Even with games like Angry Birds and the dozens of properties that Zynga
shamelessly rips off takes inspiration from making millions upon millions of dollars, there there is still a sizable chunk of people out there who will argue that social/mobile gaming isn’t “real gaming”, whatever the hell that means. I think it’s safe to say that, in 2012, people who have this mindset are blithering idiots. The truth of the matter is that social games and mobile games are here for the long-haul, and I argue that a sizable part of their success can be traced directly to where you do your business. After all, we’re all guilty of taking our Game Boy, or our DS, or our PSP, or our iPad (for the sake of this post, “iPad” includes any tablet), or phone into the bathroom to squeeze in one or two rounds of Bejeweled or Fruit Ninja. Sure, it’s one of those things we don’t talk about, but we’ve all done it once or twice in our lives.
I believe that Toilet Gaming (admittedly not the sexiest or most marketable term) is largely responsible for the rise of social and mobile games in the past few years. It hasn’t been a conscious effort, of course — I doubt anyone has perused the iTunes App Store while thinking “what’s a great game to play while I’m dropping the kids off at the pool?”. But at the same time, the truth of the matter is that people want and, in many instances, expect to be entertained all the time. This is why most people listen to the music in the shower. This is why a lot of people surf Facebook or Twitter when at work, and this is why an overwhelming majority of smartphone owners actually own a smartphone.
Now, some people are going to roll their eyes at me, or say that the entire notion of the existence of a “toilet gamer” demographic is silly. To them, and to everyone else, I pose this question: how many times have you gone into the bathroom and emerged ten, fifteen, twenty or more minutes later because you were immersed in a game of Fruit Ninja, or Tetris?
The simple truth is that the Toilet Gaming demographic is very real, and this demographic has played a significant role in the rise of social gaming — just as it has played a role in mobile gaming since the dawn of the Game Boy.
So then why is the Toilet Gaming demographic so important? Because as long as developers continue to make small, simple, three-minute games that you can download to your phone or tablet, there will always be a potential audience. One game that comes to mind is Tiny Tower, which I play on my iPad. When you’re first starting out, unless you’re willing to spend real-world money (and you have no idea how many people are), you are literally only able to do three or four things at one time before you have to allow the timer (which ticks in the minutes and hours, not seconds) to count down to your next turn. You are, quite literally, in the game for only two to three minutes at a time.
In conducting a very unscientific poll in which I received many confused, befuddled or just plain disgruntled looks, I learned that almost everyone I knew checked their Tower while on in the bathroom. Others check on their frogs, or complete a move in Scrabble or Hero Academy.
Toilet Gaming is a thing, and as more people realize it and more developers embrace that fact, you’re going to see the social/mobile gaming market continue to grow with new, fresh, innovative and simple games. Not only will that lead to further growth in the social gaming space, more traditional AAA games will benefit as well. Before long, you’re going to see more concrete integration between mobile/social gaming, and traditional console games.
While this is good for publishers in that there is still a source of income to keep the lights on and the fridges stocked, it’s also good for developers because they’ll be able to play with cross-platform integration and communication. We’ve seen some of their work already in a few AAA games, but it’s only scratched the surface of what could be done.
TL;DR: The sooner more developers and publishers embrace the “toilet gaming” demographic, the better off everyone will be. There is an incredible potential for truly engaging, immersive experiences that we simply aren’t taking advantage of and, in the process, traditional games are starting to suffer.
…I feel like I should end this with an “everybody poops” zinger, but… no.
*No images, I’m afraid. My laptop crapped out and I’ve yet to reinstall PhotoShop. Sad panda.