Saturday, August 11, 2007

User generated content and casual games

I was mentioned in an article on by technology review:
http://www.technologyreview.com/Infotech/19137/?a=f

This was the question the author Erica Naone asked me:
"Do you think casual gamers will respond to these efforts to encourage them to form casual gaming communities? Considering the suggestion that they may be attracted to casual games because of less familiarity with computers, do you think they are likely to respond to offers to participate by creating user-generated content?"
This was my answer:

Generally your question is a tricky one. Especially because the term casual is used in so many different ways. I will first focus on "casual gamers" as .

It takes time and effort and some kind of skill with computers to take part in an online community or generate content. This speaks against "casual" online communities if you use the term casual as "not very interested" or "not very involved" or mean users who are not experienced with computers.

For making it interesting to take part in a community the level of freedom what you can do and how you can participate is an important part. On the other hand one characteristic casual games normally feature is that they are non-offensive. The designers try not to turn someone off with violence or sexist protagonists...
If you are pretty free what to generate in an community you can also generate offensive material. You can swear, or upload a picture which is explicit and so on. Therefore a community which would be targeted at older or more female audience would need tight controls to prevent the creation of unwanted material.
These tight controls would on the one hand be hard to implement and on the other hand limit the freedom of the possible content generators. (There are some community games for very young players under 10) which only let you communicate with other players using predefined text modules. This is one way to prevent paedophiles to try to contact the minors. But I don't think it is not much fun to use these text modules).

On the other hand to at least being theoretically able to create user content as well as "feeling" to be part of a lively social community is a strong incentive for many users. Especially users who have a negative feeling towards computers or technical devices.
One main goal of the casual game developers is to tell the non-typical potential computer players (especially women or seniors) that gaming is also something for them. That message is hard to spread if the women and Seniors who are already playing are mostly playing alone and at home. Community players are more visible. This makes a community especially interesting for casual game designers.
As only few of the potential casual gamers are actually playing till now and therefore there is a huge untapped potential, I am sure many companies will try to create casual community games in the near future.

Then there is the different way to use the term "casual" as meaning "simple game". I think www.newgrounds.com is the biggest casual game community and features lots of user generated content. But www.newgrounds.com does not fit the to the pogo.com, zylom.com or bigfishgames.com audience at all. The games are simple and quick to play but many of them can be considered offensive. You can take part by uploading your own flash games or films or your music. Or you can comment on the stuff uploaded by others.
While the flash games are pretty simple to make there is a great incentive for many non professional designers to create something and show it to the public.
The community is very free and you are very power full as a creator as well as a user. Therefore newgrounds is one of the best places to find creative people playing around and from time to time having great and innovative ideas.

The community itself is associated with www.newgrounds.com and not with specific games. So it is not a casual game community but more a casual gameS community.

To sum it up:
  • Everything depends how you use the term casual.
  • A casual (as seniors and women) game community must be very simple to use and non offensive.
  • A casual (meaning simple game) game community can also work if it is much more open and therefore give the users a real chance to create interesting content for the other users.
  • Out of thousands of players of a particular casual game (also as seniors and women) you will always find some who will want to invest a lot and be able to do so in a pretty professional way (ask Ion Hardie from Reflexive for their response to Big Kahuna Reef).

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