"I'd call it a mistake, is what I'd call it," says God of War director David Jaffe of his PSN title Calling All Cars -- part of his perspective on the casual gaming evolution.
As the 2010 DICE summit kicked off, he and AppStar director David Crane shared a stage to discuss the casual movement from their individual, unique perspectives. Crane spoke from his experience making games like Pitfall during the early days of the 2600 through to making iPhone games with AppStar today, and God of War director Jaffe shared his lessons from Calling all Cars.
"We made a rookie mistake as a new studio doing smaller games," says Jaffe. "We had a casual theme with a hardcore mechanic on a machine people had paid $500 for. Nothing matched up. If I were going to go back and remake Calling All Cars I would’ve skinned it different."
Jaffe read (or predicted) the market wrong, he felt. “There was this misperception and incorrectness on my part, that you buy this $599 system and bring the same mentality to a $5 game as a $60 game, and that was a mistake,” he added.
Crane reminded the audience that “In the old days, the games that we did were the only games, so they didn’t need a classification of casual or non-casual, but I’ve always thought of them as a game the whole family could play.”
But the base mechanics of casual games have never changed, he says. “There are people that say there hasn’t been a new game designed since 1975! There isn’t a lot of revolutionary thought in gameplay. There’s a lot of evolution, and repackaging this, and re-skinning that. I’m not saying you can’t be creative though.”
Casual games are sometimes mentioned as a gateway to the hardcore, and Jaffe picked up on Crane’s own progression, asking him: “With Pitfall and Pitfall 2 – you had to stay in this zone for moms and dads – those games for me, I love them both, but Pitfall seems so much more accessible and casual than Pitfall 2. I’m wondering philosophically if it was a drive for a more core audience, or what?”
Crane then reminded us that the games in the 2600 era often came more out of someone learning to do something new with the hardware than it did out of actual design, but that all games were at least somewhat accessible to the moms of the world. There was one joystick and one button, and at least you could make a character move, if nothing else.
But Crane does worry that games that cater to the previous game’s players narrow the market, creating a pyramid of the hardcore. “But it’s a chicken and egg thing,” he said. “They never would’ve created Defender if they hadn’t played earlier games like Space Invaders.”
When asked if the casual market would eventually collapse on itself, Crane responded with a mirthful “Yes! Now any teenager in his bedroom with a Mac can put an app on the app store.”
For Crane, this means you not only have to compete with the EAs of the world making a small version of a game they spent $50 million on, but you also have to compete against the youthful go-getters in their basements and without financial risk. Ultimately the agreement was that not only does content have to be targeted to a market (as Crane said, you can’t target the family as a unit, but you can target each member of the family individually), you’ve also got to spend money to market the game afterward.