Casuality Europe: Hype vs The Real Deal

Joel Brodie, MD JoJu Games
Gabe Zichermann, Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer, Boonty Games
Michael Schutzler, SVP World Wide Games, RealNetworks
Mark Cottam, President MumboJumbo
Rugter Peters, CEO Zylom

Gamezebo: "The First Casual Game Review site". Launching tonight.

JB: Downloads: the business is stagnant, conversion rates at 1-2%

[ 3 votes for REAL, 1 for HYPE ]

MS: Microtransactions are more important than downloads. Real is getting out of the download business.

JB: Europe: the casual game download business grew up in the US and expanded beyond.

[ 4 votes for REAL ]

It's hard to call Europe a market; it's fragmented. Croatia won't be a top market for casual games, the UK will be.

MC: Most of our revenue comes from the retail market. It's hard to persuade retailers to sell casual games for $20.
MS: Gameplay doesn't travel very well across borders.
RP: The economics behind a game specifically for Norway just aren't there. Why design specific games for a specific market?
GZ: If TV was produced only in one market, it would be much more limited. The only possible place where territory-specific games can work is in the casual games market.
MC: Core game mechanic is the key thing, not localisation.

JB: Asian-style multiplayer games and microtransactions. 25% of the Korean population admit to having played a certain game.

[ 3 votes for HYPE, 1 for REAL ]

GZ: It's not going to happen in the US or the UK. People won't devote their energy to a multiplayer game.
MS: 120m online in the US, 40m in Korea. 25m Koreans are gamers. Why are there not 25m gamers in the US? What's interesting about these games - advanced avatars etc. - could come to the US and manifest itself differently.
MC: How will we do multiplayer games across portals?
MS: Some portals are more open than others... but there a number of ISPs and portals more interested in a good user experience than what plumbing is in the background.
MC: Portals don't want to see customers going to different portals.

[ Not sure how playing against someone on another portal equates to losing customers ]

MS: This begs for an open source API.
RP: Most user experience for downloaded games is single-player. The next phase in Europe/US will be about making multiplayer, but not necessarily MMO, games.
GZ: The Korean market operates in a very extreme way. What in Europe has suddenly gotten 30% of the population participating?
MS: No-one expected casual games to be interesting 10 years ago. Advanced multiplayer casual games will be big in the US in future. They won't be the same games as in Korea but they will express similar principles.
MC: This model would dramatically change the casual game industry: large publishers, large portals.

JB: XBox 360

MC: There's no reason to believe people won't play casual games on the Xbox 360. Consoles don't just appeal to the hardcore gamer.

[ Disagree: unless a console has some other usage besides games, I don't see how it'll get casual gamers to buy it ]

MC: Casual gaming is a lifestyle. No matter what device you use you should be able to play. We're going to see significant growth in this area.
RP: Of course there is an audience for casual games, but that doesn't mean that they'll shift to playing on an Xbox 360.
GZ: I can't see my grandmother sitting down with an Xbox 360.
MS: Microsoft is not interested in building a casual games platform. Xbox 360 is meant to be the media centre in the home. The focus is movies, music, etc. There'll be some people playing Bejewelled but mostly it'll be music.
GZ: The Xbox won't be responsible for a significant number of casual game plays.
MS: We're not arguing mobile.
MC: We don't have figures for revenues on Xbox Live.

Audience: casual games are about convenience. PCs have viruses etc.

MS: We're committed to the Xbox for the next 2 years. But will this be a big part of the casual game space? I don't know.

JB: Cross-platform gaming. Is this the holy grail of casual games: players on different platform participating in the same play? The technology doesn't work, no-one knows the revenue model, and there are form factor issues.

[ 2 votes for HYPE, 2 for REAL ]

GZ: The value is locked at the intersection of mobile and the PC.
MS: I want this to be true in the worst possible way. Has anyone tried the web-to-mobile experience? There are latency issues. What about device fragmentation - 300 different handsets, 11 languages, 50-70 carriers? That's lots of SKUs for one game.
MC: We've seen technology which takes the same product across many platforms. It depends on what kind of game: turn-based ones like darts work well and let us escape some of the technology issues. It won't come tomorrow but it will be part of the future.
RP: First multiplayer, then cross-platform. Multiplayer isn't really there yet.

JB: Retail. The only reason you got into casual games was to escape the disaster of retail. PC game sales are declining, margins shrinking and so on.

[ 3 votes for REAL, 1 for HYPE ]

MC: MumboJumbo is focused on bringing the best of content from download into retail. Casual titles outsell traditional games. We've yet to hit saturation at retail, it's absorbing as much content as we can bring.
MS: The number one selling game in Japan is "train your brain". Casual games will be a monster success on the DS.
MC: We're amazed at the places where we can sell casual games. We have a chain called Gamestop in the US: a very hardcore game audience. We think that mum and dad are taking their kid their to buy a $50 game and are buying themselves when they're there. The kind of consumer buying casual games is the kind of person who's shopping at retail outlets in Europe.
RP: I don't want our games to be in a computer shop, I want them in a clothes shop.
GZ: In 5 years time, will Yahoo Games be a top 5 retailer of games in the US as far as revenues go?
MS: No.
GZ: Will Real?
MS: No.
GZ: Walmart controls half the market in the US, everyone else divides up the rest.
MC: MumboJumbo is the 11th largest publisher of PC Software in N America. We'll need huge growth to get to be 8th.

JB: Developers. Are they an endangered species? The market is maturing into a hit-driven business. Can independent casual game developers survive?

[ 3 votes for HYPE, 1 for REAL ] : HYPE = casual games companies survive, REAL is they die.

JB: Clones: 3 x real, 1 x hype
JB: In-game advertising: 2 x real, 2 x hype
JB: Subscription services: 1 x hype, 3 x real
JB: China: 2 x real, 2 x hype
JB: Mobile: 4 x real
JB: Skill-based games: 3 x real, 1 x hype

JB: I'm a VC. What casual game company would you pitch me?
MC: Creating casual games is still an inexpensive business. The core mechanic is what's important. The right developer with a $1m budget could produce 8-10 games, one of which should be a hit.
GZ: Agree. Quality of content will become the most important issue over the next few years. There'll be a sea of clones and a handful of extraordinary titles.
RP: A company involved in delivering advertising to a CG audience in an effective manner.
MS: A DS developer

Q: What's the hot type of casual game this year?
MC: Not sure but it'll be on the Xbox 360 :)
GZ: More economic simulation games.
MC: An altered game mechanic. A clone won't be a big hit, most games are derivative.
RP: Lots of multiplayer games in the next 12 months.

Q: Microsofts angle with the XBox 360 is that porting from PC to xbox is easier than porting from PC to mobile.
JB: So, will MSs tools be tools for the casual game?
MS: At the end of the day, who's sitting in front of the Xbox 360?
MC: Pulling a game over to the 360 isn't the answer, you need to take advantage of the platform.