Sat through an interesting panel on casual gaming today at a Goldman Sachs event, with representatives from Oberon, Big Fish, Wild Tangent and Liberty Media. Alex St. John of Wild Tangent was his usual feisty self, throwing hand grenades in all directions and keeping the conversation lively.
A few interesting insights came from the discussion. A couple of the panelists pushed back on the Wikipedia definition of Casual Games:
The term casual game is used to refer to a category of electronic or computer games targeted at a mass audience — typically with very simple rules or play techniques, a very low degree of strategy, making them easy to learn and play as a pastime. They require no long-term time commitment or special skills to play, and there are comparatively low production and distribution costs for the producer. Casual games typically are played on a personal computer online in web browsers, although the Wii and Nintendo DS are also often referred to as a platforms catering to casual gamers. Casual gaming demographics also vary greatly from those of traditional computer games, as the typical casual gamer is older and more predominantly female.
Instead, Alex proposed that we’re all gamers now, and that this is a shift in media consumption comparable to the rise of TV. Whereas shrink-wrapped gaming can be compared to a movie – you don’t know how much you’ll enjoy the experience until after you’ve paid (reviews and recommendations notwithstanding), he compared casual gaming to TV – you try it for free, and it has to entertain you and earn the right for you to keep coming back. He says that no one refers to “TVers” as a group because everyone watches TV, and similarly no one will refer to “gamers” as a group because everyone will play games.
Another interesting claim from Alex was that Wild Tangent made 15c per game play (under a mix of purchased premium games and advertiser sponsored games). That implies a $150 CPM, which is extraordinary. He also said that they were sold out of advertising inventory, even at these CPMs, and implied that given these economics it almost always made more sense to offer casual games for free (increasing by 50-100x their usage) than depend on selling games to 1-2% of the audience who try the game. This was heavily disputed by other panelists, at least in part on the basis of the current size of the ad budgets being dedicated to online gaming.
Most interesting panel I’ve been to in a while.