2008: The Year Of The Casual Gamer?Michael McWhertor12/08/08 12:00pmFiled to: FeatureOriginalNintendoUbisoftWii FitEa25EditPromoteShare to KinjaToggle Conversation toolsGo to permalinkWhile some console manufacturers may have claimed that 2008 was going to be their year, the past twelve months may be remembered for the year the casual gamer won the market. And like it or not, it may have been the best thing to happen to the video game industry.AdvertisementAdmittedly, 2008 has seen some growing pains, especially tender for hardcore gamers who cringed at the E3 debuts of Nintendo's Wii Music and Microsoft's You're In The Movies. We've shifted from a glut of brain training games, but at what cost? Fortunately, the release of Wii Fit outside of Japan may have helped spawn a new generation of gamer.The casual market has also seen what may appeared to be some growing pains with two notable transitions at Electronic Arts: the merging of EA Casual with The Sims label and the closure of EA Blueprint.AdvertisementChip Lange, vice president of EA Casual, however, says that EA's commitment to casual games is "stronger than it has ever been." With tens of millions of The Sims games sold and what Lange calls "a successful transition to consoles" with the My Sims brand, bringing the two divisions together is "huge."The real casual star of the year, still being heavily marketed by Nintendo of America, is fitness program Wii Fit.Since its original release in Japan in December, Wii Fit has sold over 9 million copies worldwide.Sponsored"If someone new to video games tries a game like Wii Fit or Brain Age, that breaks down one barrier. Then maybe the person will be more inclined to try a more traditional game like Mario Kart Wii, which can get everyone in the family playing together," said Denise Kaigler, Nintendo's vice president of marketing and corporate affairs. "You might look at these so-called 'casual' games as a way to introduce millions of people to a new hobby."Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter sees the Wii Fit hardware as more than just a peripheral. He says that it borders on being its own platform, normally the sort of thing you'd hear from pseudo-platform holders themselves.Advertisement"I think Wii Fit should be viewed as a separate console, so it will succeed or fail based on the software written for it," Pachter said, adding that the success of peripheral enabled titles like Wii Fit aren't just good for Nintendo's bottom line — they're good for everyone."If there are a lot of games (Tony Hawk, for example) made that take advantage of Wii Fit, you'll see the non hardcore market exposed to a greater number of games, which is good for the industry," Pachter said.The Wii Balance Board has already been quickly accepted, with titles like EA's Skate It, Ubisoft's Rayman's Raving Rabbids TV Party and Majesco's Wii Fit-alike Jillian Michaels' Fitness Ultimatum supporting the hardware.While EA consolidated and Nintendo focused on its marquee casual software, Ubisoft took a different approach, throwing its voluminous product line at the wall to see what would stick. Last year, the publisher announced it was expanding its casual market efforts, an endeavor it ultimately called its "Games For Everyone" brands.