I had the opportunity to go to this interesting conference down in Seattle, Washington. I had only heard of the term "casual games" when this conference came up, but I grew more enthusiastic about it, the more that I read.
Casual games are those types of video games that dont require a huge time commitment to progress through. Games of this genre can find their roots in games like Pac Man, Defender, Space Invaders, and other coin-ops of yester years. They are the antithesis to "core games" like the Doom series, World of Warcraft, Eve Online and the like, as these games require a substantial investment of time and have some depth behind them. Casual games are all about simplicity, usually restricting the game controls to the mouse and the left mouse button.
Studios that are developing these games are usually small teams ( > 2) and have substantially smaller budgets than a large game studio does. Casual games have found markets in web, PC, mobile and console markets.
Casual games can be sold through distributors online, the games companies themselves or some combination of both. Branded games have also been developed to create excitement around a brand. One of the most notable and successful of these is the branded XBOX games produced for Burger King.
The conference had over a thousand people attending and covered the business, creative, and technological ends of developing these games. The small size of this event allowed for a attendee to ask a great deal more questions than they would be able to at a larger conference. The diversity of topics provided a great deal of breadth for anyone trying to enter this market for the first time.
There were some people talking about game design, some talking about development practices, and some talked about the great potential for in-game advertising. All of them were willing to talk about what worked and what didn't, and the lessons learned from their mistakes along the way.
What caught my interest at this conference was that it could have been re-named "The Small Development Team" conference, as much of the conversation was centered around this theme.
Agile methods on both the creative and technical side were discussed in many sessions, and how small teams can benefit from this type of development.
None of the courses went into a great degree of depth in any area (no session on using photoshop or learning actionscript), and I think that was just fine. The general sessions created a conversational starting point for many of the diverse background of professionals who attended the conference.
Special thanks to the Digital Media Association of Alberta and the Canadian Consulate in Seattle for this opportunity.More info about this conference can be found here