Even with Mystery Case Files success with casual gamers and the release of MillionHeir for the DS, Big Fish Games is still looking to expand its "hidden object" franchise.
Series producer Chris Campbell has been talking to Gamasutra about further broadening its audience and picking up core gamers with the release of its latest title, Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst.
Since the series debuted in 2005 with Mystery Case Files: Huntsville, the adventure-puzzle games have lead the PC casual gaming space while keeping a strong retail presence, selling over 2.5 million units for developer and publisher Big Fish Games.
The company's online games portal, BigFishGames.com, receives more than one million downloads a day, says Campbell. At the end of 2007, Big Fish estimated that up to 100 million people had so far downloaded and sampled at least one Mystery Case Files title.
Part of the games' success can be attributed to their approachability and simple premise -- players essentially solve crimes by locating hidden objects scattered around different locations presented as large, lush paintings. Each entry introduces additional puzzle types and other new elements.
MillionHeir And Attracting Core Gamers
Nintendo of America eventually took notice of the series' success with drawing casual gamers and worked with Big Fish Games to publish a Mystery Case Files title for the Nintendo DS in September.
"We do not partner often, but when we do, we work with the best in their respective fields and platforms," says Campbell. "Mystery Case Files: MillionHeir now sits on the same shelf with Mario, Zelda, and all the successful Nintendo franchises."
Co-developed by Big Fish and Griptonite Games (The Simpsons Game for DS), MillionHeir was created specifically for the Touch! Generations brand, Nintendo's label for DS and Wii games for casual gamers, such as Brain Age and Nintendogs.
Along with its game for the DS, Big Fish also released a mobile title, Mystery Case Files: Agent X, with Glu Mobile earlier this year. The series producer affirms, "We will continue to expand our audience by opportunistically licensing our content to alternative platforms."
Campbell notes that the franchise's casual gaming audience isn't restricted to players in their 30s to 50s, as many might assume. "Our players include women and men, ages five to 95, literally."
Though the company's customer demographic bell curve is roughly 70 percent women aged 35 to 55 year old, he says that the customer demographic for the Mystery Case Files series and Big Fish's other titles is "increasingly skewing older and younger simultaneously."
The company believes that core gamers are also attracted to its hidden object games. "Recent data from a NPD Group survey conducted in partnership with Big Fish Games, revealed core and casual no longer fit into traditional archetypes and consumers often play genres outside their stereotypes," says Campbell. "Results showed core gamers engage with casual genres as much or more than core gamers engage with other core genres."
Return to Ravenhearst
With the latest Mystery Case Files title, Return to Ravenhearst, Big Fish hopes to "continue to broaden the demographic and appeal to players who grew up playing adventure games like Myst," blurring the line between core and casual games by offering high production qualities and an engaging storyline.
Released in late November for PC, Return to Ravenhearst features performances from live actors for the first time in the series, as well as an original music soundtrack performed by the Berlin Film Orchestra.
The game is a follow-up to 2006's Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst, in which players investigated Ravenhearst Manor, a haunted 19th century mansion. The estate was built by Charles Dalimar as a symbol of affection for his love, Emma Ravenhearst. Players uncovered the mystery of the mansion's murdered namesake.
In Return to Ravenhearst, players have been summoned by the Queen of England to re-investigate the manor and put Dalimar's bloodthirsty spirit to rest. The title is available exclusively through Big Fish's online games portal.