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How Facebook changed gaming

Developers try to appeal to users with shorter amounts of time for gaming.

By Melissa J. Perenson
October 6, 2008 12:00 PM ET

PC World - LOS ANGELES -- Video games are more mainstream than ever, becoming a $25 billion industry that reaches into living rooms everywhere. But gaming isn't just growing because of the Nintendo Wii's explosive popularity. Rather, it's due to the booming resurgence of casual games -- games that don't require an eidetic memory for commands and a 36-hour-per-level time commitment in order to provide enjoyable experiences for audiences of any skill set.

"More people are playing games now than at any other time," says Joseph Olin, president of the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, speaking at the E for All Expo here this weekend. And both adults and children are pondering questions such as which two games they'll buy this holiday season.

Gamer Influences

The pacing of games has changed dramatically over the past decade -- and Olin credits the social networking boom, the prevalence of microentertainment on everything from cell phones to YouTube, and the changing face of how an entire generation consumes entertainment with the shift that's more and more evident in today's games.

"Five years ago, we didn't have Facebook, MySpace, YouTube. [Kids'] consumption of entertainment has changed -- their tolerance is shorter and shorter and shorter. Their whole world is a screen," Olin says. "Game makers are trying to reflect the world around them, and as such, they're creating online play patterns that fit the short rhythm of today's world."

For example, not everyone is willing or able to commit 25 minutes to scale a virtual hill and reach another. So some game developers set up shorter tasks, or set a sequence of smaller actions that lead to the hill. "That reflects the immediacy of the real world; it also reflects how people want to consume their entertainment," Olin says. "Look at Grand Theft Auto 4; it's really a bunch of short missions and episodes."

Consoles Adapt

The Wii, in particular, makes gaming accessible. There are many games for that console that offer a quick in-and-out experience, and many of these games are also shipping for other systems. And Microsoft's Xbox Live and Sony's PlayStation Network are both offering a slew of casual games online.

It's not just society that has changed, though. So too have the game designers. Those same designers who a decade ago were in their 20s and able to be immersed in the games they create are now in their 30s, and they, too, have different time constraints. Game designs are reflecting those new realities.

In many ways, that's the appeal of so-called casual games, which don't require hours on end to reach a satisfying conclusion.

Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2012 PC World Communications. All rights reserved.
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