After A Slow Year, Casual Gamers Offer The Video Game Industry New Hope

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In "Angry Birds" you sling birds at structures built by pigs. i

In "Angry Birds" you sling birds at structures built by pigs. Rovio hide caption

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In "Angry Birds" you sling birds at structures built by pigs.

In "Angry Birds" you sling birds at structures built by pigs.


The biggest hit for the gaming industry this year was "Call of Duty: Black Ops." It's a military blockbuster that raked in $1 billion in sales. Morning Edition's Renee Montagne talked to Brian Crecente who runs the video game blog about the past year in the video game industry. The big picture: "Call of Duty" was a bright spot, but video game sales have dropped. Today, Reuters reported a four percent dip in sales this year.

Still, there's reason to hold out hope.

Mainly, said Crecente, it's because smart phones have grown the casual gamer community.

Crecente pointed to "Angry Birds," a big casual gaming hit this year in which you sling birds from one side of the screen to the other in an attempt to destroy structures and the pigs that built them.

"It's a very simple game," said Crecente. "But it's managed to sell 12 million copies. I think it's a sign of how ubiquitous these kinds of games have become."

The thing with games like "Angry Birds," "Cut the Rope" and social games like "Farmville" and "Cityville" is that they're amazingly accessible. You can play them for minutes at a time and invest as little or as much time as you want. Crecente said the games have proven immensely popular. "Cityville" alone, in which you try to build the "perfect city," has some 44 million monthly players.

So while sales are down, in a changing landscape there is hope. Oliver Chiang, over at Forbes, took a look at PopCap Games, the company behind the puzzle game "Bejeweled," and made the point using hard numbers:

When the company started a decade ago, its games were primarily available for the PC and Mac. In 2000, desktop game sales made up 85% of the company’s revenue, while “online” sales made up a mere 15%.

A decade’s passing shows big changes to PopCap’s revenue split. For the first time this year, desktop sales did not make up the majority of total revenue — they only accounted for 40% of the pie. A growing sector for PopCap is mobile, which now makes up 30% of total revenue.

As Reuters puts it in their story, simple online games and games that are platform agnostic diversify the industry's revenue. They quote Arvind Bhatia, senior research analyst at Sterne Agee, as saying he thinks video games sales will pick up by five percent in 2011.

Crecente sees something more exciting in the coming year: Nintedo's 3DS, a 3D gaming console you play without using special glasses.

"It's kinda like magic," he said. It's set to hit Japanese stores in February.

But we're curious. What games kept you busy in 2010? I spent an incredible number of hours playing the puzzle game "Fling" on my iPhone.



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