The terms “Casual” and “Hardcore” are ill-defined, non-descriptive labels created by elitists to cause divisions in the gaming industry. So said Dave Thomson of Scottish games developer Denki (Quarrel, Denki Blocks) in a session provocatively titled "A Game is a Game is a Game" at the Develop Conference in Brighton, UK today.
In an impassioned talk, Thomson -- who joined Denki in September 2008 to manage the developer’s awareness strategy -- debunked the myths that "casual" games are killing the market for "real" games, dumbing down players, diverting money away from well-loved franchises and cluttering up the release schedules of publishers who should know better.
But rather than suggesting that casual games are instead a positive force, Thomson argued we should outright ban the use of the term, stating that we would be better off simply referring to games in terms of their quality or genre, in a similar way to how consumers and critics refer to films.
"We may not find a particular type of game amusing or appealing," he said. "But that doesn’t stop them from being a game of equal worth to those titles that we do."
"Casual" is often used as a derisive term, he argued, one whose implications are often inapplicable to the games its used to describe.
For example, the word "casual" has undertones that mean one is unconcerned or somehow showing insufficient care or forethought, he said. "These are criticisms that nobody would level at the output of a supposedly ‘casual’ game developer such as PopCap," he said.
Thomson said that valuable time has been wasted at developer conferences in the past few years trying to define the term. The conclusion of these sessions was usually that a casual game is one that can be played for five minutes or more, are easy to pick up and play and which are enjoyed by women over the age of thirty.
"To my mind, we’ve just described Project Gotham Racing 4, a game which my girlfriend enjoys regularly in short bursts or more extended play sessions, hardly the sort of game that comes to mind when we mention the casual label," he said.
Thomson and his colleagues at developer Denki find it frustrating being referred to as a casual game developer, a term he believes implies they are somehow unprofessional, exhibit a throwaway attitude to work, or are restricted to a certain type of game or platform.
"In truth," he said, "our design approach hasn’t shifted between traditional consoles and the work we do on set-top boxes and the digital download services. We make the games we want to play, and that we find fun and enjoyable."
Paraphrasing David Simon, creator and writer on HBO’s critically-acclaimed television series The Wire, Thomson said, “What’s arrogant is putting out games that aren’t fun... [that] developers don’t hold your time [as] precious.”
Pleaded Thomson, “We shouldn’t be second-guessing the market in any way, or making the games we think people want to play. Rather, we should be making the games we would pay money to play.”
You can’t make a game for everyone, he said, but must be your own focus group. If you have no passion for your game and don't want to talk about it, then how will you convince anyone else to do the same?
“Make the game you love and people who enjoy the things you enjoy will be the audience,” he said in conclusion. “If a game is fun people will buy it whatever the label.”