How Windows 8 Could Change Casual Games
What do you think of when you read or hear the phrase “casual games?” Long considered a dirty word amongst a vocal minority of “hardcore gamers,” casual games are undergoing a transformation thanks to new distribution models that make gaming on PC easier than plug & play consoles. A newly leaked list of games available on the upcoming “Consumer Preview” version of Windows 8 provides a glimpse into the future of casual games, and it’s a lot more “hardcore” than you’d expect.
Similar to the Mac and Google Chrome app stores, Windows 8 will offer its own software portal for easy to install applications. Called the Window’s Store, it will carry the following 10 games during the preview period:
- Hydro Thunder (presumably a port of Hydro Thunder: Hurricane)
- Toy Soldiers
- Reckless Racing
- Angry Birds
- Rocket Riot
- Full House Poker
- Crash Course
- Ms. Splosion Man
Yes, I saw Angry Birds, but I also noticed Toy Soldiers and Ms. Splosion Man, two titles that you’d be hard pressed to call casual with a straight face. The Window’s Store’s (and all other app store’s) ability to provide players with easy access to games — thanks to low prices, easy installation, and providing a centralized location for nearly all software — means that those that stick to Angry Birds and Tiny Wings might also give Ilomilo a shot if they ran across it.
I’m not suggesting that my mother is going to abandon Peggle for Modern Warfare 3, but if she came across Ms. Splosion Man in an app store, she might try it out if the copy or screenshots sold her on it. By providing a central location for all software on a device, Apple and Microsoft ensure that casual gamers will encounter “hardcore games” alongside lighter fare. While XBLA and PSN technically provide the same service, is your mother or father going to seek out Rocket Riot on XBLA? But that same game might appeal to them if they saw it listed amongst the top apps for their device of choice, be it phone, tablet, or laptop.
Within three years, the “app” will become the main distribution model for video games. You and I, along with millions of others, will still enjoy our AAA disc-based console titles, but millions more will be playing games bought from an app store. Simply placing quality “hardcore” titles alongside the casual fare will help expand the audience for these games. The approach won’t work for everything, I don’t think Alan Wake would make much of a splash amongst the Cut the Rope set, but titles that feature engaging repeatable gameplay with minimal narrative elements, like Ms. Splosion Man, might do quite well.
This could create some major problems — Microsoft for example, doesn’t want to see their Window’s Store become a wasteland of $.99 software — but it will put deeper and more complex games in front of a willing audience, something that the industry desperately needs if it’s to avoid the fate of comic books, a medium that serves only an existing and shrinking fan base despite countless clumsy attempts to attract new readers.