"10 ways to make a bad casual game"

Jason Kapalka, Popcap Games

Popcap are mainly web and downloaded games (all my emphasis)

  1. Make it really hard. Make people fail each level 5 or 6 times. Punish newbies. Players tend to invest more time in learning to play console games than they do casual games. Usually downloadable games give you an hours play before you have to make a decision on purchasing. Casual games can't be too easy. Relying entirely on skill - or chance - can be boring. Bad tutorials make an easy game seem hard; put lots of time into educating players.

  2. Have a dozen mediocre game modes rather than one good one: i.e. don't give players too much choice. Players want to play, they don't have enough information to make an informed choice at first. But at the same time Jasons says that players like multiple modes, and that Popcap put them into their games. I suppose there's a fine line here...

  3. Require too much, technically: too much memory, gratuitous 3D, too large a download. Lots of users are still on modems. 10mb is the drop-off point for successful downloads - I'm surprised it's that high. 3D might make games look better but it's not really supported by lots of casual gamers, who are on older machines with outdated drivers etc. Have a fallback mode so that 3D isn't required. Every extra technical requirement you add shrinks your audience for the game. QA is vital.

  4. Price it weirdly. Self-distribute. Sign any deal you can. Pricing too low or too high can be a mistake: cheap implies crap in some peoples minds. Be reasonable when talking to publishers; it's a small industry and they have lots of choice when dealing with developers. Consider trying different incentives and models for upselling players.

  5. Use the right mouse button. No-one playing casual games will ever use the right mouse-buton. On other platforms the lesson is, "be careful about interface and interaction design": for instance, many handsets won't let you handle >1 keyclick at once, which makes doing faced-pace shooting games tricky. If players don't get it in 5 minutes, they'll move on.

  6. Give it a terrible name or theme. Jason shows a game they had called "EggSucker". Themes like dungeons, robots, skulls: "How about a game with robot skulls... in a SPACE DUNGEON?". Go cute, funny, light, non-violent brightly coloured instead. Make titles easy to spell and pronounce, easily trademarked. Ensure the theme fits well with the game.

  7. Award low scores: after all, it doesn't matter if people think the game is low-scoring. Jason recommends you add a zero to all of the points you award: players like that.

  8. Expect users to read. They won't. The more text you have up there, the less they will read. Don't explain everything at once. The ideal casual game would have no words whatsoever: it would be immediately clear to players. Reading is work: players want to play, not work. Put time into the tutorial - don't just tack it on to the end.

  9. Make it challenging and cerebral. Jason doesn't see puzzles as being casual games: "games which have only one solution are inherently frustrating: you either solve it or you're a loser". Players shouldn't feel bad when they lose. Games should be generous with hints, letting players play the way they want to. I think he's missing the everyday popularity of puzzles but agree with his points on hints etc.

  10. Ignore what everyone else says of your game. "The mum test": if his mum could play the game, it was good. If she could play it without him hovering over her should then even better. Mothers are an untapped resource for games testing. The casual game development community is largely male; the player community is largely female. You need fresh audiences: players familiar with games are less able to give you useful information: they're not newbies any more.

That's the 10 bad things to do. 3 good things:

  1. Give feedback to players (even if subtly). Make the interface invisible so the user is "one with the game". Use a rising pitch in sound effects when players are doing a sequence of actions towards a positive end.
  2. Consider your customer: they may not be like you. Take things like age and eyesight into account.
  3. Get excited about your game: if you're not genuinely interested it'll show.

Notes from questions:

30% of Popcaps customers have modems.
For maximum reach, assume your customers have 5 year old machines.
A conversion rate of >1% from download to purchase (of a web game) is decent. 2% or more is good.
They've tried doing multiplayer games but players weren't interested. But look at Pogo, who at any one time have 250k people playeing games. It's hard to find a business model in multiplayer games.
"Anything that isn't Lineage or WoW is a casual game - in Korea". It's a very different market. Europe is close to the US when it comes to game genres.