Parts of this article (those related to a lot of stats and references to the state of the industry are incredibly out of date and use sources many years old) need to be updated.(September 2015)
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A casual game is a video game targeted at or used by casual gamers. Casual games may exhibit any type of gameplay or genre. They are typically distinguished by simple rules and by reduced demands on time and learned skill, in contrast to more complex hardcore games. They typically impose low production and distribution costs on the producer.
Casual games are often played on a personal computer online in web browsers, but are also popular on game consoles and mobile phones. Casual gamers are typically older than traditional computer gamers, and more often female, with over 74% of casual gamers being female as of 2007.
Most casual games have similar basic features:
- Simple gameplay, like a puzzle game that can be played entirely using a one-button mouse or cellphone keypad
- Familiarity, like a card game or board game
- Allowing gameplay in short bursts, during work breaks or, in the case of portable and cell phone games, on public transportation
- The ability to quickly reach a final stage, or continuous play with no need to save the game
- Some variant on a "try before you buy" business model or an advertising-based model
If sold at retail, casual games may have low prices to encourage impulse purchases, with colorful packaging and point of purchase sales displays. Others are free on-line or free to download and try (but may provide a revenue by in-game advertising). Commercial studios create downloadable games, primarily available on the PC. These games are typically addictive and are limited trials to encourage casual gamers to buy a permanent "deluxe" version for a small price (typically $20 or less). Recently, 100% free "full licensed versions" of casual games have become available through advertising.
Independent "indie" game developers often create free games for online play. These games have a wide range of gameplay styles, can be played on almost any computer, and have often been written to be played from within a web browser, using Flash or Shockwave. Their action, graphics and sound are often limited in contrast to downloadable titles, but can display advanced features such as 3D capabilities and multiplayer modes.
Chris Kohler considers Namco's arcade game Pac-Man (1980), which debuted during the golden age of video arcade games, to be the first "casual game". It is estimated to have been played more than ten billion times during the 20th century, making it the highest-grossing video game of all time.
Microsoft's Solitaire (1990), which came free with Microsoft Windows, is widely considered the first successful "casual game" on a computer, with more than 400 million people having played the game since its inception. Subsequent versions of Windows included Minesweeper, and once Microsoft discovered the popularity of Solitaire, the company added FreeCell and Spider Solitaire. The company advertised its very popular Microsoft Entertainment Packs for casual gaming on office computers. Other casual games of the era included Sierra On-Line's Hoyle's Official Book of Games and Crazy Nick's Software Picks, Villa Crespo's The Coffee Break Series, and Epyx's Chip's Challenge.
Casual games moved online in 1996 with the debut of sites such as Gamesville and Uproar which offered multiplayer, HTML-based games in genres such as bingo, cards, puzzles, and trivia. These games required a constant server connection to keep players in sync, and did not include chat or avatars.
The advent of Flash created a boom in web-based games, encouraging designers to create simple games that could be played to completion in one short sitting. One of the most prominent casual games, Bejeweled, started out as a Flash game. Flash games commonly use per-user LSO files as a mean of saving game states.
Casual games received another boost when cell phones with large color displays became the norm because, like Adobe Flash before them, the cell phones had limited capabilities ideally suited to short, simple games.
The arrival of the iPod in the casual gaming market made more powerful games widely available in a portable format. PopCap Games provided Peggle on Apple's music player and it was an instant success.
Casual games have remained popular with users of consoles such as Nintendo's Wii. The simplicity of the Wii controller interface has opened up the gaming market to an untapped demographic who were unwilling to invest the time in learning or intimidated by the typical gamepad input device. This opportunity has seen a number of publishers attempt to design games that appeal to the relatively low skill level of these new players. 2006 saw a growing market of console-based casual games, such as Carnival Games and Wii Play. The precursor to this previously unnamed market trend can be seen in games like Crazy Frog Racer, Shrek: Super Party, Spice World, Buzz!: The Music Quiz, and Singstar. The casual game LittleBigPlanet is also a popular title on the PlayStation 3 in which players have the power to customize huge aspects of the game, while the gameplay itself is relatively simple.
In 2008, social network games began gaining mainstream popularity following the release of Happy Farm in China. Influenced by the Japanese RPG series Story of Seasons, Happy Farm attracted 23 million daily active users in China. It soon inspired many clones such as Sunshine Farm, Happy Farmer, Happy Fishpond, Happy Pig Farm, and Facebook games such as FarmVille, Farm Town, Country Story, Barn Buddy, Sunshine Ranch, Happy Harvest, Jungle Extreme, and Farm Villain. The most popular social network game is FarmVille, which has over 70 million active users worldwide. Other popular social network games include YoVille, Mob Wars, Mafia Wars, and FrontierVille.
There is no precise classification of casual genres in the modern gaming industry. According to Big Fish Games, one of the leading casual game developers and distributors, and Gamezebo, one of the most popular casual game review sites, there are seven popular genres in casual games:
- Puzzle games: Bejeweled series, Collapse! series, Luxor series,...
- Hidden object games: Mystery Case Files series, Mortimer Beckett series, Hidden Expedition series,...
- Adventure games: Dream Chronicles series, Aveyond series, Nancy Drew series,...
- Strategy games (including time management): Diner Dash series, Delicious series, Cake Mania series,...
- Arcade & action games: Plants vs. Zombies, Peggle series, Feeding Frenzy series,...
- Word & trivia games: Bookworm, Bookworm Adventures series, Bonnie's Bookstore,...
- Card & board games: Slingo Quest, Lottso! Deluxe, Luxor Mahjong,...
The Internet is the primary distribution channel for casual games. On PCs, games are typically available in free, feature-limited online versions (coded using platforms such as Flash or, in the past, Java), and standalone downloadable versions (sometimes promoted with the subtitle "Deluxe"), which contain additional features and modes, and higher-quality graphics and sounds than the web version. A trialware version is typically offered, which can be unlocked to activate the full game after purchase.
The mass adoption of touchscreen mobile platforms such as smartphones, and in particular, Apple's iPhone line following the introduction of the App Store, created a significant market for casual games as apps on mobile devices. The most common business model for mobile games is the "freemium" model, where game is free to play, but encourages users to use microtransactions to purchase access in-game features such as power-ups (whose use may be encouraged by steadily increasing difficulty) and other virtual goods.
- Social network game; a casual game with social network integration
- Browser game; a game that is played using a web browser
- Minigame; a short video game contained within another video game
- Indie game; a game produced by individual or small team without publisher support
- Game development and Independent video game development
- Gamezebo and Jay is Games; casual game review websites
- Hardcore game
- Gamer dedication spectrum
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