I’m talking to Chris James this time. Chris is the head honcho of Casual Games Revolution and Stratus Games. CGR publishes Casual Games Insider, a gaming magazine that is aimed right at bridging the gap between hardcore gamers and ‘family’ gamers.
Tom: Hi Chris. It’s been quite a while since we last talked. What have you been up to in the interim?
Chris: It certainly has been awhile. My wife, Melanie, and I now have two little girls, which always keep us on our toes. In addition, we recently moved from Tucson, Arizona, to Payson – a nice mountain town that has a much milder climate than the desert of southern Arizona. What’s more, we have started a side business (mainly Melanie’s) that we are doing in parallel with Stratus Games. Needless to say, we have been very busy as of late.
Tom: Let’s talk some more about Casual Game Insider. First, why start a games magazine?
Chris: It all started after we had been marketing our products in the game industry for several years and we realized that there is a disconnect between typical “family” games (marketed in the toy industry) and “gamer” games (marketed in the hobby game industry). As casual gamers, we have always appreciated the sweet spot in the middle, but this is really a gray area in terms of marketing. In general, you either have to market to kids or hardcore gamers – but where are all of the people in the middle? It seemed that there was no good way to reach these people, but we knew they were out there. We set out to reach this audience (those who are casual gamers like us) and we felt that the industry as a whole could benefit from it. So, Casual Game Insider was born.
Tom: Before we get too far into this, what is a casual game?
Chris: A casual game is relatively quick (< 1 hour), easy to learn (< 10 minutes), and offers some light strategic thought, dexterity, or social interaction. A casual game is not a game of pure luck, nor is it a game of heavy strategy or high complexity. The ideal casual game is one that can be picked up relatively easily by nearly anyone from older children to adults.
Good examples of casual games are games like Tsuro, Forbidden Island, Ticket to Ride, King of Tokyo, Get Bit!, or the recent Spiel des Jahres winner, Camel Up. We have a whole page dedicated to casual games that we recommend – the list continues to grow as we evaluate and review games in our magazine and on our blog.
Chris: It has been doing well. We continually get amazing feedback from our readers, which is great to receive. Casual gamers like us who stumble upon on our magazine definitely understand and love what we are doing, and even experienced gamers can appreciate most of our informative content, as well. Our sponsors love to have an advertising platform which allows their casual games to shine, without being surrounding by toys or more hardcore fare.
Tom: It’s a beautiful magazine. Who is doing the graphic design, layout, etc.?
Chris: Thank you! I started out designing the magazine myself for the first 6 issues. I then passed the baton to Gregg Lewis, who has continued to design the magazine with a similar look and feel but has also improved upon it in many ways. Each article is a unique work of art, and I am always pleased to see how they turn out.
Tom: You cover a wide range of games and subjects. I particularly enjoyed the article by the soldier who talked about gaming with his colleague while deployed. That was great. How do you get such material?
Chris: We have a great network of authors who have shared their articles with us, and we simply would not exist without them. We certainly have our own editorial ideas that we cover ourselves or recruit authors to write about. But articles like the military article that you mentioned we could never have thought of or written about ourselves. We’re just so glad that we can offer a voice to people who have great knowledge and experiences to share with the world.
Tom: How has the response from your advertisers been? Are they seeing sales from CGI?
Chris: We have heard publishers say they’re getting a response, and we are seeing repeat advertisers, which is always a good sign. In fact, 3 of the 4 gold sponsors this year (cover advertisers) had been working with us previously, as well as several others. On the other hand, not every ad is effective in every situation – a poor game isn’t going to turn around overnight just because there is an ad in our magazine (or any magazine). Thousands of people may see that ad and pass on it. That is just the nature of print advertising, and we are simply the messengers. An ad can be a good part of a complete marketing strategy, but it shouldn’t be the only part.
Tom: You are currently Kickstarting the next ‘season’ of CGI with hopes of going to ‘hard copies’ on magazine stands. I’d love to see this in B&N but it seems like a very daunting endeavor. Why?
Chris: We are already producing hard copies that go out to over 2,100 game stores and our subscribers who opt for the print version. Getting onto newsstands is the next logical step that we hope will accomplish two purposes: 1) reach more casual gamers like us, and 2) provide an even more effective platform for our advertisers. We are constantly trying to serve our advertisers by increasing our distribution and gathering more attentive readers.
The ability to get in Barnes & Noble and similar stores became a reality when we were accepted by a major magazine distributor, and it would be difficult to pass up such an opportunity. That being said, there certainly is risk, as retailers can return up to 100% of the magazines by ripping the cover (rendering it unsellable). It is really a terrible practice, in my opinion, but based on a realistic return rate and the added potential for us and our sponsors, we are confident that it will be worth a try. Aside from some design changes on our end, most of the logistics will be handled by our printer and our distributor.
Tom: Let’s switch gears and talk about Stratus Games. It’s been on a hiatus of sorts while you got CGI rolling. How have things been with the game company?
Chris: Unfortunately, Stratus Games and CGI are mutually exclusive in many ways. We simply don’t have the manpower to focus fully on both, and CGI is currently our priority. As such, we are beginning to clear out our game inventory and rebrand Stratus Games as a design studio rather than a full game publisher. We are hoping to partner with some of the many great folks we have come to know over the years to license our upcoming game designs. By the way, any retailers reading can contact me for some really good deals on our games. We certainly want our games to go into good hands.
Tom: That’s an interesting and I’m sure well thought out decision. I’m glad you are getting back to some designing. I think Eruption is a super game. I should repost my review of that by the way. What’s next in the queue?
Chris: Thank you! We put a lot of work into it and we are certainly pleased with how it came out. We are almost finished polishing Ballistic, a casual naval battle game that has some awesome new mechanics for simultaneous play. Anyone who wants to test a print-and-play version of the game can contact me. We have a ton of other really great ideas to work on, if we can ever find the time.
Tom: I assume you will be at GenCon. What are your plans there?
Chris: I hope to roam the show and cover the best new casual games coming out, as well as mingle with our advertisers and sponsors.
Tom: I’m sure there will be plenty to cover. We seem to be in a gaming renaissance. Any other cons this year or next?
Chris: I attended ASTRA for the first time earlier this year to scope out the casual games there, and I was pleasantly surprised. We also plan to cover Essen later in the fall. Any other future plans are not solidified at this point.
Tom: Any last words?
It was nice to catch up with Chris. Casual Game Insider is a very good magazine with lots of quick reviews and in depth articles on gaming. You should check out the Kickstarter here. HOT OFF THE PRESSES! CGI will be carried by Barnes & Noble! Congrats Chris.
By The Way, there’s a BIG Game Giveaway over at the CGR website right here. You should go there now.