Casual Gaming Gets Serious

REDMOND, Wash., July 19, 2005 – “Casual” games have been getting some serious attention lately. Just last week, the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) – a large independent, non-profit organization for game software developers – announced the formation of the Casual Games Special Interest Group in response to new opportunities in the casual gaming sector. Over the next few weeks, the Game Initiative – a leading producer of game industry events – will be hosting two separate conferences focusing on the casual games market. Microsoft’s Casual Games group will be a major sponsor of both conferences.

Chris Early, Studio Manager, Microsoft Casual Games Group

That should come as no surprise, explains Microsoft’s Chris Early – a game-industry veteran who joined the company this year to head up the unified Casual Games group. Microsoft’s high profile at the conferences reflects its renewed commitment to the space, Early says. They also offer an opportunity to demonstrate what he believes to be Microsoft’s unique approach.

Early is the studio manager for the Microsoft Casual Games group, a new name for the segment of the company involved in creating and publishing games for MSN Games, Xbox Live Arcade, Windows OS casual games, MSN Messenger and Microsoft Mobile games.

By creating a casual game universe that’s unified across all of Microsoft’s gaming platforms, Early believes game developers and advertisers will get more bang for the buck – and customers will have more ways to have fun.

“MSN Games is chock full of the quick fun games people generally associate with today’s online or downloadable casual games – and the site’s audience which today skews towards 30+ females reflects that traditional appeal,” Early says. “Think of the kinds of opportunities that open up when you add the Xbox Live audience of mostly male teens, the millions of users who play games on MSN Messenger and the rapidly growing mobile market. Now imagine bringing all those opportunities together and you begin to understand the enormous potential for growth.”

That growth is no secret. According to research firm IDC, the online gaming population alone is set to reach 256 million people by 2008. The firm estimates that the U.S. market for primarily casual downloadable games will grow to more than US$760 million in 2007.

Those numbers are sure to be a topic this week at the Casual Games Conference ( – believed to be the first gathering to focus exclusively on the casual games industry. Also sure to come up is what those numbers will mean for advertisers. Shawn McMichael from Microsoft Casual Games group is slated to discuss the role advergaming will play in the future of online gaming and new marketing opportunities arising from the growing trend.

Advergaming uses sponsored or custom games to deliver brand messaging with higher audience engagement than traditional online advertising, such as banner ads. For example, MSN Games’ most popular puzzle game “Bejeweled” was recently served up in a Tyson chicken-themed version. Telecommunications giant Qwest is another example of a blue-chip company that partnered with Microsoft’s Casual Games group to use advergaming as a means to reach out to its target audience with a pair of custom games, “Qwest Gold Fever” and “Qwest Turbo Racing.” Such deals helped MSN Games grow corporate sponsorship and advertising revenue consistently since 1998.

While the numbers are strong, Early cautions not to get too caught up in them or you might overlook the Microsoft Casual Games group’s primary mission: in his words, “the pursuit of serious fun.”

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