Casual vs Flash vs Social Gaming: The Differences

Do you remember when gaming just used to be called gaming, instead of being fragmented into a number of terms: casual gaming, social gaming, flash gaming? What do all these terms mean, and why care?

Well if you didn’t already know, this has been an important week in game development. The FGS 2010 Flash Gaming Summit took place on Mon Mar 8, and GDC 2010 Game Developers Conference started the day after and wraps up Sat Mar 13. Both conferences have looked at various aspects of game development, including coding, design, audio, legal and more. Naturally, during conference sessions, these types of gaming get brought up regularly, and if you’re not familiar with them, if might be worthwhile learning the differences. They are in fact distinct terms and loosely defined below:

  • Casual gaming – Refers to the duration of play by users. Users might play regularly, but any given session is relatively short. This term is used for online games, boxed games (software and consoles), or even cellphones. These games are simple in rules and hardware requirements, and don’t require a lot of time.
  • Social gaming – Refers to player scope and to interaction between players. Social games usually run online or on a mobile platform, and allow multiple people to leverage their social network and challenge and play against friends. These games are typically built upon a social networking platform, such as MySpace or Facebook. Other social aspects might include taking turns between players, knowing about each others actions and scores, gifting, in-game text or voice chats, and more. SocialTimes Editor Nick O’Neill previously wrote an indepth piece on what social games are. Recent reports suggest that social gamers are more likely to be female than male.
  • Flash gaming – Refers to the method of content delivery, in this case, using Adobe’s Flash medium.

Given these definitions, both Casual and Social games can be Flash games, and some Social games are also casual. While there will always be gamers who play casually, some industry experts believe that all games will become social. If you’re interested in a comparison of sorts, see the presentation slides of the talk, “The Convergence of Flash Games and Social Games,” that veteran game designer Daniel Cook gave at GDC 2010. The talk also covered other topics, including game virality, ways that both big and small Flash portals make money, and a breakdown of the numbers of players of both social and casual gaming.

Image credit: Daniel Cook, LostGarden.