Novermber 11, 2010

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Keep it casual
Gaming for non-nerds
By John Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

Oh man did I get such a bargain recently. You know that hot new game, Bejeweled 2 Deluxe? Free. Got it totally free. I’m awesome.

OK, so it was being given away free for its 10th anniversary in October. Maybe not really hot or new but a fun timewaster. And the download version has more features than the limited one you can play on the developer’s website, PopCap.com.

PopCap was one of the pioneers of casual gaming online. If you’ve ever opened up Solitaire or Minesweeper, you’re a casual gamer. You play computer games once in a while, but you don’t get yourself amped up about the latest and greatest $50 titles, and you don’t spend hours every night glued to a screen.

You also don’t spend thousands of dollars upgrading your hardware every few months to meet the ridiculous demands of premium games. No, casual gaming can be accomplished with a very modest computer, while all your other programs are still open. Many even run within a Web browser.

Online casual gaming takes many forms, from quick shoot-the-robots deals to crossword puzzles. If you have any Facebook friends at all, you’re surely aware of FarmVille and dozens of other games that you can not only play on the site, but constantly update your friends about how you’re frittering your life away doing so.

It’s hardly the only social network with games. New ones are springing up centered on casual gaming — and trying to make it less casual so you’ll fork over your hard-earned cash.

GameStop, a brick-and-mortar retailer of games and game hardware, is plunging deep into the online gaming marketplace with Kongregate.com. More than just a site with a few browser-based games, Kongregate allows users to upload games they’ve created and earn all kinds of rewards they can display elsewhere on the site — Cards, Kreds, Badges, Achievements, Points, all kinds of stuff. Your profile includes the awards you’ve earned and games you’ve created.

A more traditional site is iWin.com, with a vast collection of paid and free games supported by advertising. You won’t find much innovation here; there are lots (LOTS) of puzzle games, dressed up with different backgrounds and attempts at quest-type stories. You download and install games rather than play them right there, so there’s a bit more time investment required, and the social aspect is limited to forums of fellow players.

Then again, why settle for free games when you could actually win stuff playing? Setting aside questionable gambling sites and “job” ads that claim you can earn $50 an hour “testing” games, one of the biggest and oldest play-for-prizes sites is iWon.com (not to be confused with iWin.com). They’ve embraced the social networking model by integrating profiles and friendships, and you can even log in with your Facebook identity. There are instant-win games as well as games that award Coins, which you can then spend in periodic sweepstakes.

Of course most of the major Web portals like Yahoo! and MSN have sites dedicated to social gaming. Many are PopCap titles or otherwise available elsewhere on the Web. Curiously, big daddy Google doesn’t, though rumors were swirling this summer that it would be partnering with Zynga, maker of FarmVille, in the near future. We shall see.


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