Look at those eyebrows Those birds mean business.

In the wake of the dot-com bubble burst, three Seattle entrepreneurs put their heads together and asked: How do games fit into the changing landscape of the online world? What could they make that was (gasp) simple and fun? The result was a hit: Bejeweled Deluxe, a flash puzzle game reminiscent of Tetris, where users link gems to make chains. Since the free, downloadable game hit the market in 2001, its makers—you know them now as PopCap —have moved to the forefront of an exploding casual games industry, with Seattle as its hub.

If the words “casual gaming” sound foreign, just think of Angry Birds. These are short, easy-to-navigate games made for the masses, typically played on the web, on smartphones, and more recently, through apps on everything from iPads to Facebook. Today, Seattle continues to attract some of the brightest innovators in both casual and more involved “core” gaming a la Xbox or PlayStation. The pros convene this weekend for the sixth Casual Connect Seattle conference (hosted by the Casual Games Association), which draws over 2,000 people to seminars on the future of online games, the latest in design, and the next big thing since Slice It!

Among the experts slated to speak are leaders from Microsoft, Big Fish Games, and PopCap; other highlights include Facebook director of games Sean Ryan talking about the “Social Games Ecosystem,” and Q-Games’ Jesse Venbrux on “Creating Addictive Gameplay.” As the CGA says in its tagline: “The future is casual games.” There are 40 million regular Angry Birds users who wouldn’t dare disagree.

Casual Connect Seattle lectures will be held at Benaroya Hall and the Triple Door from July 19-21. Registration for all lectures, parties, and meetings is $450 at seattle.casualconnect.org.

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