In case you’ve been wondering where I’ve been for the past couple months, I have an explanation. I’ve had my head down, working on a casual game that is now ready for sale! It’s called the Zen of Sudoku (yes, that’s Cory’s artwork there!).
Until recently, I never understood why developers would ever leave the “regular” games for casual games. I never saw the appeal of these simple games that generally had cutesy graphics and didn’t push design or technology. When faced with the proposition of trying to become solvent though, I could think of no better way to get some income than to make a small game with mass-appeal. The royalties involve with making casual games is so high that each copy of a casual game sold will tend to make the developer far more money than each game of a “AAA” hard-core game! With ActiveMark, developers can even make good money without relying on a publisher or distributor.
Of course, coming up with something interesting to work on when all you’ve got is 2D graphics (you can’t bank on any 3D acceleration for this market) and about 2 minutes worth of attention span. That’s when I came across the glory of Sudoku.
Sudoku has been quite a phenomenon in the United Kingdom, and is really taking off here in the States as well. So why aren’t there any decent “gamey” versions of Sudoku? I have no idea, which is where the Zen of Sudoku comes in.
I feel like there is latent demand that can be tapped by really lowering the barrier to entry (in true Blue Ocean style). Playing in a newspaper doesn’t require a computer of course, but going from that to actually enjoying the game is a different matter. All you get is the cryptic “Ensure the numbers 1-9 go in every row, column and box” and from there you have to get to the fun. Even the other computer versions of Sudoku out there have cruddy or no tutorials, which is something an electronic version is uniquely suited to do. Add in a peaceful, yet “gamey” interface (no more “spreadsheet” feel) and I think a lot of people will be interested.
The trick here for me is to position the game not for “casual” gamers, but for people who have probably never played a videogame in their life. They have a PC, they go online for e-mail and searching, but they really haven’t seen nice graphics or sound on their machines before. I think that for someone like this (which is a huge huge market), a game that has essentially no system requirements, is a quick download, has a guided tutorial and is non-violent might be just the thing to get them interested in videogames. If they already know the paper version, all the better. This improves upon that by removing the tedium and reworking and focusing on the fun part: perception and logic.
Nearly every game on the big portals sells for $19.95. But because of this positioning for the “real” mass market (so I hope), I’m selling the game for $12.95. This makes the game more competitive with other casual games and Sudoku programs, but more importantly, makes it more comparable to buying a book of Sudoku puzzles or a movie ticket.
So this journey into casual games has been a great learning experience. It’s been wonderful to immerse myself in blue oceans thinking and making games for every day people, as well as having the technology be so simple as to be completely tertiary. What’s been even more exciting to me though is being able to tell people that I meet about what I’m working on and getting a positive reaction. They love the fact that it’s non-violent and I love the fact that I can just give them the website and there’s a good chance they’ll be enjoying it within five minutes. The qualities of the game I’ve worked to acheive are readily apparent shortly after playing. For people that don’t play games, that means they are just a little bit closer to viewing games as positive experiences and as art.
So to Natural Selection players reading this, please realize that I don’t expect to give up developing first-person shooters or real-time strategy games any time soon! I fully expect the next project will be a very kick-ass version of Natural Selection for Source. However, I do expect to create games for bigger audiences when appropriate, and to hopefully innovate in the casual arena. I’d love to make games that aren’t called “casual” but instead “accessible”. Games that are every bit as compelling, rich and artistic as our current generation of games, but with a very low barrier to entry.
In the meantime, if you wanted to directly support my work, please give Zen of Sudoku a try and help spread the word. Thanks,