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Casual Crossover
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It is clear that the casual video game explosion did not simply happen by accident. What can the board game industry learn from the casual video game industry?

When you think of casual video games, you probably think of titles like Angry Birds or FarmVille. But did you realize that Pac-Man is considered to be the first popular casual video game? I remember the first time I discovered a Pac-Man machine in the back room of a local pizzeria. I begged my parents for a quarter, dropped it in the slot, and suddenly my movement of a simple joystick created an intuitive control mechanism within the game that my innocent mind comprehended almost immediately. Other factors like great art design and compelling puzzle-solving gameplay mechanics contributed to Pac-Man’s success, but the simplicity of Pac-Man’s single-joystick control design was the most important factor in its legacy, and this same facet of intuitive control is at the core of casual gaming.

Casual games were really the mainstay of video gaming in the early 1980s, but as video games moved from arcades into homes, game systems created more and more complex controllers to support deeper, more hardcore game experiences. In the 1990s, puzzle games like Tetris found a way to connect with gamers without complex controls, but most games became increasingly complex in both design and control. By 2000, the video game industry had created a mythos steeped in complexity that was nearly inaccessible to the uninitiated.

Something happened that completely reversed this trend midway through the decade. From 2005 to 2010, the casual gaming industry grew from a 300 million dollar worldwide industry to a 3 billion dollar industry. Did this happen by accident? While the industry had the great fortune of being able to leverage new technologies and new gaming platforms, much of the industry’s success can be attributed to game designers and producers that worked hard to target a broader audience.
In 2010, in an interview with EuroGamer.net1, Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo’s standard bearer and creator of Donkey Kong, Super Mario, and The Legend of Zelda, stated: “The fact is many people are afraid or scared of gaming my responsibility here must be to try to let people understand how convenient and useful game technology is and try to remove hurdles so that even your grandpa and grandma are waiting to turn on the power switch of your console easily without hesitation.” From this example and many others, it is clear that the casual video game explosion did not simply happen by accident; leaders in the video game industry have worked hard to not only simplify gaming, but to also make it more accessible.

The following sections explore the success of the casual video game industry and contrast it to the casual board game industry. The goal is to determine if the board game industry can leverage some of the intentional tactics the video game industry has used over the last decade.