Saturday, September 3, 2011

the strange case of the casual gamer

based on the #EE_Cin series of articles that are basically powerpoint slides commented, i've decided to comment some of the presentations I give every now and then...

i will start with the strage case of the casual gamer that talks how the market starts and who are these so called casual gamers. with mobile and social games the term casual is much broader now and pretty much everybody is a casual gamer. casual games were a very narrow niche that become mainstream... how that happened? i'll try to explain in this series of posts.
the presentation is based on a text by Nick Fortugno, former lead game designer of Playfirst (Diner Dash). the text is a chapter in the book Game Usability: Advancing the player experience.

Diner Dash is one of the few games that got 5 stars in Gamezebo, the single most important critic site of casual games. So, Nick is someone to be listened, or read in this case...

So, to start: What do we need to know about casual gamers to make a good casual game?
A good game should be intuitive to be easy to learn, challenging enough to make the player feels he is learning new things all the time and utimately fun so it can be called a game.

How can we do that?

Most studies about fun in games will relate these concepts. The most important thing is the right amount of challenge. If the challenge is too low, the player won't learn anything new and feels bored. If the challenge is too high he won't be able to perform the task and learn something in the process. The right amount of challenge will invariably lead the player to the flow channel.

Daniel Cook in his article The chemistry of game design in gamasutra creates a model in which "The player is entity that is driven, consciously or subconsciously, to learn new skills high in perceived value. They gain pleasure from successfully acquiring skills."

In summary, Daniel Cooks says, what we already said with different words, that for our game piece to be intuitive, easy and fun it should constantly teach new skills so he can gain pleasure from that activity. To design such a game Cook creates the concept of Skill Atom. A skill atom is diagramed as the following image:
Every time the player makes an action the computer then simulates the impacts of that action in the environment then gives somekind of feedback to the user. After the feedback the model of the game inside the player's head is update to incorporate some new skill. The following image is an example of a real skill atom from the jumping action in Mario games.



The full skill chain for Tetris can be found here.

So, according to Daniel Cook the assumption we make about which skills the gamer already mastered, or partially mastered, before playing our game for the first time is a crucial decision.

Casual gamer as any audience, brings expectations and experiences. So, which are these experiences from casual gamers? What can we assume they already know? Who are they and what we should know about them to properly create a game that adresses their needs?

A good game teaches skills with high perceived value for the player. That is the subject of the next post in the series...