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Move over Halo 3: Online games offer free play

CNN Money reports:

For all the hype about Microsoft's Halo 3 video game, ten times as many people have played the hit online game Diner Dash. Diner Dash, developed by PlayFirst, is a so-called casual game - an inexpensive, easy-to-learn online game that appeals to a wider, younger audience.

Casual games are played on a Web site or downloaded and, due to the cheaper format, they don't bring in the kind of money that traditional video games generate The casual game industry struggles to get players, particularly young ones, to pony up to play.

Now casual gaming startups in the U.S. like PlayFirst are experimenting with the "microtransaction" concept that's been a hit with kids. The microtransaction model is hugely successful in South Korean and China, which use it to combat piracy.

Diner Dash, played by more than 200 million people, has made $40 million in revenue from the $20 model since it launched in 2004. PlayFirst CEO CEO John Welch says their paying customers are now skewing much younger, and he believes they have hit the formula...

[The news story also mentions other casual gaming companies, titles, and models including Club Penguin, Nexon (Kart Rider and MapleStory), Tencent (Chinese), Boonty (Cafe.com), Pogo.com, and Kongregate.]

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