How Casual Games are like American Idol

  1. There are vociferous judges. Sites like RealArcade, BigFishGames, Yahoo Games, and my own company iWin vet (audition) which games we think the audience will like. I’ll leave it to you to match which companies are the Randys, Paulas, or Simons of our industry.
  2. It’s Darwinistic. A fledgling game must immediately get to the top. If you miss the Top 10 list, you might as well have not competed.
  3. It’s all about what the people want. Ultimately, it’s pure democracy (albeit with multiple votes by hormone-laden Sanjaya-loving girls). The masses vote for the tolp games with each purchase. Money talks.
  4. It’s not about who is strictly the best. Because of the weekly elimation format of American Idol, two similar but equally talented gospel-based singers will fight for the same audience and one will eventually lose out — even if she is ultimately more talented than other contestants. Casual games rely on the the same timing and positioning. If two time management epics come out at the same time only one will earn everyone’s dollars and attention.
  5. It’s all about being accessible. Simon will cut you to pieces if you try to sing a song you may love but that nobody has ever heard of. Additionally, exceptionally talented singers with narrow appeal will sink like an unrolling stone. Likewise, most new or experimental mechanics in casual games crash and burn, no matter how polished or innovative the game may be.
  6. Cloning breeds accessibility. Archaeologists in bejeweled jungles, plucky young women starting menial businesses, or mysteries in cluttered old mansions. Enough said.
  7. Too much cloning fails at a certain point. As with Idol, the audience knows when they have a pure rip-off on their hands — no matter how slickly produced a game it is. Ultimately, a game needs soul and a spark of originally to win out.
  8. Everyone thinks they can do it. For every game published on the portals — even the ones that distribute a game a day — there are dozens that don’t make it. Maybe someone can create a site to showcase exceptionally bad games, which may be as funny to play as it is to watch as William Hung sing. Or not.
  9. Personality matters. Notice those little Roman Numerals on most site Top 10 lists? We’re even seeing some Vs now. Sequels of popular franchises all sell because the audience wants more of a proven good thing. Star power is huge and become self-fulfilling.
  10. Both are crown jewels of our pop culture. Casual games are no longer fringe. While they may not yet garner the audience of American Idol, more and more people are spending more and more of their leisure time with them. Now if only we can produce the game equivalent of Carrie Underwood.
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