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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 Previous Page 3 of 4 Next
 

Casual Games Have Been Innovating!

It turns out that when you clean out the list, and only look at the hits, in most cases they have a unique feature. Curiously enough, no game that could be considered a "clone" (a game that doesn't have any new gameplay feature) enters the list. I invite you all to play these games -- after all, they are available online and are free for the first hour.

Of course, this is just incremental innovation over one particular genre of casual games. But interestingly enough, the casual gaming audience is doing what I did almost 20 years ago: they look at what is fun based on familiarity, and they try to find a new experience... as long as they don't take a huge risk.

Sounds like a lot of decisions we take in real life, isn't it?

But Where Is The Radical Innovation?

Is incremental innovation the answer to the evolution of casual games? No, not completely. Every form of media (as this is not just tied to videogames) needs to invest in radically new ideas, hoping one of them will "click" among the audience and create a new genre.

Going back to my personal experience, there were a lot of people who were put off by Space Invaders. My best friend, a car fan, didn't get into videogames until Pole Position came along. My cousin would not step into an arcade until Pac-Man changed her life. I'm sure all of you have similar stories.

Each player has unique tastes:

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In 1984 we had the space shooter type of player, the racing game type of player, the fighting game type of player, the maze game type of player, and more.

In 2006 we had the match-3 type of player, the hide-and-seek type of player, the management game type of player, and the simulation type of player, and more.

Different types of games keep the interest of people who enjoy the activity of video gaming. These games not only bring new players, but also keep the interest of existing ones. By 1990 my reflexes weren't as good as when I was 12 years old, so I moved into strategy games. Now that I'm in my 30s, I play puzzle or radically new games on handhelds. I'm sure most of us who have been playing games for a while have switched genres over the years.

Do we have enough different types of games in casual games? Is it possible that the rampant perception of cloning is related to the fact that we just don't have enough different games?

I decided to try a similar exercise to what I've done before. I was going to create a list of unique arcade games available in 1984, compared with unique casual games in 2006, and see how the eras compare.

But first, I created a set of rules:

Unique Games List Rules

  1. For arcade games, I'll pick the year 1984, six years after the launch of Space Invaders.
  2. For casual games, I'll pick the year 2006, six years after the launch of Kyodai Mahjong -- it launched in 2000, and is considered one of the first casual games hits.
  3. The game needs to be the most significant game for the genre among the ones launched in that particular year. Example: the most significant racing game in launched in 1984.
  4. In the case of arcade games, ergonomics differences made a different game, as the control influenced the experience. So if a racing game was controlled with a joystick, and another had 3 screens in a cockpit, that will be considered a different game.
  5. To determine what was popular in arcade games, I decided to pick only those which had wide availability.
  6. To determine what was popular in casual games, I looked into Real Arcade and Logler's top 10 lists for 2006, and picked those games who stayed more than 4 weeks in those lists.

Here is what I found:

Unique Arcade Games List, 1984

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Bomb Jack

Boulder Dash

Buggy Challenge

Cobra Command

Do! Run Run
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Circus Charlie
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Duck Hunt

10 Pin Deluxe

10 Yard Fight
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1942

8-Ball Action

Antarctic Adventure

40-0

Nintendo Baseball
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Excitebike

Hat Trick
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Mikie

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Hyper Sports

Karate Champ
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Kung Fu Master

Nintendo Golf

Lode Runner

Marble Madness

Mr. Do Wild Ride
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Paperboy
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Pac-Land

Return of the Jedi
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Punch-Out!!

Road Fighter

Root Beer Tapper

Space Ace

Tag Team Wrestling

Super Basketball

TX-1

What a fabulous list, right? If you were a gamer in 1984, I'm sure you remember some of these games. Ahh, nostalgia.

The results show that there were 34 unique game types in 1984. And to be fair, that number could be even bigger considering that the "shelf-life" of an arcade game machine is much bigger than a digital piece of software, so it wasn't uncommon to find a Space Invaders machine in the late 80s.


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