SAN FRANCISCO — Most of the room of game-industry insiders raised their hand after Spry Fox founder Daniel “Danc” Cook asked them if they own more than 10 games on the PC software portal Steam. Smiling, Danc told them “you don’t matter.”
For years, mobile gaming has fended off the idea that is for “casual” consumers as opposed to the “core” audiences of more traditional platforms like Xbox One or PlayStation 4. But during a panel at the Game Developers Conference today, several mobile developers argued that this distinction is tribalistic and incorrect. In total, gaming is a $99.3 billion industry and mobile gaming alone makes up more than a third of that at around $34.8 billion. And while consoles and Steam gamers spend a lot, the most “core” people who make up those audiences aren’t worth chasing after for most studios building games, according to the panel.
“You are novelty seekers,” Danc told the crowd at GDC. “You are the smallest demographic in gaming.”
This is why so many companies are making games for iOS and Android. Danc’s fellow panelist, Storm8 product manager Ramine Darabiha, clarified that games for Steam’s “novelty seekers” keep coming, and he used Devil Daggers as an example. But he used this as an opportunity to make to point out that “casual” audiences on mobile are not only viable, they are equally important to what is coming on smartphones and tablets.
“I have a problem with calling it core because that makes everything else seem peripheral,” Kongregate manager Emily Greer said. “It doesn’t equally value the experiences of other players.”
Most of the panel echoed this sentiment. Even developer Lee Perry, who previously worked at Gears of War studio Epic Games, noted that he had to get over this idea that mobile gaming wasn’t a means to its own end. He talked about how free-to-play gaming happened so fast while he was working on Gears of War 2, and that led to him viewing the space as a way of turning nongamers into someone who might decide to buy Gears of War.
“It was easy to see mobile gaming as transitionary,” he said. “And I used to think of these people as if they were turning into ‘real gamers.’ And I realized I was devaluing them and doing a disservice by not thinking of mobile and casual as its own form of gaming.”
Perry explained that he now views it like car manufacturers view automobiles.
“We used to think that Formula 1 were the core gamers and the core of driving, and everyone else was casual,” he said. “But it’s important now that car makers think of all driving as a core experience.”
Others on the panel built on this thought.
“Even if you get all core gamers together in a room, they don’t agree on what the term means,” Funomena studio development boss Lulu LaMer said. “That limits the form, and it limits innovation.”
She also made the point that when people begin talking about the difference between something “core” and something “casual,” this is an experience about taking something away from someone else. It’s about making sure that others don’t move into the space you’ve carved out for yourself.
“It’s about policing the edges,” she said. “And it’s more about what people don’t like than what they do like.”
Danc rounded out this notion. He lamented that a discussion about core-versus-casual is stupid on its own because they are the action of people trying to keep a separation between “us” and “them.”
“It’s hard to talk about these things logically when they are really, truly stupid tribal behaviors,” he said. “I dislike these giant dichotomies. We have over a billion players. There’s so many different groups playing games right now. Any time you split up the group to two — into us and them — you’re doing a huge disservice to them and yourself.”