Casual Game Reviews Don’t Matter

By: Derek Yu

On: December 14th, 2007

Kathy Vrabeck

“[Casual gamers] are not swayed by a low score on IGN or a low score out of one of these gaming sites,” she continues. “It’s a little bit amusing, in that it’s people reviewing games against measures that are important to core gamers yet are not important to casual gamers.”

Kathy Vrabeck, President, EA Casual

Next-Gen has an interesting look into the correlation between casual game reviews and casual game sales. Not surprisingly, bad reviews don’t really impact the sales of casual games, since ostensibly casual gamers don’t read reviews. (And if we’re talking about IGN, then that’s probably a good thing.)

What I find amusing, though, is how callous the perceived attitude is toward casual gamers by the people who publish them. Here’s a quote from EA Casual VP, Russell Arons:

“…The measurement [of a game’s appeal] for women aged 25 to 34 would more likely be whether or not they’d hang up on their girlfriend to play this game.”

Geez. I realize that no one is forcing people to buy casual games and that a lot of people enjoy them. Regardless, I’m looking forward to the day when women aged 25 to 34 are not viewed merely as apathetic cash cows with money-laden milk udders, content to chew whatever gaming cud you give them.

  • Space Ranger

    She’s fat, ginger and doesn’t look like shes played a game in her life.

  • Mischief Maker

    As opposed to mainstream gamers, who are treated with respect and for whom developers like EA are constantly mixing up formulas and offering interesting and original ideas and mechanics to keep up with their rapidly jading sensibilities.

  • Jonathan Blow
  • Chris

    I think I’d have better things to do than take game advice from EA.

  • rinkuhero

    I agree with MM — I don’t think they treat “gamers” any better than they casual players.

  • I Like Cake

    I would like the new industry terminology for ‘players,’ ‘gamers’ or ‘customers’ to be ‘dollar signs.’

    I think it would be refreshingly honest to read, “Frankly, we think dollar signs the world over are going to be impressed at our new one-hundred-percent realistic head-crushing physics.”

  • crackers

    Stupid EA, you can still play games whilst on the phone.

  • BigBossSNK

    I don’t think that Arons guy was being callous. I find his interpretation of gaming demographics not far from reality. Whether you are a hardcore, average or casual gamer depends on the investment you are willing to make to play games (be that a monetary, time, mental etc. investment).
    Casual gamers by definition want a brisk diversion, or one they can incorporate in their lives easily (hence only mouse control, light themes, lots and lots of pattern repetitions).
    ”…The measurement [of a game’s appeal] for women aged 25 to 34 would more likely be whether or not they’d hang up on their girlfriend to play this game.”
    Yep, that seems about right.

  • TeeGee

    I work at a studio that makes casual games and is very successful at that. We all here get extremally pissed when we hear that casual games are for 25-34 women and therefore should be pink, in bad taste and stupid. As if every fat, male, hiden-behind-glasses, stinking sweat T-shirt game developer would be an expert in understanding women.

    That’s utter bullshit! Casual games should be fun, simple, very well designed and well… casual — which means anybody could play them and have a good time. ANYBODY! Not idiotic 25-34 shopping-crazy, fashion-victimized stupid woman stereotype. What makes me happy is that all those terrible Fashion Frenzy/schmenzy/whatever sold like shit… which they are.

    And EA can suck my balls!

    Rant over…

  • BigBossSNK

    The article doesn’t claim that casual gamers are mostly stereotypical 25-34 year old women. It says that if you focus within the casual gamer sphere onto a specific demographic (25-34 year old women, no stereotypes included) ease of play is more important to them than say great art/ huge levels/ complexity of gameplay. So between a very accessible, but a little shallow game and a less accessible but more complex game, this specific demographic will choose the former.

  • TakaM

    casual gamers get so abused by self “hardcore gamers”/fanboys, but by definition, they don’t use the internet so they have no idea lawwwwwl.

    but seriously, now that gaming has been split into ‘hardcore’ and ‘casual’ I’m too ashamed to be a part of either, the hardcores piss me off with their elitest bullshit and hate for their own mother for playing wiisports, and I don’t think I quite fit into the casual category.
    it’s like right/left wing, I don’t want to be a part of either, just let me be a fuckin gamer and play the games I want.
    I buy and play all kinds of games, i shouldn’t be forced into a category.

  • BigBossSNK

    TakaM who forced you into a category?
    Tell me so I can kick his ass. Categorizing mother*censored*

  • haowan

    “crackers said about 6 hours later:

    Stupid EA, you can still play games whilst on the phone.”

    There’s an important point here I think, in that where you have a customer who has a conflicting desire that might stop them playing your game, that it’s seen as a barrier rather than a challenge. Why not make it so that your customers can chat to each other while playing – from the game interface.

  • Cube

    I’m with TakaM here. I don’t consider myself “hardcore” or “casual.” I’m just a guy who likes to play video games.

  • BeamSplashX

    I’ll play casual games with/alongside someone, but in all honesty, Dynasty Warriors on Easy is “casual” enough for me.

  • rinkuhero

    The games press are the ones who created those categories. Good luck beating them up D:

  • BigBossSNK

    Rinku, did they categorize you too? Man, I’m gonna get me a can of woop-*censored* and show them marketing department yuppies what hardcore really means.

  • PasajeroVerde

    OMG Derek are you commie?

  • Curt

    TakaM has won the big teddy bear, as far as I’m concerned. Gaming can only grow when people start pushing over the barriers that have started to restrict more than define. The artificial casual/core gaming thing is being challenged (not least by us, if I can auto-horn-toot a little). Why shouldn’t playing a core game be easy? And (heaven forfend) fun? Why shouldn’t “casual” games be nuanced, and challenging?

  • rinkuhero

    I don’t mind if they categorize, except that their categories are often stereotypes (as TeeGee mentioned), and they make games based on those categories. For instance, I know a few 25-35 females who play games, but none who play casual games (to my knowledge), and what they tend to care about is interesting stories and characters, something casual games lack virtually always.

  • Anthony Flack

    I think the problem is that every sort of game, be it ultra-casual balloon-popping tedium, impenetrably dense turn-based strategy, hardcore LOLFAG multiplayer FPS games, claustrophobic headache-inducing bullet-hell shooters, or gold-farming Tolkien-themed massively-multiplayer life-draining grindfests, is that they tend to get stuck in a sort of self-reinforcing feedback loop, with each subsequent generation of games becoming even further entrenched in the conventions of its genre and the expectations of its target demographic.

  • Obscuritan

    This does my head in a bit, casual gaming and all that. In their current states, a “casual game”, (being one that is easy to get into, accessible and requires a low investment of money, time, etc.) is far cheaper to make and far easier to market than a “hardcore game”, (one which is deep in terms of direction, meaning, complexity, and so forth).

    What worries me is that we’ll end up with an ever-shrinking market for “hardcore games”, simply because it’s not financially feasible to make the next Deus Ex, so everyone just makes gimmick games, sells them on the Wii Network or XBLA, and calls it a day.

    And then there’s further pressure on those devs who are still making deep games to cut their ideas off at the knees to reduce production cost/time, make it kid-friendly so it will sell better, and so forth.

    Well, it looks like we’re going to have to rely on indie devs.

  • Movius

    everyone else is viewed as apathetic cash cows with money-laden milk udders.

    why would women aged 25 to 34 be any different

  • BigBossSNK

    The market usually finds a balance between big studio mainstream productions and indie creativity. This has it’s ups and downs, but a free market rarely polarizes heavily between the two unless there’s some external regulation. That’s what we can extrapolate from the movie industry.

  • I Like Cake

    The main issue for me, personally, is that the stereotyping is kind of insulting. I don’t like that female gamers in the age 25 to 34 demographic are expected to have one particular response en masse. It betrays a shallow understanding of human nature, I guess. It’s a shitty way to look at people.

    Regarding the forcing of people into categories, that’s really not necessarily an inaccurate statement. Social categories of casual and hardcore gamers have been created by the gaming media to describe a particular phenomenon, but the end result, as is often the case with broad social categories, is personal identification of the majority with a social role, and then normative social pressure exerted by that majority to maintain the status quo of ‘acceptable’ behavior.

    Maybe read up on your Zizek?

  • BigBossSNK

    What normative social pressure, dude? People play what they like, with maybe a slight tilt from hearsay. There is no social pressure to belong in one group or the other. If anything, the community is expanding on it’s own rules with new people entering through the Wii and DS.

  • MetalSnake

    This is coming from EA… I mean does anyone take anything that any of their PR staff takes seriously? Has anyone ever tried contacting a member of EA’s staff for Tech Support? You wanna talk about treatment of customers? They’re the reason why Indie Developers still exist (it’s an irony in and of itself… this is a good thing). They want control of every aspect of the gaming industry, thank god they don’t have it yet but their influence is definitely apparent. Just look as some of the crap that has been released under EA’s “watchful” eye. They’re taking the direction of the old Record Labels and Producers where they control all of the money, gain most of the profits (the bread and butter) yet do not actually contribute first hand in any of the creative or development process, but they do have the authority to “Axe” ideas and try to hold their own focus groups to gear these new games towards the generic – I mean general public. They’ve been picking up every company they can get their hands on recently (through mergers/hostile takeovers), including the smaller “casual” publishing houses… Games and the Gaming Industry is headed in the wrong direction if companies like EA are left holding the proverbial wheel. This is why it’s my opinion that we need more like minded individuals such as Indie Developers and the smaller developing houses who care about the work and what goes into their product just as much as profits and returns, their’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money – but I believe their should be some integrity as to how you made that money. That’s just my opinion though and by the example that EA has set it’s obvious not everyone agrees.

  • Jake Birkett

    Great discussion, love some of the comments! Comic was cool and the idea of renaming players as dollar signs was pretty darn funny. Yeah I wouldn’t believe anything you hear from EA, just believe what you’ve tested yourself. For example, I saw the demographics of the 800+ beta testers of Fairway Solitaire – that’s good data to draw some conclusions from.

  • PHeMoX

    I can’t see much wrong with their ‘definition’ actually. It’s just another way of saying those will be the people that might play your games as long as they are interesting and/or addictive enough…

    I think a lot of women of that age do not talk on the phone 24/7 with their friends as if they have nothing else to do and their life depends on it, but it’s quite clear they’ve simply meant to say that for casual games to become successful they must be able to catch these people their attention somehow… be it hype, gameplay or whatever.

    For a certain subcategory of that age it’s absolutely a valid definition… you know, the slightly too rich and utterly bored kind of women…

  • Quiest

    Please post some more news, that face of her is annoying me everytime I scroll down in the hope of more news >_<

  • Air

    When interpreting the “insulting” sterotypes of a corporate bigwig like EA, you must always keep in mind the simple fact that such entities really don’t care much about people who *aren’t* cash cows. After all, their main (and possibly only) goal is to make money, and the best way to make money — and this has been proven time and time again — is to cater to *high spenders*: people who just plain like to spend money on things.

    So whenever EA or anyone else talks about their demographic, they are automatically referring to high impulse-spenders only. When they say “women 25-35” they really mean “women 25-35 who like to spend money like crazy.” They don’t care about the rest of us non-spenders, because we generally do research before spending money; and that means they can’t sell us tons of cheaply-made crap for absurd prices. Trying to cater to intelligent spenders is a much more difficult business plan.

    That’s also why EA Casual’s sales aren’t affected by bad reviews. It makes this quote/report kind of ironic really: The very nature of their targeted market is people who *don’t* research purchases in general. So when they make games tailored to impulse-buy spenders, it’s kind of a “DUH!” type thing to then say “wow! Reviews don’t affect our sales.”

    Actually, that’s the most insulting aspect of Kathy’s comment. In a way she sounds like she’s pinning the blame for review ineffectiveness on reviewer confusion:

    “It’s a little bit amusing, in that it’s people reviewing games against measures that are important to core gamers yet are not important to casual gamers.”

    … but then even if you write a review that measures a game via the criteria for a casual gamer, THEY STILL NEVER BOTHER TO READ IT ANYWAY. That’s the whole point of that market demographic in the first place; that they don’t research their buys.

    So yeah, it’s “a little bit amusing” that Kathy doesn’t realize that IGN is simply catering to their own market — which is people who at least care enough to read about something before dropping some cash. Trying to cater to EA Casual’s “games review market” would be a foolish waste of time. ;)