Juul goes casual

Good to see that Jesper Juul is taking on the casual games. He gave several speeches about the topic in the last days (The Sun Always Shines in Casual Games, How They Got Game).
There are some problems connected with the use of the term „casual“ in computer games.

There are these games which we are calling „Casual Games“ with properties like „small games, easily learned, and usually distributed over the internet“ and so on (Zuma, Beeweled and Diner Dash being examples).

But then there is also the way how you play. You can play any game in a casual manner. You can play a quick „casual“ Quake session. And you can try for hours „hardcore style“ to compete with a high score in Bejeweled.

On the Gamers in Society Seminar in Tampere last week Jussi Kuittinen, Annakaisa Kultima, Johannes Niemelä and Janne Paavilainen from the Game Research Lab presented a paper proposing a stricter use of the term Casual-in-Games. Probably Juul and the Gamelab should exchange ideas (and keep me in the loop ;). Their paper is not published yet. If Copenhagen an Tampere would come up with a casual games terminology together it would not only be industry interests forging the „casual“ terms.

Juul is using the term Gaming Literacy – sounds nice. I thought about Game Capital (like Social or Human Capital) which represents investment into learning how to play games.

(Thanks to Daniel Pergman to giving me the „Juul is casual“ hint)

Problems using the term "Casual" Games

Using the term casual for people who play casual games for long hours and pretty excessively is kind of strange. This shows us that there are at least two aspects of the term casual which are often confused.

On the Gamers in Society Seminar in Tampere Jussi Kuittinen, Annakaisa Kultima, Johannes Niemelä and Janne Paavilainen from the Game Research Lab presented a paper proposing a stricter use of the term Casual-in-Games.

Find a blog entry on the presentation here and updated slides here.

Casual concerning the design characteristics of certain games which are typically called casual games (meaning games on popcap.com, pogo.com and so forth). These often feature general appeal, simple controls, fast rewards, possibility to play in short time bursts.

We could refer to this aspect by calling the games Casual Games, and the people playing them Casual Game Player.

Casual concerning the way someone is playing a game. This means playing any game (casual or hardcore) while not being focused on the activity and/or playing only for a short while. Is someone playing a certain game session just for fun without being afraid of loosing or with a more competitive attitude (example in an tourney including price money).

We could refer to this aspect by calling the activity casual playing.

A Casual Gamer would be someone who is playing in an casual manner (casual playing) or who has a generally casual approach to playing computer games as a hobby .

The casual/hardcore playing dimension stated here is compatible with my definition of casual/hardcore playing in this earlier post.

Problem is that it is still pretty hard not confuse the terms.

Could we come up with more sticky words for the different concepts. Any suggestions?

The game research lab will most likely hand out the paper to anyone requesting it (it is not published yet).

Searching a ‚rational‘ approach to playing computer games

I want to try to find theoretical based hypothesises which I can test in an quantitative study. Seems I am pretty alone with this approach. Almost all game researchers I know base their work much more on issues like systematic, rules, narration and use ethnographical and very qualitative ways to research the topic computer games. Why are harder theoretical theories which generate testable hypothesises like rational choice not being used? Is it because it so hard to measure game playing or game playing experience? Is it because the topic of gaming is so complex that if you use “strict” (and more compact ) theories that you can not approach them in an “as if” modelled approach.

I hope this is not the case. I was thinking about a framework which would integrate enough (but not to many) aspects gaming to be actually usable.

All of this is totally sketchy. But I had to get it on paper and out of my head.

The central point for the framework I came up with is “investment”.

To actually play a game a player has to do a certain investment. He will only pay this investment if he thinks it will pay off. Meaning that it would not be rational for him to do a similar investment into another activity (People familiar with rational choice will read the term marginal utility between the lines).

I broke down the investment into four different fields:

Time

Money

Game Capital

Social investment

Time: Time you are investing in a game session?

Money: Money your investing in a game session? Some would argue that time and money are actually interchangeable (meaning “time is money”). I will have to give that idea more thought.

Game Capital: Similar to Human Capital theory you are acquiring Game Capital which is your individual experience with (computer) games. A player will have to master using a mouse and the keyboard in a pretty decent way before he can play an FPS in any reasonable manner (my grandma can’t do that). When you are playing a game session you are automatically bringing your game capital with you. So you already have made this investment into your game capital long before you start the gaming session in question.

Social investment: There are many stereotypes surrounding playing computer games. Many people don’t want to be associated with these stereotypes. Imagine your grandma playing a violent game like Quake. For example most elder people and especially females seem to dislike violent games. Playing these games is not what they are supposed to do. It would not feel right for them to engage in an activity they (partly wrongly) associate with young males. Bridging this gap between the social norm of what you should do on one hand and what you actually do on the other is what is meant with social capital.

You can see the different investments as restrictions in an rational choice way. This is most obvious with the monetary restriction. If you do not have enough money to get your hands on a game you can not play it. If your game capital is not strong enough you will not play a certain game just for fun. But why would people then actually play games not just for fun.

This brings us to the aspect of user motivation. Somebody who just wants to relax a bit with playing a game will actually only enter a game session if he considers it rewarding – meaning having a positive ration of utility to investment. If somebody has the motive to compete he will take more risks concerning the ratio of utility and investments than someone just interested in relaxation. If your motive to play a game is to keep your mind sharp (many older people answer this in questionnaires) your utility will not be fun (at least not primarily) but the knowledge to do something which keeps you mentally fit. This could even explain why you would enter a game session which is actually not fun for you to play.

Some user motives:

  • Competition (typical used concerning playing “hardcore”)
  • Relaxation (typical used concerning playing “casual”)
  • Kill time (casual)
  • Keep yourself mentally fit (casual)

You an break down Competition into

Competing against someone else.

Competing against the game rules.

Competing against your self (Beating your own high score)

The different motives will lead to a different usage of the utility / investment ratio.

Such a sketched out theoretical framework would let you formulate a lot of hypothesises which you could then try to test.

A possible break point of the framework is that you would have to assign the motives certain investments. Sounds very subjective.

Again: These were just some loose thought which I wanted to formulate. I put them in the blog because I have not heard of a similar approach to playing games. The concept is not at all usable in the present state.

Definition of casual/hardcore playing

There are many possible approaches to define Casual and Hardcore playing. This is a more crisp one than used in my casual games and gender paper.

Level of ‚hardcore‘ playing:
= Amount of effort invested into a game session.

Types of effort:

  • Time
  • Money
  • Game Capital
  • Social investment (self reflection against social norm)

Less invested effort means more ‚casual‘ play session.

Time: Time you are investing in a game session

Money: Money your investing in a game session

Game Capital: Similar to Human Capital theory you are acquiring Game Capital which is your individual experience with (computer) games. A player will have to master using a mouse and the keyboard in a pretty decent way before he can play an FPS in any reasonable manner (my grandma can’t do that). When you are playing a game session you are automatically bringing your game capital with you. So you already have made this investment into your game capital long before you start the gaming session in question.

Social investment: There are many stereotypes surrounding playing computer games. Many people don’t want to be associated with these stereotypes. Imagine your grandma playing a violent game like Quake. For example most elder people and especially females seem to dislike violent games. Playing these games is not what they are supposed to do. It would not feel right for them to engage in an activity they (partly wrongly) associate with young males. Bridging this gap between the social norm of what you should do on one hand and what you actually do on the other is what is meant with social capital.

Survey on Casual Games and Gender

While we know that the demographics between hardcore and casual gamers differ (hc: mostly male/younger, cg: mostly female/older) it is not as clear why this is the case.

Therefore I plan to do a online survey on one typical casual games site and one typical hardcore games site.
To get clear results I try to find two websites which are as similar as possible except for their casual and hardcore audience and ask them about user motives, time investment, experience with computers…

I think for the casual side it makes sense to focus on the „try before you buy casual games“ on the pc (and leave the consoles and Massive Online Games out of the way).
This leads me, on the hardcore side, to PC Hardcore gamers, for example Ego Shooters, Real Time Strategy or non massive RPGs.

On the other hand distribution models and often the level of violence differ between these two markets.
Both are aspects which could have a big influence on the possible customers (e.G. many women being turned off by violence). But both are not central differences between casual and hardcore at least if you go with this casualgames whitepaper definition:

Casual / Hardcore games involve less/more „complicated game controls and overall complexity in terms of game play or investment required to get through the game“ (or enjoy the game session as I would formulate it).

I am thinking about good example sites to highlight aspects of the casual – hardcore games difference?

How about „try before you buy HARDCORE games“ which would lead us to indie games – right?

Gamers in Society Seminar

„University of Tampere Hypermedia Laboratory’s Game Research Lab organizes a seminar on Gamers in Society. The two-day event consists of themed sessions that discuss the social and cultural aspects of gaming.“ I will be happy to attend. You find the program here:

http://gamelab.uta.fi/socialgamer-seminar/programme.htm

Especially the „Casual Games Discussion“ with Jussi Kuittinen, Annakaisa Kultima, Frans Mäyrä, Johannes Niemelä and Janne Paavilainen
and
‘You Play Like a Girl!’ Cross Gender Competition and the Uneven Playing Field“ by Elena Bertozzi could be interesting for me.

Immersion and Gender

Frans Mäyrä and Laura Ermi did a small but interesting survey about immersion in computer games You can download the text from Frans blog: http://www.uta.fi/~tlilma/ direct link to text.

‚Summing up mean values of all the three component of gameplay immersion, Half Live 2 appears to be the overall strongest game in immersing its players. On the other end, the experience of playing The Sims 2 is apparently not felt as immersive. But it would be mistake to claim Half Life 2 to be a better game than the Sims 2 on this basis. It may well be that the more “casual” character of the Sims 2 gameplay is one of the reasons behind its appeal for these particular players. The Sims 2 was also the only one of the examined games with a notable amount of female respondents, but the relatively low evaluation of immersion is not relate to the gender of the informants, since females gave overall higher evaluation to the immersion in that game than men.‘

Would be interesting to find out if casual gamers in general are less immersed than hard core gamers. Often the term ‚casual‘ is used to point out that you can stop playing at any time or doing something else while playing. Both speaks against strong immersion through casual games.

A similar concept to immersion is „Flow“ by Csikszentmihalyi:

„The concept (…) describes an optimal mental state where a person is complete occupied with a task that matches the person’s skills, being neither too hard (leading to anxiety) or easy (leading to boredom).“ (Jesper Juul: http://www.half-real.net/dictionary/#flow)

Probably casual gamers are not as experienced with computer games and need easier – meaning casual – games to reach flow states.

And what impact has gender on immersion. Will men and women be immersed in different kind of games in different ways? In the survey women were more immersed by the casual Sims 2 than men. On the other hand they responded lower immersion levels than men for the other games.

Paper about Casual games and Gender

Right now I am working on my master thesis in sociology about the topic „Casual games and gender“. As part of the preparation of the thesis I wrote a shorter (18pages) paper.

Abstract:

This paper discusses the question: “Why do more women play casual games than men, if altogether more men play computer games than women?”

Gender seems to have an impact upon the affinity towards different kinds of games and upon how much effort a person is willing to invest while playing a computer game. This is indicated by the different gender ratios of casual and hardcore gamers. Many potential gamers do not identify themselves with the stereotype of ‘real’ gamers, i.e., hardcore gamers, who are often seen as being young, male and lacking social skills. This could be one of the reasons why women and older people more frequently play the less ‘real’ or ‘typical’ casual games while often not seeing themselves as ‘computer gamers’.

However, there are indications that the primary factor for the preference towards casual or hardcore games is, in fact, not gender. On the contrary, gender (as well as age) could cloud the more important variables, such as experience with computers or time allocation.
For a better picture of the relationship between the different variables we would need more empirical data.

Download:

Casual games and gender (English)

Casual Games und Geschlecht (German)

I would be very happy about comments or suggestions concerning the text or my future research. I plan to do conduct a quantitative survey on casual and hardcore game sites starting March or April 2007.

The German version was marked with an 1.3 which equals an A- in the US.