Casual Games

Spinks hates Facebook games. I have to admit, I've blocked nearly all of them myself by now, although Farmville seems to have supplementary applications - a sort of parasitic mini-eco-system around it - that get around the 'hide' command.

However, at the end, she's enquiring, with regard to Farmville's log-on-at-regular-intervals-or-stuff-dies 'feature':

Who thought it would be a good idea to force players to log on at regular set periods. Isn’t that the opposite of casual?

And indeed, I'm seeing some evidence that people who don't play MMOs or other computer games are happily putting hours and hours of cumulative time into things like Farmville, or other Facebook games like Mafia Wars. I've seen plaintive updates, not posted by the game, but by people themselves, looking for one more pair of concrete overshoes, or whatever the desired collectible they can't get hold of is.

They've got a short lifespan, though. Mafia Wars already seems to be disappearing in favour of Farmville, and everyone seems to have forgotten about the egg-hatching thing that was all the rage during the summer. Last year's dragon thing, where you take a hatchling and grow it into a mighty, treasuring-hoarding wyrm, is long-gone.

But I'm starting to think that what separates casual games (or casual gaming) from others is the entry barrier, not for the game, but for the 'session'. If you can sit down and do your thing in a game - on Facebook, in an MMO, or in a single-player game, without having to make any preparations, organise people, or block time aside - that's casual. If you have to do any of that, it's not. And Farmville fails that test, by making you log in regularly, having to organise it.

This means that some MMOs are more casual than others. There is very little you can do in EVE if you just drop in; you need to take at least half an hour for anything in it. On the other end of the scale of MMOs, if you're playing the crafting game in Everquest II, or the Auction House in WoW, you can get your stuff done in chunks of less than a minute. And the Facebook games only take seconds.

So, is this a useful way to distinguish games?

Posted by Drew Shiel at September 15, 2009 9:20 AM

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