Inside the Casual Game Revolution

Casual Game Revolution
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Imagine a world where board games are a hot topic of conversation. The chatter at the office is about what good games have been played recently and the conference rooms at lunch time are packed with people surrounding the tables, playing games. Instead of constantly texting, surfing the web, or gathering around the TV, friends and families get together regularly for face-to-face game time. Wouldn’t it be amazing?

Well, forget about it. It’s never going to happen. Ever. That is, unless we make some changes in the board game industry.

Casual Gamers

I believe casual gamers are the key to unlocking the true potential of our industry, both now and in the future, yet this market is being vastly underserved. Unless we figure out how to reach this audience properly and cater to their needs directly, board gaming will forever remain in the eyes of the general public as either an activity for children or a fringe activity that is inaccessible, confusing, or unpopular to most people.

A casual gamer is someone of any age who is interested in board games to some extent, but is not interested in committing to a new hobby or learning difficult and time consuming games and traditions. A rapidly-growing group of casual gamers are becoming aware of modern board games via mobile apps, celebrity recommendation (read: TableTop), and consumer trade shows such as PAX. For most of these people, board gaming is simply a fun form of entertainment that offers an effective way of communicating and bonding with friends and family on a personal level. Some of them go on to embrace the gaming hobby to its full extent, but the vast majority of them remain only casually interested in gaming.

History

I confess with pride that I am a casual gamer. I am passionate about relatively light, quick games that I can play occasionally as a social pastime. I seek nothing more — not organized play, deeper strategy, nor commitment to the hobby. In 2009, my wife, Melanie, and I were in a position where we were interested in business and investment, and we wanted projects to work on together. We saw the need for games targeted at people just like us. We wanted to make a positive impact on the industry by designing, publishing, and marketing a line of games that were accessible to a general audience but offered a fresh and interesting alternative to the types of games most people were familiar with.

So that’s what we did. In September of 2009, Stratus Games was born and one year later our first two games, Gold Mine and Launch Pad, hit the market. Since that time, I have immersed myself full time in developing, testing, publishing, and marketing several more games, as well as observing the goings-on of the industry. In doing so, I have gained unique insight on the board game industry from the perspective of a casual gamer. In my experience, I have observed six fundamental problems in the industry that must be fixed before board gaming can become a mainstream form of entertainment.

Next Page: The Problems

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Guest
Guest's picture

I am so pleased that you have begun the process of trying to reach this growing and eager crowd of casual gamers, which I feel more connected to than the traditional, typically closed, gaming crowd.  

I was just talking about this "middle ground" of gamers with my husband the other day.  

While we consider ourselves a little bit more involved with games than the average casual gamer, (we have been dabbling with designing some games, we are pretty familiar with game terminology, we are BGG trollers), our usual preference is for games that would likely fit in this middle ground, if you included in your "casual game definition" elements of randomness, (luck, chance) and light-to-medium strategic depth (as opposed to analysis-paralysis heavy strategy) :

 

Stone Age, Village, Vikings, Dice Town, Settlers, Catan Dice, Egizia, A Castle for all Seasons, Roll Through the Ages, Time's Up, Wits and Wagers, Aton, Archaeology, Carcassonne, Survive!, Kingsburg, Last Will, Scrabble, Mille Borne, Flinch, etc.

Some of our games skirt the line:

Caylus, Belfort, Castles of Burgundy, Troyes

Several of these games are highly ranked/awarded, which is why we found them.  Others we found through digging and filtering our searches on BGG, because so many of the top-ranked games are for the "hardcore gamer, serious-and-difficult-games-only, we-thumb-our-noses-as-casual-games club".

We are fortunate that our local game store, Madness Games and Comics, in Plano TX, carries an extraordinary mix of games, for all levels of gamers, and they have been welcoming and friendly to us non-heavy gaming types.  We are excited they will soon be expanding from 5000sf to 20000sf next month!  I am definitely going to let them know about your amazing efforts and wonderful magazine and your other plans.

 

Good luck with your venture, thanks for being a voice for those of us out there who love board games.

Chris James's picture
Site Admin
Member Since: 04/27/2012

Thank you for sharing this. We are very fortunate to have you on our site.

I think we're definitely on the same page. I am a designer of many games and have been in the industry for years, yet consider myself a casual gamer because of the types of games I enjoy most (casual games). It is, indeed, difficult to find good casual games on sites like BGG because you have to know exactly what characteristics identify them (such as a lower rating than the hardcore games). This is why we hope to gather a community of casual gamers who prefer the same types of games that we do. We hope to make it easier to discover and share games and articles that are better suited to casual gamers.

Guest
Guest's picture

A few thoughts on this article:

1. I prefer casual games.  Watch people play a casual game, then watch people play a hobby game.  Which table is smiling?  Casual almost every time.

2. Perhaps the Revolution should take advantage of the explosion of mobile gaming by making apps of its games?  Days of Wonder has led the way here.  Strangely, I would consider "casual board games" to be much more "hobby game apps" than "casual game apps."  I feel like playing Ticket to Ride on my phone is much differen than pulling out some Angry birds for 4 minutes.

3. Amazon, Target or someone big like that should create a website that easily and clearly classifies game types for casual gamers.  All hobby gamers have seen the "What game should I play?" decision flows, but it's not hobby gamers that need such things.

Alfonso
Guest's picture

Great article Chris.

So, well into 2015, how is the Casual Game Revolution doing?

Has there been specific issues or breakthroughs that you'd want to share?

How about your views on international markets (like Mexico for example)?  Have you tried venturing outside the US?

Chris James's picture
Site Admin
Member Since: 04/27/2012

Hi Alfonso,

Slowly but surely we're seeing our message resonate with people. However, I think the market is so saturated with new games that it can be hard for casual gamers to keep up — we often see casual gamers stick to familiar games like Settlers of Catan rather than venture into new territory. Our goal is to continually highlight what is new (in addition to classic titles), so they can expand their casual game collections.

No new breakthroughs to share (other than our recent expansion into Barnes & Noble), just continuing to provide the best content we can and share our message.

We haven't done much international expansion in terms of distribution, though we do fulfill several subscriptions to international retailers. The game market in Mexico remains slow, in my opinion — I don't see much activity at all south of the border. The Russian market seems to be doing quite well, with a lot of expansion, and the Canadian and European markets seem strong as always. Game distribution companies would have a better idea of these markets, but these are my 2 cents based on my observations.