Casual Connect: A Preview

Seattle will soon be filled with casual game designers, developers and industry professionals for the Casual Connect conference. The conference features many well-known speakers from independent to triple-A developers, with the purpose of discussing the business of social and casual gaming.

Over the three-day conference, talks will mainly focus on growth, management and monetization, but the conference also caters to aspiring casual game designers. Below are some of the best topics and speakers in attendance:

Day 1: July 24

Designing Original Games

Daniel Cook, Spry Fox

To become a master designer, you need to break past a slavish devotion of past forms and create vibrant, new experiences. This design talk covers practical techniques for reinventing game genres. The goal is the invention of a unique and highly differentiated customer value proposition that makes both strong business sense and is also deeply creatively fulfilling. We cover designing from the root, reducing design risk, and igniting original franchises. We also cover the pitfalls of design innovation and how to thrive in a highly competitive market.

Daniel “Danc” Cook is a game designer and blogger.  His blog Lost Garden dates back to 2005 and features thoughtful posts on game design and leads me to believe he is capable of following through on what is likely one of the most ambitious topics at the conference: Designing Original Games.

How to Put Actual Strategy in Social Games

Dan Chao, Funzio

Making social games that actually have strategy has been a challenging problem. What can be used from traditional games and what has to be morphed to work for social games? How can you make a game where the strategy isn’t just “more is better” but is still compatible with social play patterns? How do you balance monetization, retention, virality, fun, and strategy? By using examples from the social and mobile space, this talk will go over a few core design concepts that Dan has formulated as he made his transition from traditional to social games.

This is a topic I have been interested in for a long time. As a fan of strategy games, it never feels as if social games really focus strategy on getting players hooked on the game to eventually attempting to monetize them through longer waits and micro transactions.  Free to play games are especially guilty of designing games for mass appeal and are rarely positioned for more challenging problem solving.

Attracting and Retaining Talent in a Competitive Industry

Colleen McCreary, Zynga

Zynga’s Chief People Officer Colleen McCreary will speak about the importance of attracting and retaining talent. Topics include building a company where people can build a real career, uniting the employee base through core values and connecting the world through games.

Sheer curiosity draws me to this panel if for no other reason than to hear how McCreary responds to the criticism that Zynga received from the New York Times on its poor work environment last year. I am curious to see whether that criticism has changed Zynga’s approach to retention.

Day 2: July 25

Gaming in the Classroom: What Do Teachers Really Think?

Allisyn Levy, BrainPOP

Educational games can be powerful learning tools. Based on new research conducted by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and BrainPOP, this presentation will highlight teachers’ candid attitudes and beliefs about the future of games in the classroom and what types of games are on their wishlist of educational tools.

My recent article on gaming for good has made me interested in gaming’s potential as an educational tool; I’ll be interested to learn more about education technology and how BrainPOP is planning to approach teachers and school districts.

Newbie to Big Spender: Understanding the Player Lifecycle

Emily Greer, Kongregate

No one enters a free-to-play game with the intention of spending money. The process of converting players to buyers can be difficult, especially when a hard sell may label you “pay 2 win.” Using stats and case studies from hundreds of games on Kongregate, Emily will break down the psychology and economics of the player lifecycle so that you can optimize both retention and conversion.

While I was in a video game slump, I rediscovered my love for games from the flash games on KongregateKongai, Kongregate’s feature game, published in 2008 offers well-designed challenging game play that also accomplishes incentivizing a web-site wide meta game where players are rewarded for completing a weekly challenge.

Day 3: July 26

Build Fast or Build to Last?

Scott Lantz, PopCap

Building something fast is, of course, important to get your product or feature to market, but so is investing in well-built technology that stands the test of time. Unfortunately, those two are often mutually exclusive.

This session investigates the trade-offs between the two extremes and the area in between, along with some great real-world examples of how these decisions were made (and their consequences.)

This topic is perfectly suited to PopCap’s strength as a casual game company.  I’ll be interested in what Lantz has to say about PopCap’s overall strategy and process for developing great games consistently.

*Note: photos in this article are from the Casual Connect website.

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