Casual Gamers Want "Relax" Mode

As the Atom processor makes its way into Netbooks, MIDs and handhelds next year, casual gaming is an opportunity for many software developers to explore developing new games on Intel Architecture. We should see games designed specifically for the hardware such as smaller screen sizes on Netbooks. However I think we may also see games designed specifically for the moods of people using a portable device, i.e. wanting to have a quick break while waiting in doctors office or taking mass transit.

Teresa Carrigan, a professor of Computer Science and game developer for Electrotank, authored an interesting article in Casual Connect’s recent 2009 Summer Magazine(PDF) titled. "Calm Down, Would You?" This article takes a look at how users would like to have options to play casual games in a relaxed mode.

I have to admit this topic resonates with me. If my day isn't already packed with meetings, clearing email, and social networks; rather than a welcome break, video games can often be a huge time suck or a crazy beat the clock stresser. Seriously, Modern Warfare 2 is sizing up to be a number of lost weekends. (arguably a good problem)

And casual games with countdown timers to beat, can be anything but relaxing. How many words can you get in Quordy on the iPhone in 60 seconds. I thought 30 was good until my wife told me she regularly gets 60. Remove the timer and I know I can beat her (well in my head anyway).

According to Teresa

Having to beat a timer can give some players a thrill. There’s that rush of adrenaline that comes with barely squeaking by in the last few seconds, and the joy of finally beating a difficult level after several attempts. This thrill appeals to many players, but by no means to all of them.



In her article Teresa reviewed feedback from casual gamers in online forums and found they are seeking more "relax" modes in their favorite games.

Many users are clamoring for options that allow them to tailor the games they purchase to suit their mood and style of play. Some of the most outspoken users are disabled and would be happy to buy twice as many games as they do now if only those games had a few easy-to-add options




Teresa believes developers can create alternative scoring methods to accommodate relax modes. Here is my shorthand on her tips:

    • Practice mode: Set a mode without a timer, or timer off.

    • Expert, Normal, Easy, Relaxed Mode: If the game doesn’t make sense with no timer, give it a large time limit such as four or eight times that of Expert.

    • Gold, Silver, Blue, Green: Let the player finish or play outside of a target time. Gold goes to those who finish within the target time etc



    • Counting Hints: Allow the gamer to take his time and gather as many hints or hidden objects as possible

    • Counting Unused Power-ups:

    • Counting Moves:

  • Counting Customers (Time Management Games): In time management games that have a goal of earning a target amount of money within a time limit, the relaxed mode might instead require that you earn that sum within a certain number of customers.




I think these make great sense and lend themselves to a casual portable gaming experience. Relaxed mode scoring could also involve social gaming, i.e. send your result to a friend, have them beat you and so on. No timer needed, just one ups-man-ship. That’s how my daughter and I play I SPY; I found 8, I found 10, and so on.

I can also imagine save points and check points in some of these scenarios as a way to reduce long game play, when you're trying to have a quick break.

Teresa concludes

There is a growing pool of potential customers for games that are not fast-paced. In as much as it is quite easy to implement some type of relaxed mode without affecting the basic gameplay, doing so promises increased sales and profits for minimal investment



I have to agree. As games are developed for the convenience and portability of Netbooks, MIDs and handhelds, you have to consider games modes that aid a simple break away from the day, similar to getting off a quick Tweet or checking your Facebook status. As Teresa notes, these can be "relax" modes you adopt for standard games.

And for me, relax modes mean I don’t up my blood pressure while killing time in a doctors waiting room.. seriously I can't figure how she averages 60 words in 60 seconds.

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