How to make a great casual game by not screwing it up

I’ll admit it: I’ve played a lot of casual games–specifically flash games. I’ve played my 2048, I’ve played my Burrito Bison AND my Burrito Bison: Revenge. I’ve played multiple versions of Fashion Solitaire despite the limit of my fashion knowledge being “clashing patterns is bad,” and I’ve spent more time playing a game called Wedding Salon than I did planning my actual wedding. And I enjoyed all of them.

There were way more, though, that were absolute garbage. We’ve devoted an article to knowing your full-length game is garbage, but flash games can have their own slew of sins. Since the internet is knee deep in dumb flash games (and their successor, dumb mobile games), I thought I’d go for the opposite tact: I’m a player whose brain is exhausted from thinking all day. I’m probably watching Family Feud while I play. How do you make a game for me?

(Note: Flash games, are to some degree, dying. The number of new games that aren’t sad clones is shrinking as the developers are going to mobile, but most of the same rules of casual gaming apply.)

1. Don’t make me log in – Flash games shouldn’t require me to invest. I want to be in and out. I want the gaming equivalent of a one night stand. So, if you ask for an email, you’re getting a fake. If you ask me to make a username and password, I’m out.

You see this? No.

2. Include variety– In the early days of flash, you could get away with simple games.Diner Dash was able to get away with the fact that the entire game was the cycle of seat customers -> hand out menus -> serve food -> clean table -> repeat. And I played it, because all the other options with the different food themes. Today? You couldn’t pay me to play that.

diner dash
I’m sorry, Diner Dash: reskinning customers does no count as adding variety.

Time management games (my brain-numbing-mind-soothing genre of choice) have evolved. They better have more to offer. Cycles are okay in time management games (being able to shuffle between tasks is kind of the whole idea), but if it’s the same loop every time.
The one game I actually bought was Wedding Salon. It had a few things going for it, including the fact that was that every customer was different. Brides, parents, attendants and flower girls were all looking for different things. Some people needed their hair done or clothes cut, other people were looking to buy clothes or canapes. The process was easy to learn, but it didn’t get stale.

3. Add complexity – Make me think the tiniest bit. Give me micro-mini-games or add different styles of play. A great non-time management example of this is Burrito Bison. The game’s simple: You fling your minotaur off the side of a wrestling ring to bounce off gummi bears to get as close to his wallet as possible (notice that a realistic normal story isn’t on this list).

I told you it was real

You’re not just bouncing off the same gummibear every time. There are rocket gummies, there are race car gummies, there are even nyan cat gummies. Each one changes your movement and your strategy for that run. It’s not the same game every time, but it’s still not so different that I can’t pay attention to my tv. Which reminds me of my next point…

4. Don’t demand my focus I could be playing some complex RPG or an action game that requires actual reflexes. But I’m not. I’m playing a flash game because it takes up (at most) 50% my attention. If you want to take more, make a game I can’t play in a browser. A lot of time management games let you set up your movements a few steps in advance to fix that exact problem. 

I loved Paladog (a single-lane moba-style flash game) because I could glance down, set a few soldiers, glance back at the tv, repeat while still maintaining a good handle on play.

Oh, yeah, throw another rhino on that.

5. Allow growth– That being said, reward me for playing. Let me spend points to upgrade my cookie oven/burrito bison/donkey-run-blacksmith-shop (as I said, sensical storyline not on this list). If I feel like I’m playing the same game without change, I will get bored and stop.

Actually, that’s why I stopped playing Jacksmith (the aforementioned donkey blacksmith game). For a while, it was fun. My donkey blacksmith provided the army with the best equipment and we were a happy little army defending the kingdom. There was a fun crafting system and getting new crafting designs gave each level a little variety. I was excited to finally find a game that did so much right. Eventually, though, the gaps between advancement got farther and farther apart while growth got less and less noticeable. It’s not even that I was losing–I could still win every level–I just didn’t care. I quit and never went back.

Legend has it that somewhere out there, the Jacksmith is still waiting for my return.

Legend has it that the Jacksmith’s wagon still rolls across the web, waiting for my return

6. For the love of puppies, no microtransactions – If you don’t understand why making me pay to advance in a game I’m playing to kill time is a problem, you might be too far gone for anyone’s help.

hate microtransactions
Although here are a few hundred thousand links and at least one animation that might help explain it.

So, not super complex. Keep me interested. Keep me moving forward. Don’t charge me money. I will love you forever.

Have any games that you think meet these criteria? Leave it in a comment. I’m looking for something new.


One thought on “How to make a great casual game by not screwing it up

  1. Since you know I don’t understand most of the words, let alone how to play, you’ll understand why I offer no suggestions. However, I’m delighted that you played any fashion games ever.


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