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Indie Gamers Hit the Right Buttons

When Andy Schatz left an executive-level job at game maker TKO Software in December, 2004, to start his own gaming studio, he figured he would have to stretch his $100,000 savings for as long as four years before his new business caught on. His math was way off. Schatz's Pocketwatch Games just sold the rights to its first title, an animal-adventure game called Wildlife Tycoon: Venture Africa, to distributor MumboJumbo after a three-way bidding war. Schatz is hoping that MumboJumbo regulars including Wal-Mart (WMT) and Best Buy (BBY) will opt to carry Tycoon as early as next year.
Until recently, the market for electronic games was mainly young, male, and diehard. These days, a bigger, more age-diverse group that increasingly includes and women is joining in the fun, spending anywhere from a few minutes a day to long stretches on online poker or games such as Bejewelled, Tetris, and The Sims.

As more people sign up for high-speed Internet access (almost 60% of the U.S. population now has access to broadband), the gaming experience -- both for games playable online, such as Bejewelled, and CD- or DVD-ROM titles with an online component, like The Sims -- has become more appealing. Casual gamers now make up about 1% of the $20.5 billion game-software market. By 2010, that figure may surge to $2.1 billion, or 5% of sales, says David Cole, an analyst at gaming consultant DFC Intelligence.
Casual games are typically played on PCs or mobile phones and involve less complicated features and graphics. And costs can run as low as the mere thousands of dollars -- vs. $20 million to $100 million for your full-blown, hardcore video game that can take dozens of developers years to design. The price tag for Wildlife Tycoon: about $6,000.