Let’s face it: casual games are demeaning to the entire game development community.
In other media, “casual” products are more commonly referred to as “trash” — you have your trashy romance novels, your lip-synching boy bands, your cheesy reality tv and your god-awful Uwe Boll flicks. In other words, material that’s been cynically engineered with no goal beyond appealing to the lowest common denominator: people who aren’t literate in or knowledgeable about the medium enough to know better, and/or people who have terrible, terrible, appallingly terrible taste.
Perhaps taking these people’s money is part of an ongoing effort to bankrupt them — and in doing so remove them from the collective gene pool of consumers. It’s much more likely, however, that the driving force behind the creation of such questionable “entertainment” is simple greed rather than any more lofty quasi-eugenic goal.
In other media, these lesser forms are at least acknowledged as crass cash-grabs. (Try saying that 3 times fast!) In game development, we have seminars to help people get better at churning out boring crap that appeals to illiterate consumers.
Being Flash/web developers, we’ve come into contact with quite a few casual-games types, and the sad thing is that most of them seem to genuinely believe that they’re doing good. They’re not just trying to make a quick buck, they’re trying to make games for everyone. Is that such a bad thing?
Yeah! The very fact that everyone has to be able to understand your game means that you’re limited to using only what can be understood by the most illiterate, least-skilled person — in other words, left-clicking on differently coloured shapes.
This is an industry which openly acknowledges the fact that requiring the player to grasp the concept of right-clicking will alienate the majority of users. Is catering to such a market charitable, or is it exploitative? If your average user can’t handle anything beyond clicking the left mouse button, their time would probably be better spent learning basic computer skills rather than revelling in addictive colorful-particle-firework-flavoured instant gratification.
Then there’s the other half of the story: as developers, do you really want an audience so oblivious that they eagerly consume blatant clones of existing games? An audience so devoid of interest in game aesthetics that one of their most desired features is (apparently) jungle/Egyptian/Aztec-themed 3D backgrounds? An audience so lazy that almost any action or decision on the part of the player must result in success, coupled with ridiculous amounts of positive audio/visual feedback, lest the player become frustrated by the fact that they may have to learn or think in order to succeed.
It’s one thing to avoid frustration for the sake of fun; both Space Quest and Monkey Island are great games, but the latter is much more fun/friendly since there’s no fear of sudden, arbitrary-seeming death. There’s nothing wrong with trying to make a game accessible, but when you can clear the first 10 levels and get the new highscore by randomly clicking, something is wrong. Can that really be called a game?
Just because there’s money in it doesn’t mean that it’s morally or ethically right. If we continue to pander to the barely-game-literate, how will they ever become more literate? Learning isn’t always easy; sometimes it can be quite challenging. But isn’t the challenge what makes it so exhilarating?
The casual games industry, and to a certain extent most of the commercial games industry, is in this way similar to the fast-food industry: churning out cost-effective products with an utter disregard for any factors beyond what will appeal to the greatest number of people. The result is an utter lack of any substance or value for the consumer — just empty calories.