Serious Gaming: Looking Ahead to Casual Connect

As a newly recruited tech writer here at Xconomy Seattle, I feel I have to be straight with you and reveal a potentially career-threatening secret: I have never been to a gaming conference, “casual,” “core,” or otherwise. Now I know what you’re thinking—how could that be? Well, I’ll tell you, I’m not quite sure. I’ve been known to enjoy playing Wii Fit at home or Words with Friends on my iPhone. But all you gamers and game developers, don’t worry, I’m eager to take my gaming knowledge up a few notches this week at my very first gaming conference, Casual Connect.

Casual Connect is a three-day conference full of seminars, video game exhibitions, business meetings, lectures, and networking opportunities for the people who play and develop casual games. The event occurs three times a year—once in Seattle, once in Kyiv, Ukraine, and one more time in a rotating European location. Run by the Casual Games Association, an international casual games organization, the conference will bring more than 3,000 gaming professionals and fans from all over the world to countless events at Benaroya Hall and the Triple Door from Tuesday, July 20 to Thursday, July 22. And from what I hear from last year’s coverage, the conference is quite a spectacle.

Though not quite as big of an event as the Penny Arcade Expo, which draws gamers in the tens of thousands, Casual Connect is a must for those who run in casual gaming circles. The schedule is jam-packed full of events covering topics ranging from game design to emerging trends, mobile gaming, game development, social gaming, and games for gamers.

I’ll be dropping by some of the events throughout the week (though I wish I could spend three whole days delving into the casual gaming world) and tweeting live coverage from the conference, which you can follow at In the meantime, here are my top 10 interesting sessions (and trends) to watch for:

—The Future of Social Gaming: Lessons Learned to Date and the Choices Before Us (Tuesday, 10 am)

Playdom CEO John Pleasants discusses the how companies choose the right path to success amidst the rapidly growing industry, from game innovation to third party publishing deals, branded content, and multi-platform games.

—Browser Tech Smackdown! (Tuesday, 2 pm)

Jim Greer (founder & CEO, Kongregate), David Helgason (CEO, Unity), Danielle Deibler (Engineering manager for Flash platform, Adobe), Mark DeLoura (game developer advocate, Google) discuss how the web gaming industry has changed over the last five years, and where they think the technology will go—Flash? 3D? Something new?

—Playing God! Creating ‘God Games’ for a Broader Audience (Tuesday, 3 pm)

Last Day of Work founder and lead designer Arthur Humphrey on the increasing popularity of ‘God Games’—from core gaming to mega-hits—the pros and cons of the genre, innovations in game design, and the design and implementation considerations needed to make these games more accessible to casual gamers.

—Why Friends Matter: Designing Social Emotion (Wednesday, 10 am)

Playfish general manager Dan Fiden talks about designing meaningful social interactions, and getting “truly and deeply social is more important than ever to the success of your mass market game.”

—Extra! Extra! Big Casual Gaming Developers Go Social (Wednesday, 1 pm)

Jeff Revoy (VP of social networking, GameHouse), Ofer Leidner (CSO & co-founder, Oberon Media), Will O’Brien (VP of social games, Big Fish Games), and Derrick Morton (CEO, Flowplay), discuss the changing Internet climate and how to harness the social game “phenomenon” to boost traffic, engage new players, and explore new methods of distribution and monetization.

—Hero Up! Bringing Marvel’s Super Heroes to the Masses in a casual MMOG (Wednesday, 1 pm)

Studio Gazillion Entertainment vice president Jason Robar as he discusses some of the struggles his team faced—from art design, to social space, game play, and mission—while creating Marvel MMOG (massively multiplayer online gaming) Super Hero Squad Online.

—Metagaming: The Gamification of Life. Exploring Game Mechanics Outside of Games (Thursday, 10 am)

Gabe Zichermann (Author/analyst, beamME), Amy Jo Kim (CEO, Shufflebrain), Keith Smith (CEO & co-founder, BigDoor), Naveen Selvadurai (co-founder, Foursquare), and Tim Chang (principal, Norwest Venture Partners) discuss how business can apply gaming concepts to life experiences and products can drive revenue and growth.

—Monetization: Now What? (Thursday, 9 am)

Matt Shea, the senior vice president of product development at Redmond, WA-based WildTangent, discusses how the growth and hype of social games has changed the monetization environment for social games and how developers can position themselves for success as the industry continues to evolve.

—Your Own Zombie Army—Driving User Behavior & Business Value with Game Mechanics and Behavioral Economics (Thursday, 2 pm)

Bunchball senior vice president of sales and business development David Tyler discusses how to address and leverage the fundamental human needs for status, achievement, reward, competition, and self-expression through game mechanics to increase engagement, consumption, loyalty, content creation, and more.

—Story, Narrative Design, and Dialog: What Causal Games Should Be Doing Differently (Thursday, 3 pm)

EGK Interactive game designer and “hardcore” games writer Ed Kuehnel talks about the growing important of story and narrative design in casual gaming, and the process of intertwining a creative story with gameplay and good “dialog.”

Thea Chard is a correspondent for Xconomy Seattle. You can e-mail her at or follow her on Twitter at Follow @

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