Hidden object games are easily one of the most popular genres of casual games. And leading the way is Big Fish Games. Not only is the company leading the way with its very popular game portal, but its internal development studios are also making some of the best HOGs out there, including the pioneering Mystery Case Files series and, more recently, the very well received Drawn: Dark Flight. I had the chance to speak with BFG's Adrian Woods about the history of the genre and just where it might be going in the future.
Hidden object games seem to have two major influences: children's picture books like Where's Waldo and classic PC point-and-click adventure games. In what ways did these two sources help shape the genre? Mystery Case Files: Huntsville is widely regarded as the pioneering game in the genre. What prompted BFG to create, what was at the time, such a unique gaming experience?
Adrian Woods - The popularity of the hidden object genre in the casual games space started with Scholastic's I-Spy series. These CD-ROM games intended for young adults started being distributed online, but many folks had slow connections, and the file size made the titles difficult to download. Enter Big Fish Games with Mystery Case Files. We worked hard at lowering the game's footprint, added a touch of suspense, and created Mystery Case Files: Huntsville. The full game was 25 MB and streamed in content as the game was played.As the series evolved, puzzles were added to round out the hidden object play, and a push toward increased immersion saw us borrowing a lot from point-and-click adventures from the mid 90's.
Even though HOGs have their roots in children's books, today the main audience is women between 35 and 65. What do you think it is about the genre that makes it so appealing to this group?
Woods - A lot of people play casual games to zone out. The simple point-and-click mechanic isn't mentally taxing, and can be done between instant messaging, and writing email to the grandkids. It's harder to do that while watching television or reading a book. That said, we have a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests women enjoy the games because it keeps them focused, and promotes memory exercise. Many people play the games as a family--Mom is great at spotting hidden objects, and dad enjoys those tricky puzzles.
In what ways has the genre evolved over the past five years?
Woods - The level of immersion and production value has skyrocketed. It's hard to compare what we're doing now with the early games. In a lot of ways, the move towards the adventure gaming aspect is starting to eclipse the hidden object play. I think you're seeing the start of a reemergence of the Myst-style, point-and-click adventure. A lot of people have only recently become computer-literate, or now have the time to play the style of game they missed out on a few years ago. Everything's new again.
A large percentage of the titles available on casual game portals like BFG are HOGs. Do you think that the genre is becoming over saturated? If so, what can be done about this?
Woods - Any successful game mechanic spawns a host of followers. Simple hidden object games are cheap and easy to produce. Large scale adventure games with complex game play, and character development is another story. Much like any market, I think you'll see the barrier to entry rise parallel to budgets and competition.
While HOGs are primarily PC games, recently there have been a number of games making the move to mobile platforms. Do you see this as just a trend, or possibly an evolution for the genre? In what ways do platforms like the iPhone or iPad change the HOG experience for players?
Woods - A hidden object/adventure game is perfect for mobile because all you do is point and touch. You don't need a gamepad and buttons to get that to work. Older people often have difficulty seeing objects on a PC monitor, let alone an iPhone screen, plus, these people aren't early adopters. You'll see a change in the demographic more than a change in game play.
Where do you see HOGs moving in the future?
Woods - Like any genre, it will continue to evolve. A greater emphasis on characters and better storylines will help players become more immersed.