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Innovation in Casual Games: A Rallying Cry
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Innovation in Casual Games: A Rallying Cry

October 11, 2007 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next
 

It's a tough life, the life of a casual game designer. Because frankly, after reading articles like the "Attack of the Parasites", and the gazillion times that the "Puzzloop good/Zuma evil" debate appears in industry-related magazines, web sites and forums, one starts to wonder if "innovative casual game design" is an oxymoron.

It's tough, it's true. But somehow "casual games" are working. With welcome additions by Nintendo with its simple games for the Wii, and by EA legitimizing the trend by creating its own casual games division, things seem to be improving.

But still, people still play and buy more Bejeweled than any other casual game on the Wii. And why is that? Leaving aside for a minute the fact of convenience (as Bejeweled runs on almost every device Popcap has been able to port it to), there is something compelling about it that the audience finds to be fun.

Nobody in the industry considers Bejeweled to be innovative (as history proves, it's a derivative work and not a radical innovation), so in general the word "innovation" along with "casual games" has been rarely used.

What Is Innovation?

The definition of innovation is something interesting in itself. Here is what Merriam-Webster Online has to say about it:

"the process of making improvements by introducing something new,
a new idea, method or device."

Wikipedia expands the concept, talking about "product innovation":

"...involves the introduction of a new good or service that is new or substantially improved. This might include improvements in functional characteristics, technical abilities, ease of use, or any other dimension."

And it specifies that innovation can be considered "incremental" or "radical":

"Incremental innovation is a step forward... from the known to the unknown, with little uncertainty about outcomes and success and is generally minor improvements made."

"Radical innovation involves larger leaps of understanding, perhaps demanding a new way of seeing the whole problem... There is often considerable uncertainty about future outcomes... Radical innovation involves considerable change in basic technologies and methods, created by those working outside mainstream industry and outside existing paradigms."

Innovation In Games

We game designers LOVE radical innovation. When we think about using the word "innovative" to describe a game, we are thinking of a game such as Katamari Damacy -- something completely out of the box. This makes a big influence in what games we consider to be innovative.

But what about players?

My name is Juan Gril, and I design casual games for a living. Part of my job is to figure out what casual gamers want, and what "clicks" with them. In contrast to some of my peers in the enthusiast-driven video game industry, I've been raised playing a different type of games than some of the ones I design. In fact, sometimes I design games that I wouldn't play (not a big fan of match-3 here, even when a "quest" is added to it). So in order for me to understand the player, I had to put myself in their shoes for a bit.

How did I feel about games when I didn't know what game design was?

This was me...

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And this was my game...

In 1978 Space Invaders changed my life. Here was a way for me to play that was completely different than anything I have done before. Video gaming was an activity that was going to become a very important part of my life, and I've never looked back.

And a year later, Galaxian was the game...

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And this is how I felt about it...

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Was Galaxian Innovative?

Galaxian was a game that had its own innovative elements, but it was based on the core mechanic originally seen in Space Invaders. So as I was spending every available financial resource I could find on Galaxian, around the world, game designers were looking at it. Just for kicks, I imagined a late '70s Japanese game designer talking about Galaxian as we do about some games on industry forums...

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And this is what I felt after that thought...

Was I A Clone Gamer?

After my initial laugh, I wondered to myself: didn't I care for innovation? Was my perception of innovation different from what it is today? I decided to find out and compile a list, looking at the games I played in the first few years of video gaming at the arcades.

Juan's Gaming Evolution 1978 – 1984

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I was an "incremental innovation" player! Each of these games did not radically change the core gameplay of Space Invaders, but gradually and over the years, they created new experiences for me. I'm really fond of them, and I have great memories.


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