Are Casual Games Dead? Viximo and Z2Live Founders Weigh In Coast-to-Coast on Social Gaming Movement
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So I reached out to David Bluhm, the co-founder and CEO of Seattle-based Z2Live, which has developed a software platform for making mobile games social.
Bluhm has plenty of experience tracking the casual games market and business models. Z2Live, for example, helps companies like Big Fish take games such as hidden-object puzzles and make them into multiplayer mobile games, available on iPhones, iPads, and iPods through the iTunes App Store. (Though Big Fish has maintained its traditional model of selling its downloadable games for real money, instead of moving to “freemium” models with in-app purchase incentives. Bluhm says there is “a lot of growing concern over the adoption of Web-based, free-to-play models effectively moving to mobile where it is still hard to grow communities” across different carriers and devices.)
In response to the Viximo blog post, Bluhm wrote me via e-mail:
“1. There are multiple $100M+ businesses (even just here in Seattle—such as Big Fish, PopCap, GameHouse, and Microsoft) selling casual games across a wide variety of platforms. Many are solid, great, profitable casual game businesses.
2. Viximo is correct to note that social game companies have, in fact, created greater shareholder value and been better financially rewarded than any other segment in gaming as of late (i.e. Playdom, PlayFish, Zynga). There is a clear trend towards social that will not likely diminish.
3. But….many of the traditional casual game companies will have an easier time building communities and social experiences around their existing and vast IP—than most new, upstart social game entrants. The incumbents have very loyal customers and deliver great game experiences.
4. Big media, portals and publishers will buy their way into social gaming (Disney/EA/Google).
5. And in some cases, the incumbents will fail to make the transition and eventually become smaller players or faded memories.”
So it sounds like it remains to be seen how the traditional casual-game makers and distributors will fare in the social world. And despite the meteoric rise of companies like Playdom and Zynga, it’s not clear that all casual gamers want their experiences to be social—WorldWinner, for example, says many of its players are professional women or full-time moms who just like to grab an occasional 30 minutes of “me time.” But it is interesting that both Balfour and Bluhm agree there will be some consolidation in the casual games sector.