Money talks; it also games. What was once an honored passion of nerds, geeks, and nerdy geeky kids alike has exploded onto the global scene catering to everyone from toddlers to seniors, rednecks to prom queens . In a world where everyone is a potential revenue source, no genre is left untouched and no game is left sacred. While this has led to larger budgets, less social stigma, and greater entertainment for all, some time honored gaming traditions are sacrificed on the altar of Casualization. What was once a lush industry full of depth, complexity and challenge has seen a shift into a barren wasteland streamlined to carry player from oasis to oasis. Whether you blame the fat cats, the kids these days or just growing interest something has pushed for the casualization of the gaming industry as a whole.
The “why” is probably the easiest to answer, any trip to your favorite games forums will yield a roaring chorus of “Greed Glorious Greed” from frustrated gamers; there is a little more to it than that though. Game developers used to be dedicated groups of people who wanted to make great games, and many still are. Unfortunately, big names like EA and Activision now own these groups; pushing them to rush for deadlines and sacrifice innovation for a safe bet. This switch is a major part of the casualization movement; as games are no longer made by gamers for gamers, but instead are made by companies for customers.
These companies see potential gamers as more important to them than current gamers, because yes: mo people, mo money. Every gamer they nab with their glitz and glamour is a customer who has come to expect nothing more then what they have currently been given. A lifelong gamer may complain about bad level design, poor mechanics, or a poor story line; on the other hand a ‘newb’ who only has known Farmville will see everything as having a sexy new coat of paint and polish. Lowering standards allows less production time, which leads to cheaper games that still sell. This profiteering and avarice would make even Larfleeze a little jealous. (Knowledge is power http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larfleeze)
Okay, okay so Corporations are evil and greedy; didn’t we learn this in about every movie in the 90s? What are they really doing to games to make them more “casual friendly”? Well I am glad you asked class, I needed something to transition into. For one, games are getting easier. While some game developers like Valve extensively play-test to find the perfect mix of difficulty (where it is easy enough to get without being frustrating, but hard enough to feel smart/skillful when you succeed), others have moved to cater to the lowest common dominator. It not only has to be easy enough for average gamers but for grandma and grandpa too, Fun for the Whole Family!!!! Don’t like it too easy? Well then just “casually” up the difficulty, don’t be a whiner. This shows another problem: simplifying game mechanics. Some people love high levels of customization, to min/max, or to Dominate all who oppose them with their incredible character building skills. Well these people are out of luck, business dictates that the “casual” hates clutter and options; money doesn’t grow on skill trees after all.
Choice must be clear and simple, options must be minimal or the almighty “casual” may object. This doesn’t just apply to in game build trees, crafting systems, weapon choices, ect… but also applies to the base game itself. To refer back, increased difficulty should mean that the AI is smarter, and the player is tested to improve her/his tactics, instead now simple modifiers are added making the only difference that enemies have more health, do more damage, and while the player’s damage is lessened. In my experience this “dumbing down” and streamlining is part of the greatest contentions people have against casualization. But let’s not forget the looks of the game. Now everyone wants a sleek sexy game (or person) to look at, however for the casual crowd beauty means even more. I like to call this the Michael Bay effect; something can be an eldritch abomination, an indescribable horror from beyond the terrible void, but give it some dazzling FX, give it a graphical sheen, and add a snazzy skybox or two and you have a triple-A title. Game developers believe that the casual will always pick the eye candy over the basic functionality of the game.