Saturday, February 25, 2006

How New Is Too New?

Word Shake! has been on sale now for almost 3 months and the response has been good. This is particularly encouraging when you consider that it isn’t on the major portals yet. The game mechanic in Word Shake! is different to the other word games on the market - the majority of which are inspired by PopCap’s “Book Worm”. There’s nothing wrong with taking an existing idea and adding something new - in fact I’m doing this with my next game due out later this year.

But what Word Shake! has demonstrated is that players are interested in trying something new. So the question is “how new is too new”?

One of the great appeals of casual gaming is the game setting. The theme has to resonate with the core demographic - which is why you’ll find an abundance of games with themes based on Ancient Worlds, Pirates, the Orient, precious gems, the Wild West, the natural world, etc. It’s rare to find a successful casual game based on hardcore science fiction or Dungeons & Dragons inspired fantasy that fuel their console cousins. Casual game themes have universal appeal and it’s no coincidence that casino slot machines use these themes as well.

The current landscape for casual games is littered with many “me too” games. But I think we can explore different game styles and mechanics without alienating our audience so long as the games have a level of familiarity. And the easiest way to achieve this is by sticking with tried and true themes.

The next few years in casual gaming will be very interesting indeed. I think we’ll see a number of developers embrace new and interesting game play mechanics, but still keep their games in the realms of familiarity. There’s still a huge number of play mechanics and styles yet to be tapped - and I’m sure there are a number of players out there just waiting for something new (but not too new!).

I’ll definitely be striving to do something different with my upcoming games... but after I finish my current match-3 project first :-)

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