GDC08: Casual summit keynote examines the growth of the sector

PlayFirst CEO says casual games industry needs more innovation

In a 30-minute keynote during GDC’s Casual Games Summit, PlayFirst CEO John Welch said that the fast-growing sector needs more innovation as it heads towards ubiquity and as big-name core games firms like EA move into the category.

Offering an overview of the casual games market and how it will evolve, Welch – who helped invent the ‘$20 download’ business model during his time at Shockwave early almost a decade ago – said that those in the casual games space needed to have an eye on new business models and new content.

"Casual gamers want more innovation," he said looking at game content, pointing out that the industry was still populated with thousands of Diner Dash clones and hidden object games.

With a presentation slide behind him commanding that casual games firms be ready to "Say ‘yes’ to innovation, say ‘no’ to the clones", he said that publishers should be prepared to take financial risk on all new projects in order to let the developers take chances creatively.

He pointed out that the history of online services are littered with examples of smaller start up companies that dared to innovate and now take in millions in revenue, such as Google, Facebook and casual games site Club Penguin.

And when it came to business models, he provocatively suggested that the business model he helped define be ditched: "Please can we kill off the $20 download model," he said pointing to WildTangent’s pay-as-you-play Wild Coins system as a key innovation. But even WildTangent’s approach was not good enough, with Welch openly saying to the firm’s CEO Alex St John "Now give us an SDK Alex so we can sell in-game items for our games".

Welch said that thinking about innovation would help those currently in the space steel themselves as the core gaming firms such as EA and Activision move into casual games.

Although he likened them to parrots with "more talk than action" at the moment, he said the interests of those firms in the sector made it clear that current players in the casual games space "have a much bigger opportunity to make more money than we are currently making" and that "there’s a lot of casual content coming from them" very soon.

"There are going to be a lot of dead bodies on the road the side of the road to casual games," he said, saying that those in the industry would fail if they didn’t innovate, and that big games publishers "get it – they’re coming".

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