Smart Phones Boost Casual Gaming's Popularity

The top seller in the video game industry was the military blockbuster Call of Duty: Black Ops. But casual gamers couldn't seem stop playing Angry Birds on their smart phones. Brian Crecente, editor of the video game blog Kotaku.com, talks to Renee Montagne about the year in video games.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And as we count down to 2011, we're looking back at some of the big business stories of this past year. The video game industry had a string of hits. One took players on covert missions in Cold War Russia and Cuba. Another took on the eternal struggle between angry birds and evil pigs.

For details, we reached Brian Crecente of the video game blog Kotaku.com.

Good morning.

Mr. BRIAN CRECENTE (Editor, Kotaku.com): Good morning, Renee. How are you?

MONTAGNE: Fine, thank you. So let's begin with the really big seller of the year, "Call of Duty: Black Ops." That game has made so far $1 billion. First of all, what is the storyline? I mean what are we playing here?

Mr. CRECENTE: "Call of Duty: Black Ops" is a first-person shooter. You are taking on the role of a soldier in the '60s and '70s as he goes through a bunch of missions assigned to him by the CIA. It's presented in a very staccato manner, so the scenes in the story come at you very quickly; you sort of get dropped into these battles.

The whole game is sort of wrapped around the premise that you are an agent, who may be a double agent, who is being interrogated by the CIA, so everything is presented as a flashback.

(Soundbite of video game, "Call of Duty: Black Ops")

(Soundbite of helicopter)

Unidentified Actor: Back in '64, the CIA gave up control of covert operations in Southeast Asia, handed over to the U.S. military.

Mr. CRECENTE: You can play by yourself, you can play through the story like you would watch a movie or you can play multiplayer, and that plays a bit like cops and robbers. So everybody has weapons and their running around in a map trying to shoot each other to get a score.

MONTAGNE: But there's also what's known as casual gaming. And look, everyone's talking about one particular game, "Angry Birds."

(Soundbite of video game, "Angry Birds")

MONTAGNE: They're birds being, what is it, catapulted?

Mr. CRECENTE: Slingshot-ed. Yes. And its funny, when you play that clip, when I hear that sound, I can envision that happening because I've played it so much and I think a lot of us have. But, yeah, the idea is you had these birds and you slingshot them across the screen, typically on an iPhone or on a smartphone, and into some little construction by a bunch of pigs. And the idea is to topple the construction and explode the pigs. It's a very basic game but it's managed to sell 12 million copies.

I think it's a sign of how ubiquitous these sort of casual games have become. I mean you've got this game; you've got other games like "Cut The Rope" that is starting to prove how popular and how powerful gaming on the go and casual gaming can be.

MONTAGNE: In "Cut The Rope," what happens there?

Mr. CRECENTE: The idea is you have a little monster and you have a piece of candy, and that piece of candy dangling by a rope and you have to cut the rope to get it to the monster.

MONTAGNE: So these are the kinds of games that it sounds like they would be played as you're standing in line to get a coffee or if youre, youve got a little time on your hands, just a moment or two when you go to these games. But I mean they are different than say really digging in with something like "Call of Duty."

Mr. CRECENTE: Oh, absolutely. I mean, a game like "Angry Birds" is a game that you can enjoy for 10 seconds or, as my wife managed to do, she ended up getting completely addicted to the game and played through it all over a weekend.

The other part of casual gaming are games that come out on Facebook like "Farmville" and "Cityville," which also have managed to tap into a mammoth audience. Cityville, I think it's approaching 70 million gamers right now. And that's a free game to play. And you just sign on to Facebook and spend, you know, 10 minutes or a half hour playing it.

MONTAGNE: Okay. Well, looking ahead to 2011, what's one thing that you're looking forward to?

Mr. CRECENTE: The coming of the 3DS by Nintendo. So Nintendo is the company that I think proved to everybody when it came out with the Wii home console, that games don't have to be hard and tricky to be fun. You can make a game for everybody and be successful. And what they are coming out with now is the 3DS, which is a portable gaming system that allows you to play games in 3D without glasses. And it sounds amazing, but when you actually see it it's beyond amazing. It's sort of like magic. It's sort of stunning when you see it in person.

MONTAGNE: Brian Crecente is the editor of the video game blog Kotaku.com. He joined us from member station KCFR in Denver.

Thanks for joining us and have a happy New Year.

Mr. CRECENTE: Thanks. You too, Renee.

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