Daily Puzzles: My Strategy for Casual Gaming
Scott Kim, March 19, 2002
Casual Gaming on the Rise
Computer gaming is going mainstream. Now computer games are being played by females and males of all ages, not just by teenage boys.
The games that are most popular with this new mainstream audience are the same types of casual games that have always been popular with families:
Game shows like Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune, for small groups of players
Table games like hearts and chess, for groups of two to four players
Puzzle games like crossword and jigsaw puzzles, for individual players
Room for New Ideas
Until recently, casual gaming web sites like Pogo (pogo.com) and the Zone (zone.com) were dominated by traditional table games like Hearts and Bingo. Now a new crop of action puzzle games, led by rival start-up game companies PopCap (popcap.com) and GameHouse (gamehouse.com) in Seattle are topping the charts with action puzzle games like Diamond Mine and Collapse.
Puzzle games are among the most popular titles on download game sites like RealArcade. Since these sites let players try before they buy, games do not have to rely on brand names to be successful.
The success of games like Diamond Mine proves that there is room for new ideas. A well-tuned game on a high traffic site can draw a crowd even if the idea is unfamiliar.
Casual game developers tend to be small agile companies that can operate on small budgets. Many are single-person operations, and few have more than ten employees. Development times are rarely more than a few months, and can be as short as a week.
Most casual game developers are pursuing a business strategy that includes a mixture of venues. For instance, veteran web game developer Clevermedia, founded in 1995, started by developing its own
destination site and making money off ad
revenues. As ad revenues started drying up, it shifted toward customizing its games for paying clients. Now Clevermedia offers enhanced versions of its games for paid download.
All of these strategies support one another. The web site attracts first-time players and generates ad revenues. Some visitors to the web site go on to purchase downloaded games. The web site acts as a portfolio that attracts companies that want custom games.
Other strategies include syndicating games to web sites (yellowbrix.com), charging players a subscription fee (upuzzles.com), and selling games through traditional retail channels.
Of course the web is not the only platform for casual games. Gameboy, Palm and PocketPC are big markets, and mobile phone games loom on the horizon as an enormous opportunity. Many casual game developers offer their games on several of these platforms.
The Power of Daily Puzzles
Crossword puzzles are the most popular indoor game, according to a recent Gallup poll. One in seven Americans play at least one crossword a week. There are hundreds of magazines devoted just to crossword puzzles, and crossword puzzle books are among the top-selling books.
Why are crossword puzzles so popular? First of all the crossword puzzle form is a brilliantly designed game format: easy to learn, hard to master, and every word unlocks part of several other words.
A major reason crossword puzzles are so popular is that they are delivered daily. The daily puzzle format is a potent one.
Free. The best way to get people to play your game is to place it in a high-profile location and give it away for free. For instance Solitaire is the most-played PC game because Microsoft bundles it as part of Windows.
Daily ritual. For many people puzzles are a pleasant daily ritual, a break from the news. Daily delivery is a great way to keep a game in the players awareness.
Authored. Crossword authors give their puzzles aesthetic depth by skillfully incorporating themes.
Varied content. Themes that change from puzzle to puzzle sustain the players interest over time.
Electronic Daily Puzzles
Syndication sites like YellowBrix and Uclick (uclick.com) charge sites a small monthly fee to deliver fresh daily or weekly content. Sites are willing pay subscription fees because fresh content is an effective way to keep people coming back to a site.
Crossword puzzles are already a killer app in the syndication space. The Universal Crossword puzzle on Uclick is syndicated to over 200 sites, and played by over a million people.
Electronic media make it possible to deliver other sorts of puzzles every day. A daily jigsaw puzzle would be impractical in physical media, but is easy to do online. Jim Collins daily jigsaw puzzle, a popular feature on Shockwave (shockwave.com), is now syndicated through Uclick.
Scott Kim, Puzzlemaster
My specialty is creating thoughtful original puzzle games. My first computer game, Heaven & Earth (1992), included over 600 original puzzles.
I have always felt that the best venue for me is daily, weekly and monthly puzzles. Over the past fifteen years I have created over 200 monthly puzzles for magazines such as Discover, NewMedia and Publish.
Now I am ready to launch daily puzzles for online media. I am already creating a weekly feature for i-mode phone in Japan, and am working with several companies in the United States, including Digital Mercenaries (digital-mercenaries.com), to develop re-usable puzzle engines that will make it easy to deliver daily puzzles at a reasonable cost. If you are interested in working with me, please contact me at:
Scott Kim 650-728-8582 firstname.lastname@example.org scottkim.com
To see my puzzles, visit