Challenge #11: Definition of ‘Casual Game’

The 11th GP challenge might be the most difficult to solve: define casual games. There’s lots of talk and arguments regarding this, and while I think it might be almost impossible to come up with a definition that would please everybody, so I’m going to approach this problem from a bit different point-of-view. Instead of asking you to tell what casual game is, I’d like you to comment and start listing elements that casual games have. These elements or typical features do not have to match with all casual games, and you can also use negative patterns to describe what casual games are not. For example, you could say “casual games typically cost about $20 (non discounted)”, or you could say “casual games are not done using million dollar budget”.

Here’s some ideas to help start thinking:

  • price
  • development budget
  • playing time
  • replay value
  • typical gameplay elements
  • distribution channel
  • download size
  • development team

I will update the above list as I get comments from you.

Some resources where people have discussed this:

I personally enjoy the definition I saw at Wonderland:

“If my mom can play it, it’s a casual game”

Well said.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. Ironically Casual games can exhibit more intricate gameplay than hardcore. Take for example the racing game versus scrabble. Which of these is more intricate and nuanced?

    The defining feature of casual games is that they are popular outside of the niche audience of hardcore games. They appeal to popular culture if you will. Generally this means that the theme or story is accessible to a mainstream audience (think soap rather than BSG), and that the game is understandable quickly.

    Note this does not imply that they are simple, or limited, or have less gameplay or story than hardcore.

    They are the games equivalent of pop, where hardcore is thrash.

  2. I think a lot of the features that have been listed are not mutually exclusive to casual games – price, low time commitment, size, games your mother can play, etc.

    In the end, I think the only possible definition of a casual game is a game that is “easily accesible.” That one phrase pretty much encompasses all the features of casual games, while not pigeon-holding it to certain audiences, sizes, prices, genres, distribution models, etc.

    For example, I would argue that “Super Monkey Ball” on the Wii is a casual game – but it is not cheap, not small, not targeted towards my mother, etc. “Easily accesible” covers the features that make Super Monkey Ball a casual game – small learning curve, in-complex controls, immediate positive feedback, mini-game structure, etc.


  3. Whoa… so much ideas about what casual games are. It’ll take some time to summarize everything. So far there seems to be one feature that everybody agrees: “Casual games can be played in short time frames whenever one feels the urge to play”.

    I suppose bit more answers are needed to get more features. Any other comments?

  4. The primary factor, I feel, is that casual games have a low time commitment. Casual games can be played in short time frames whenever one feels the urge to play — maybe fifteen minutes during lunch break, for example. This is supported by frequent rewards and limited narrative. Casual games can be picked up and put down at any time — even being able to go weeks between play times without the player becoming disoriented.

    In contrast, non-casual games demand long periods of frequent play. An intricate story and/or complex goals would require players to return to the game quickly — before forgetting what he/she was suppose to do. Going a couple of weeks without playing the game may leave the player lost and confused because over time the game had built up to where it is now, and some of that play history may be forgotten.

    Returning to Tetris after a year of not playing would be much easier than returning to one of the Final Fantasy games after a year.

    Of course this does not mean that casual games need to be super simplistic with each period of play being isolated events. Consider a game that builds up over time. I do not know if this game exists — it may — but consider a game about gardening. Each play period could be short (10 to 20 minutes) while still building up upon previous times played by planting and pulling weeds.

  5. I believe a casual game is a game that is fun however you choose to play it. If you chose to play a game for a few minutes a day, or for the whole week. As long as you can load it and play it for just a bit at a time, and suffer no penalty for playing less than others(besides skill gained of course) than it is a casual game.

  6. A casual game is a game that is played and enjoyed by “people who don’t play games”.

    I often site mini-golf as the world’s most popular casual game (not video game mini-golf, but real live mini-golf).

  7. Casual games typically have shorter learning curves.

    Casual games typically have an earlier/faster-paced reward structure.

  8. Good tutorial, easy to start with then introducing new elements quickly to prevent boredom, non-punishing gameplay, often a story mode and map, also often a “relaxed” mode, meta game or trophy collecting. That’s enough for now

    Many of these things are in AAA titles too, but they are also common in good casual games which are customer focused. They are designed so that you can pick it up and learn it easily and have fun and want more all within 60 minutes so that you buiy it of course :)

  9. Casual games allow interaction and immersion without requiring large time investments and previous game skills from the end user.

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