Sorry for any formatting issues that might crop up below — this piece was originally published for The Trail, the University of Puget Sound’s student newspaper, from which I copy-pasted some articles for archiving purposes. Hence the newpaper-y tone and simplified view of the industry. My work for the paper might still be gathered here.
Assuming you have had any amount of spare time since the late 90s, you have probably logged more than a couple of hours in simple simulations of matching jewels, numbered minefields, virtual crops and cattle or (most likely) green pigs and fowl-flinging slingshots.
The upstart industry of “casual gaming” continues to enthrall the masses, mystify the diehards and rake in loads and loads of cash—love them or hate them, “casual” games like “Farmville” and “Angry Birds” have earned both economic and pop culture relevance. From Microsoft’s “Solitaire” and “Minesweeper” to “Words with Friends” and “Zuma,” the “casual” philosophy is simple: accessible mechanics and quick gratification draw the user into the addictive cycle of trial and reward that makes social obligations seem dramatically less pressing.
What you might not know is just how lucrative the industry is: the games might be banal, but the business is anything but.
Consider Seattle-based game developer PopCap Games, creators of the seminal “Bejeweled,” “Peggle” and “Plants vs. Zombies.” PopCap, a company that deals exclusively with “casual” gaming, garnered so much attention—and revenue—that industry overlord Electronic Arts acquired the company for $750 million in 2006.