GDC Mobile: It’s all about the Casual Game

For the last two days I’ve been hearing some very interesting going-ons at GDC Mobile.

Monday, some folks from EA gave a talk and are beginning to ramp up their efforts in the mobile front.

Karthik Swaminathan gave a nice talk outlining some of the perceptual cues necessary for consuming content on a small screen. Where basic psychological cues become bigger factors. Things such as contract, proximity, peripheral vision, and grouping all become ever more important on a small screen when your eyes are focusing on such a small focal point. Many of us practice these things on a daily basis, but rehearing the basic constructs from where they were formed was quite nice.

As well: Matt Haney gave a good talk on the philosophy of mobile game design. He talked about drawing in ideas from The Schedules of Reinforcement, by Skinner, The Stages of Birth, from Jean Piaget, and Maslow’s Hierarchy. While, I have to admit most of these learnings can be applied to most Game Design as a whole, Matt did do an excellent job of pointing out that games are about Fullfilling Basic Needs. He noted that most games about fulfilling simple needs, for example the game Perfection about pattern matching, Battleship about sorting and searching, and Tamagotchi about parenting.

Yesterday, my friends (Marko Turpeinen, Fernando Herrera, and Risto Sarvas) at HIIT Digital Content Communities Group gave a nice presentation on some of the work they are doing there with Community Photo Sharing. I worked with folks at HIIT while at Berkeley and much of our work continues to be very parallel. Futurice, a small (excellent) Symbian Developer company just released their first commercial product of the work done at HIIT. It’s about sharing photos on your mobile with your private group of friends. The product is called Photos to Friends ( In their words: “Free and Private Photo Sharing.” Marko gave a nice plug about Caterpillar Mobile (yeah!) and it sparked some great discussion in the audience about gaming with photos, not just the camera (which was really quite nice to hear). I think we are doing things that people will really like.

That leads me to what I have found as the most interesting thing about going to GDC: THE HYPE OF THE CASUAL GAME. It seems as though many people are just beginning to really understand this concept. They are talking about how the market for mobile games is NOT the same as the gamer market. They are trying to figure out how to create short burst, interesting games which users can play in their free time. However, many of the people in this space are coming at it from a gamers perspective. They are talking about high-end 3D rendering engines, haptic responses, and tactile reflexes. They are using the camera for coordinates or putting real images on character bodies, just because they can. They are thinking about how to create video games. Only mobile video games requiring short interaction times.

I find it very interesting. I don’t think of it that way, and don’t know if I ever did. At anyrate, the buzz around the conference was that the next killer app would be something that was totally immersive with a short augmented experience. However, creating that experience by thinking about narrative stories with fully developed characters and trying to place real photos on their heads will hardly get you there.

I was talking with Liz Goodman last night. We both have a similar perspective on this (maybe that’s why we both have had such similar projects). Why not start with a real world experiences and then augment part of it. Why not first study how children play with sticks, play tag, and shoot a soccer ball. Then think about what you can bring to them to make the game distributed and the time lapse lasting.

Then as a really kicker, remove yourself from calling it a game. Don’t focus on winning and loosing. Build the mechanics of play into your platform and watch people explore, create, and build with it. Watch the community grow together. I think that’s the sort of interaction that is going to be the killer app of this market.

… and I hope that I am working on building it right now. 😉


One thought on “GDC Mobile: It’s all about the Casual Game

  1. Karthik Swaminathan

    Hello Anita,

    Jane Wells here had looked up your blog and found my name [though mispelled] in one of your entries. Thanks for the good words and I look forward to reading more from your blog. How is life in SF? That is possibly one of the most beautiful places to live in America.

    Karthik Swaminathan


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