Online casual games are a large and rapidly growing form of entertainment. According to Comscore over 85 million people play casual games every month in the US alone and minutes spent playing grew a staggering 42% from 2008 to 2009.

Casual games originated as downloadable PC games. Based mostly on free trials with payment for full play, the industry grew to over $1 billion (published numbers vary widely and some estimates are significantly higher). The move to online has come with a fairly pronounced decline in the price for downloadable games. One of the reasons for this price decline of downloadable games is that simple online casual games are easier to develop than downloadable games. The low threshold for creating a playable game is also reflected by the incredible fragmentation of the market: with over 20,000 online casual games, the average number of games produced by an individual developer is around 3.

One might argue that this fragmentation has not been an issue for people looking to play casual games, as there are many portal sites, such as Miniclip and Big Fish Games, which aggregate thousands of games. But for someone to go to a portal site requires a conscious decision to play games. Yet many online casual games can be played in increments of only a few minutes, which means that “impulse play” is possible. Impulse playing occurs when someone comes across a game in an unexpected place and decides to try it out. For instance, games might appear in a sidebar next to content or someone might end a blog post by including a game.

Deeper integration with content would also provide an opportunity for “habitual play.” This is what happens today with newspaper puzzles like Sudoku and KenKen. Readers read whatever they are interested in and then turn to the puzzle as a habit (some of course turn to the puzzle first). Similar habitual behavior exists for the funnies. Puzzles and funnies serve an important function of providing a kind of comic relief / distraction from the generally mostly bad news. Online, casual games can serve a similar function.

To make these modes of gameplay more widely accessible requires making it super easy for publishers to add games to their existing content. We are excited to be backing a team out of Y-combinator doing just that. Jude Gomila and Immad Akhund launched Heyzap in January 2009 and are working hard to let all kinds of publishers — from individual bloggers to large sites — add games as readily and with as much control over content as videos. Heyzap already offers plugins for WordPress and Blogger, several different size widgets, RSS feeds of games and an API for programmatic control, all of which let publishers with just a few clicks select games that best match their audience or personal interests. Many more features are on the way.

We look forward to discovering new games in unexpected places and enjoying our favorites with our daily dose of tech news.