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A casual game is a video game or online game targeted at or used by a mass audience of casual gamers. Casual games can have any type of gameplay, and fit in any genre. They are typically distinguished by their simple rules and lack of commitment required in contrast to more complex hardcore games. They require no long-term time commitment or special skills to play, and there are comparatively low production and distribution costs for the producer. Casual games typically are played on a personal computer online in web browsers, although they now are starting to become popular on game consoles, too. Casual gaming demographics also vary greatly from those of traditional computer games, as the typical casual gamer is older  and more predominantly female, with over 74% of those purchasing casual games being women.
Most casual games have similar basic features:
The word "casual" indicates that the games are produced for the casual consumer, who comes across the game and can get into gameplay almost immediately. Every month, an estimated 200 million consumers play casual games online, many of whom do not normally regard themselves as gamers, or fans of video games.
Casual games are usually free on-line or free to download and try (but may provide a revenue by in-game advertising). Commercial studios create downloadable games, primarily available on the PC. These games are typically addictive and are limited trials to encourage casual gamers to buy a permanent "deluxe" version for a small price (typically $20 or less). They usually have more intensive graphics and sound. Recently, 100% free "full licensed versions" of casual games have become available through advertising.
Indie game developers often create free games for online play. These games have a wide range of gameplay styles, can be played on almost any computer, and are often written to be played from within a web browser, using Flash, or Shockwave. They are more limited in the scope of action, graphics and sound than downloadable games since they are played through the browser. However, many of these developers have pushed the technological envelope in what is possible through the browser – often creating full 3D games, 2 player capabilities, save games and other advanced features.
Microsoft's Solitaire, which came free with Microsoft Windows, is widely considered the first successful "casual game", with more than 400 million people having played the game since its inception. Subsequent versions of Windows included Minesweeper, and once Microsoft discovered the popularity of their pack-in solitaire, they expanded on it with FreeCell and Spider Solitaire.
In 1989, Nintendo's Game Boy was released with Tetris as a free pack-in game. Tetris on the Game Boy proved immensely popular, and is credited with making Nintendo's fledgling portable gaming system a success.
Casual games moved online in 1996 with the debut of sites such as Gamesville and Uproar which offered multiplayer, HTML-based games in genres such as bingo, cards, puzzles, and trivia. These games required a constant server connection to keep players in sync, and did not include chat or avatars.
The advent of Flash created a boom in web-based games, while also limiting them to using a single-button mouse, and having no built-in functionality for save states, encouraging designers to create simple games that could be played to completion in one short sitting. One of the most prominent casual games, Bejeweled, started out as a Flash game. Programmers of Flash games have since discovered workarounds to the save-game problem, using methods such as cookies or passwords to bypass the need for a standard saved game.
Casual games received another boost when cell phones with large color displays became the norm because, like Adobe Flash before them, the cell phones had limited capabilities ideally suited to short, simple games.
The arrival of the iPod in the casual gaming market made more powerful games widely available in a portable format. PopCap Games provided Peggle on Apple's music player and it was an instant success.
Despite casual games being around for some years the term has only recently gained popularity with the release of Nintendo's Wii video game console. The simplicity of the Wii controller interface has opened up the gaming market to an untapped demographic who were unwilling to invest the time in learning or intimidated by the typical gamepad input device. This opportunity has seen a number of publishers attempt to design games that appeal to the relatively low skill level of these new players. 2006 saw a growing market of console-based casual games, such as Carnival Games and Wii Play. The precursor to this previously unnamed market trend can be seen in games like Crazy Frog Racer, Shrek: Super Party, Spice World (video game), Buzz!: The Music Quiz and Singstar.
There is no precise classification of casual genres in the modern gaming industry. That can be explained by the easy ideas that form the basis for each game as well as a great amount of genre mixes existing in this field. The most popular casual genres for 2006 were: puzzle, word, action, card and board games. Another popular genre is the hidden object game.
The Internet is the primary distribution channel for casual games. Most casual games are either downloaded as limited-time trials or delivered as Flash or ActiveX objects embedded in a web page. The evaluation copy of a casual game may limit the amount of play time, number of levels, or game sessions. Often more advanced features are not available. Some websites, such as Pogo.com, create casual games as a web-only experience first, then follow up with more advanced versions as "downloadable" games.
The ease of signing up to affiliate gaming portals has flooded the internet with such sites. These portals typically rank the games by popularity and sales. Games with strong sales typically lead to sequels and knock-offs. Games that do not convert are quickly buried.
Additionally, iPod games are made available via the iTunes store and can be purchased as you would a music track, casual games for the iPhone and iPod Touch are also distributed in this way.
In addition to online portals, casual games are increasingly available at major retailers, particularly Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy. The success of Bejeweled at retail, where it sold over 100,000 copies in the U.S., has made retailers much more open to carrying casual games rather than value priced core games (such as first-person shooters, strategy games, etc.). As another example of the increasing success of casual games in retail, Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst was reported to be the third-best selling PC game in the United States for the week ending with Black Friday in 2007.
Casual games are also ported to mobile phones. Some mobile casual games allow players to meet and compete against each other.
"Casual gamer" is a loosely defined term used to describe a type of video game player whose time or interest in playing games is limited compared with a hardcore gamer. Casual gamers can conceivably consist of any people who show more than a passing interest in video games, therefore it is difficult to categorize them as a group. For this reason, games which attempt to appeal to the casual player tend to strive for simple rules and ease of game play, the goal being to present a pick-up-and-play experience that people from any age group or skill level could enjoy. Casual gaming demographics also vary greatly from those of traditional computer games, as the typical casual gamer is older and more predominantly female, with over 74% of those purchasing casual games being women.