Image: Mystery Case Files: Madame Fate
Big Fish Games
Casual games are booming. Players have downloaded 1 billion  games from Big Fish Games' web portal. Big Fish is the casual games developer and publisher behind the "Mystery Case Files" series.
By InGame reporter
NBC News
updated 7/21/2010 11:15:16 AM ET 2010-07-21T15:15:16

It may be difficult for some of you to admit, but those 80-some-million "FarmVille" players  really are onto something.

And don't forget all those people playing "Words with Friends" on their iPhones and iPads.

While the traditional retail video game business continues to slump its way through the year , those in casual gaming say business is booming.

As Casual Connect, the casual gaming industry's annual conference, got under way in Seattle Tuesday, casual games executives and observers offered dramatic statistics and stories from an industry that is not only rapidly growing ... but rapidly changing.

In 2005, casual gaming was a $300 million business worldwide, said Jessica Tams, managing director of the Casual Games Association. Today, analysts estimate it's a $3 billion industry – if not more.

"Casual gaming is the fastest growing mass medium in history," insisted Matt Hulett, chief revenue officer for casual games developer and publisher GameHouse, during one of the first presentation of the conference.

He shared a statistic from research firm DFC Intelligence that put the number of casual PC gamers at 340 million monthly unique users today, with estimates that number will reach 412 million monthly users by 2014.

Meanwhile, just last week, developer and publisher Big Fish Games proved just what a big fish it is in the casual gaming pond. The company, responsible for the "Mystery Case Files" series, "Flux Family Secrets" series and the "Hidden Expedition" series, announced that players have downloaded one billion games from its web portal.

Image: Bejeweled Blitz
Casual games company PopCap has helped lead the casual gaming boom with hit games like "Bejeweled," "Bejeweled Blitz" and "Plants vs. Zombies."

What exactly qualifies as a casual game isn't as easy to pin down today as it was just a few years ago. But generally speaking casual games are easy-going gaming fare. These games tend to be brainteasers and stress relievers, instant distractions that take mere minutes to learn how to play but a whole lot longer to master. "Bejeweled" is a quintessential casual game and "FarmVille" is the new heavy hitter.

Why is the casual games business booming when other gaming segments seem to be struggling? For starters, Hulett says it's a business buoyed by thriving networks and fast growing platforms that make it easier than ever to reach a worldwide audience. That is, social networks like Facebook have seemingly invaded everyone's lives and casual games have taken root and flourished there with them (as anyone who's bemoaned their friends' many "FarmVille" and "Mafia Wars" updates can tell you.)

There's also Apple's iPhone and the seemingly unstoppable smart phone gaming phenomenon. Meanwhile, the arrival of Apple's iPad along with the proliferation of affordable netbooks, has provided a new place for people to play primarily casual games.

"Even the naysayers on the iPad would not have guessed that Apple would have been able to sell 3 million units in the first 80 days," Hulett said.

Also it's important to note that casual games typically cost anywhere from the low-low price of free to, at max, $20. So it's not-so-difficult to understand why these games would thrive during these tough economic times. (Certainly a $60 traditional console game becomes a more difficult sell when wallets are thin.)

And it's easy to see why new companies and investors are increasingly keen to take up the casual gaming banner, said Joel Brodie, founder of casual game review site

"The companies that have embraced casual games have been the ones that have been able to revolutionize the games business," he said. "Those that have held onto the core games have not. Look at Facebook, they embraced casual games. Apple with the iPhone embraced casual games. Look at the three major consoles. Who won? The Wii. Why? They embraced casual games."

But ultimately casual game developers, publishers and pundits say that the casual industry's ongoing success comes down to one important thing — games that are made to be played by pretty much everyone. And everyone is a whole lot more people than the more limited demographic some segments of the gaming industry appeal to.

"Casual games have grown because, by their nature, they’re designed for everyone to use," Brodie said.

You can find Winda Benedetti playing it casual right here on Twitter.

© 2013  Reprints

Explainer: Games that make the most of the iPad

  • Image: Plants vs. Zombies

    Once you start playing games on an iPad you may never want to go back to playing games on your iPhone or iPod Touch. That's because the iPad’s gorgeous, spacious screen finally gives many games the room they've been begging for. And yet, I'm still waiting to be truly wowed by an iPad game. After all, the vast majority of iPad games are simply larger, prettier iPhone games with heftier price tags.

    Of course, the iPad has only been around for two months and wowing seems like something that's sure to start happening after developers have had more time to wrap their heads around this, er, magical machine.

    Until then, here's a look at some of the games that are making the most of the iPad's unique features.

    Tell us:Has iPad gaming wowed you?

  • Scrabble for iPad - $9.99

    Image: Scrabble for iPad
    Electronic Arts

    Yeah, it's priced at $9.99, but “Scrabble” fans will find a lot to love about the iPad version of this famed word game. Sure, you can play it on your iPhone for a third of the price, but the iPad is where this crossword puzzle is most at home with the HD game board sprawling across the bright, spacious screen.

    There are several play modes, giving you the opportunity to pit your wordsmithery against either friends or the computer. But the mode that most impressed us was Party Play. You and up to three friends can all share one iPad in this mode. Simply download the free “Scrabble Tile Rack” app from the App Store to your iPhone or iPod Touch. Then use your phone or pod to manage your own private tile rack while sharing the game on the iPad.

    If you want a less-expensive and yet still absorbing Scrabble-like gaming experience, don’t miss “Words With Friends HD.” For a mere $2.99, this fabulous version of the crossword game will let you connect with friends or random players online and play each other at your turn-based leisure.

  • Flight Control HD - $4.99

    Image: Flight Control HD

    Thanks to the sprawling iPad screen, this uber addictive iPhone game can finally stretch its gorgeous wings. The basics are this: You’re an air traffic controller and you have to guide incoming aircraft to their landing strips without letting them crash into one another. You do this by drawing a guidance line for each aircraft to follow using the touch screen.

    The iPad version of the game delivers the same increasingly frenetic gameplay but with a pretty hefty package of additions. There are updated graphics and new airfields to conquer. Meanwhile, you can share your iPad with a friend and play the game together either cooperatively or competitively.  You can also play a networked game with friends via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth — connecting your iPad to another iPad or even to an iPhone or iPod Touch.

  • Plants vs. Zombies HD - $9.99

    Image: Plants vs. Zombies

    Zombies are shlumping their way toward your home and the only way to survive is to strategically deploy a yard full of undead-battling flora. This award-winning game came to life on the PC and Mac then shuffled its way onto the iPhone and iPod Touch. But it really sinks its teeth into our collective gaming brains on the iPad.

    The spacious screen and multi-touch controls really feel like the very best way to play "Plants vs. Zombies." In addition to the gorgeous HD graphics, the iPad version also offers the exclusive “Buttered Popcorn” mini-game and it includes Survival Mode (which you won't find on the iPhone version though you will find it on the PC/Mac version).  Be prepared...this game will eat you alive.

  • Angry Birds HD - $4.99

    Image: Angry Birds HD

    “Angry Birds” is a study in slingshot physics — that is, you’re tasked with using said slingshot to fling a flock of vengeful avian at the pigs who have wronged them, trying to knock the squealers down from their various fortifications.

    This super cute, super polished game of demolition has received a lovely high-def update for the iPad. The twisted yet adorable graphics have been prettied up and the game has the room it needs to breathe on the big screen. That said, if you already own the iPhone/iPod Touch version of the game, you may not feel the need to buy the iPad version since nothing but the graphics have been updated. However, if you’ve never purchased this game before — this one is a must buy and the iPad version is worth all 499 pennies.

  • Zen Bound 2 - $7.99

    Image: Zen Bound 2
    Secret Exit

    "Zen Bound" was a deliciously original puzzle game when it arrived on the iPhone, winning all sorts of accolades for being a truly unique blend of art and gaming. The game's goal was deceptively simple: Wrap rope around various wooden figures by using the multi-touch screen and tilt sensitivity. As you wrapped the rope around the wood, the wood it touched was then splashed in paint. The goal was to cover as much of the object in paint as possible.

    With "Zen Bound 2," this oddly absorbing gameplay mechanic returns and remains the same, but this time around the beautiful wooden artwork gets the show it really deserves. As you twist and turn these objects, the beauty of the imagery suckers you in just as the rope puzzles twist your brain in knots. All the original levels are here plus many more and a new "paint bomb" mode adds an interesting twist. Meanwhile a new soundtrack from Ghost Monkey makes this game a treat for the ears as well as the eyes.

  • Charadium for iPad - $4.99

    Image: Charadium

    "Charadium" is basically "Pictionary"…with total strangers, which is a whole lot more fun than it may sound. A fast-paced online word guessing game, it works like this: You're given a word and a time limit and by drawing pictures on the touch screen you must do your doodly best to clue in a virtual room full of people as to what that word is. When you're not drawing, you're trying to guess what words other players are drawing.

    "Charadium" will quickly match you up with other random online players or you can create an online game of your own and invite friends to join. Though there is a version for the iPhone, the drawing mechanic is best suited to the iPad's spacious touch screen. After all, you're going to need all the room you can get to try and draw a picture that describes the word "wilderness."

  • 1112 Episode 02 HD - $7.99

    Image: 1112 Episode 02 HD
    Agharta Studios

    The atmospheric adventure game known as "1112" gets a second installment both on the iPhone and the iPad. But the place to truly enjoy the game's lovely hand-drawn art and moody environments is on the iPad.

    "Lost" fans looking to fill the void in their life will find a strange and twisty tale to wrap their heads around here. "1112 Episode 02" follows the story of Louis Everett, an antiques dealer who suffers from bad headaches and strange dreams and has suddenly found himself in a strange hotel room. The iPad is the perfect place to delve into this game, with its mix of "point and click" adventuring, hidden object sleuthing and puzzle gaming.

  • Mirror’s Edge for iPad - $12.99

    Image: Mirror's Edge for iPad
    Electronic Arts

    "Mirror's Edge" was well received when it got its start as a full blown first-person action adventure game on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. And this 2D, side-scrolling version of the game for the iPad is really hitting its paces too.

    Players control Faith Connors, an outlaw "runner" in a not-so-perfect future society. With swipes and flicks of your finger on the touch screen, you'll send her running, jumping, climbing, sliding and rolling her way across the rooftops of a gleaming metropolis. The parkour-based gameplay flows so smoothly it sucks you right in. Meanwhile, the iPad's sharp HD graphics are simply dazzling. And the iPad's spacious screen offers room enough for head-to-head multiplayer matches with two players each using half the screen as they try to outrun and outmaneuver each other.

    Certainly there's lots of great gameplay to be had here. Of course, there better be: Coming in at $12.99, "Mirror's Edge for iPad" is one of the most expensive iPad games you'll find in the App Store.

  • GodFinger HD - Free

    Image: GodFinger HD

    For those of you who’ve depleted your bank accounts buying your iPad, there are a number of enjoyable games out there for the low-low price of free. "GodFinger HD" is one of them.
    In this simulation game you play...why god, of course. And you use your almighty finger to interact with your very own planet that you shape and tend to. Your finger will bring sunshine and rain to grow things, it will work miracles to awe little mortals into following you, and it will push your converted followers to do your bidding.

    The art and graphics are bright and adorable and the iPad's generous screen real-estate makes managing your entire planet feel comfortable rather than cramped. Something to note: This game is a "freemium" game, which means that you don't have to pay a dime ... unless you want to buy little extras to make yourself more powerful more quickly. And yes, more power is oh-so-tempting.

    Also read: Is iPad gaming living up to the hype?

    Tell us:Has iPad gaming wowed you?


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