Casual Games Cost 12K To Develop?

20 06 2008

Speaking at the GameHorizon conference, Geoff Iddison, CEO of Jagex, claimed that it only takes around £12,800 to develop a casual game.

“We launched FunOrb with a low budget, adding games every two weeks. The cost per game is less that $25,000. That’s bearing in mind that we’ve got [development] infrastructure already in place and that it depends on [whether it’s a] single or multiplayer game.”

Perfectly true, but as the commenters point out, they’re making flash games and the work is outsourced to China. Development costs in the UK would be significantly higher, and clearly there’s going to be a larger gamut of budgets running between that and more traditional game development.

What I find more interesting though is the undercurrent to the comments of “Those aren’t proper games!”. Plainly what was once regarded as “the games industry” is becoming the blockbuster part of it, with plenty of other businesses rushing into the lower budget spaces underneath.

Casual is certainly a viable proposition now. To illustrate, here are a few more stories just from the past few days on

Portals will now get developers to sign exclusivity deals. MumboJumbo in particular are seeking to differentiate themselves from other casual game publishers/developers by positioning their games as “premium casual games”.

Majesco’s performance is getting better, and all on the back of non-hardcore game content seen as being aimed at more casual players.

Big media are continuing to rush towards game development with handfuls of cash. Nickleodeon in particular seem to be trying to cover the entire gamut of game development, with everything from two casual portals to console titles.

Pictured above is Peggle, the most perfect casual game yet. A lot of game designers have massive problems with the way it offers disproportionate rewards for what is largely a game of chance, but it sucks in hardcore gamers like nothing else, and with content that’s decidedly not aimed at them. Truly, finger ingested crack.

Phones and Motion

19 06 2008

Sony motion sensing phone

I’ve spoken before about Bruce Sterling citing mobile phones as a “technological black hole”, sucking in a long list of other devices and putting them in our pockets (You can see the talk he raised this in here, about 12m 50s in). Gaming devices are going to be no exception.

We’re a long way off having a phone that can plug into an external display and run games well, but convergence is inevitable. While each new step can easily confuse people at first, the trailing edge catches up until a given form makes sense to people, or fails altogether.

Sony Ericsson’s new motion sensing phone is yet another thing pushing this trend forward, as are the games demoed on the iPhone at Apple’s developer conference last week.

Of course, both of these companies are attempting to capitalise on the popularity of the Wii, but it shows the growing involvement of other sectors with games is spreading beyond the purchase of games companies, and into more deep rooted involvements and collaborations.

Mobile developers have had a difficult time for the past few years, with clunky interfaces, lack of standardisation and weak hardware meaning mobile gaming has been a footnote on the portals of European network operators, earning a pittance in comparison to call charges and ringtones. It’s become a chicken and egg problem, with the lack of attention attracting shovelware while at the same time damning well crafted games.

Better displays, processing power and motion sensing could prove to be the factors that tip mobile gaming into the mainstream. While these phones are nothing on the PSP and DS, they’re certainly surpassing previous generations of handhelds.

Dan Houser: “Fuck all this stuff about casual gaming”

6 05 2008

Boom Blox

Rockstar North have always been very culturally switched on, but now not only are they expressing that in their games, but in the people they talk to publicly as well. Manhunt 2 seemed to signal a big change in the way Rockstar dealt with PR and controversy. They’re out in force to support GTA IV and are doing really well at hitting it home as a cultural event.

It’s easy to take Houser’s words out of context with everyone in the games press using those ones as the headline, but here’s the full quote:

Yeah, fuck all this stuff about casual gaming. I think people still want games that are groundbreaking. The Wii is doing something totally different, which is fantastic. We’re hopefully going to prove that there’s also a very big audience for people who want entertainment in another form, who think of games as being a narrative device that can challenge movies. We always said: We’re not going release a large number of games. They’re going to have the production values of movies. They’re gonna be about themes that interest us whatever the medium, instead of the weird, special video game–only themes that too many people make — orcs and elves, or monsters, or space. We felt you could make a good game and have it be about something we could actually relate to. Or aspire to.

Naturally, a lot of games are staying well away from release dates in the week after GTA IV landed, but interestingly, not Wii title Boom Blox, which is released on May the 9th in Europe. GTA IV will probably have little impact on it, given that the Wii is such a different market.

Together, Houser’s words and Boom Blox are quite a challenge to the shovelware that’s been inundating it (I like the idea of the Wii, but nothing has convinced me to get one yet. I live in hope).

The limits on the craft of games are mainly technical and financial. While it can be difficult and risky to push cultural limits outward by trying new things, the Wii and casual markets seem to have been catastrophically conservative so far.

Paramount Moves Into Games Publishing

28 03 2008


No details on how many people or how much money yet, but Paramount have followed Warner Bros and Disney into games, upping the size of their interactive team and first looking at lower risk projects like mobile and casual. Variety has the scoop. It reads as if they’re trying to spread the risk as far as possible, sketching the outlines of a very flexible business model:

“We are entering into deals now where we will be publishing games this year,” said Sandi Isaacs, Par’s senior veep of interactive and mobile. “There’s going to be a slate where in some cases we’re publishing, in some cases we’re co-publishing, or in others we’re funding development and another publisher buys it. It’s important for us to have a flexible model.”

Endemol Getting Into Casual Games

18 03 2008

BB Logo

Endemol have been flirting with games for quite a while, but a job posting on their website has tipped a bit more of what they’re planning. They’re creating a casual games team in Los Angeles.

Endemol Digital Media is creating a dedicated team to focus on casual game development

From the job description:

Establish a creative and technical casual game knowledge and resource center to be leveraged by the company worldwide

After being scoffed at by mainstream developers, casual is definitely becoming more respectable. I caught this quote on Dean Takahashi’s blog just after GDC:

The market for online casual games, from Tetris (estimated 60 million sold in lifetime) on cell phones to Bejeweled (350 million downloaded and sold on mobile phones) on computers, hit about $2.25 billion worldwide last year, according to Jessica Tams, head of the Casual Games Association. She says she no longer gets those funny looks when she talks about her group. Before, people would ask skeptical questions. Can you make any money with those? Are those real games?

“Now the question is how much money can I make how quickly?” she said. Even hardcore game companies want to make their games more accessible to wider audiences and so they’re asking how they can add casual elements to their games.

The differences between the culture and the business of games fascinate me. While casual games have been scoffed at by developers, and still are by hardcore ludologists, they’re starting to generate a lot of cash at the intersection between games companies and media companies in other industries. If the flow of business continues in this direction, it will invariably change the culture of game development, and also what it means in wider cultural terms to be a gamer.