understand the demographics being aimed at with these games. Typically, this would be someone who is looking to burn some time here and there. Someone who enjoys playing games but is unable to invest any significant time into a game. A great example of the use of RMT is a game called Farmville.

FarmVille Logo

Farmville is a Facebook game in which you build a farm. The things that you can make and build on your farm cost coins. However, you can also buy these things for a currently called “FarmVille Cash”. This is currency that you can buy with real money. This allows you to instantly buy some things that are not instantly available to you or it may allow you to accelerate your way through the game.

FarmVille Build Screen

There is, of course, a moral issue that comes attached with this. Particularly where children are involved. This becomes even more of an issue when you consider recent events where children have spent thousands of pounds on their parent’s bank accounts just through micro-transactions on Mobile and Facebook games.

FarmVille Screenshot

4) Free to Play Aspect

Most casual games have a free to play aspect, whether that is in the form of a “Lite” version or whether this is a free full version supported by advertising and real money transactions (see above). This widens the audience for your game quite considerably as there is no financial barrier to entering the game.

A great example of this would be Temple Run. The game itself is completely free and ad-supported. However, if you wish to do so, you can buy tokens which you can use to further yourself in game. The game is supported directly by the money made from these avenues.

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