Saturday, January 19, 2008

Redefining the Conversation

Since the release of Dungeons and Dragons in 1974, and release of the Atari 2600 three years later, there has been one common argument in the gaming industry. “What is the definition of a casual gamer, and what is the definition of a hardcore gamer?”

The question, while personal to some, has implications for the gaming industry as a whole which mean that clear, uniform definitions should be agreed upon. Not in order to segregate the actual players that care so much about which group they belong to, but to help game developers more clearly match their ideas with their audiences. Perhaps we need to ignore the Human elements of this debate, and rethink the classifications as they pertain to the actual products. Perhaps we should think of casual games vs. hardcore games, instead of the minefield that is casual gamers vs. hardcore gamers.

In a product classification, we are simply left with two major considerations: What kind of purchase is necessary to play the game and how much time is needed to play the game. Casual games do not require cutting edge hardware, thousands of dollars of miniatures, or any other major capital expenditure. Time investment does not mean that a casual game can not lead a dedicated player into a session where they lose hours of their lives. It merely means that either through short yet complete endings, easy save points, or definable chapters that a player can devote small sessions to the game without losing any benefits.

Perhaps by moving the definition from the players to the games we can construct more universal definitions of casual and hardcore, and by doing so can begin to consider what PopCap Games and BioShock, and their success in 2007, mean to the future of game development.


Graham said...


I think that there is more a division here then you are suggesting. What you are describing here seems to be more the difference between a avid gamer and an average gamer. An avid gamer will spend a lot of money on game accessories to try to get the best possible experience from the game. An avid gamer is also typically the person who will eagerly anticipate the latest game/addition/edition. An "average" gamer (I don't really like the word average, but I can't think of anything better to use) will spend enough money to have what is required to play and enjoy the game.

I think the difference between a hardcore and a casual gamer is question of effort and time spent playing games. Hardcore gamers will typically spend a significant portion of their time on games. This usually includes the gamer scheduling regular times to play the game(s). By contrast, a casual gamer is someone who will pick up and put down games in their free time.

Although, I think that the major difference is that both the avid and hardcore gamer are people who view gaming as an activity to which it is worth devoting their time. Casual and "average" gamers view gaming as an enjoyable pass time, something that they have fun doing but they could easily do something else and not really miss it.

brandon j said...

I agree, this is a semantic argument, but I also think semantics are important. Without knowing the meaning of the words we are using, we are forever locked in a Tower of Babel with no Rosetta Stone to help us separate what is said compared to what is meant.

I understand that if I had braved the hardcore vs. casual gamer definitions, that what I described would be clunky and haphazard, needing more defined middle ground, and perhaps even (as you suggested) more definitions in between hardcore and casual.

Luckily for me, I am attempting to ignore the player definitions, and jump right into the segregation of the games themselves. This can be viewed as an altruistic way to actually place some definitions on the games we enjoy, or it can be viewed as a chicken-shit way for me to avoid an unwinnable argument and the flame-war it would cause.

Either way, I believe that the definitions are important for two reasons. One is that when games are first conceived, the designers should know which category, or what blend of both categories, they want their end product to resemble. The second reason is that as games become corporate profit products, there seems to be a tendency to make hardcore games appeal to the masses, which can kill the games appeal if done as an after thought added to a concept for the sake of marketing, rather than introduced at the inception of the development process.

I am not sure if there is as much pressure on casual games to also appeal to hardcore audiences, but I am sure for every great casual game concept, there is some faceless suit thinking the next Tetris would be so much better if it could be kinda like BioShock…

Michael O'Shaugnessy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael O'Shaugnessy said...

The set of correct answers only has relevance when given the context of the asker.

The capitalist that asks care about how much and how often the gamer will by will buy.

The creative producer that asks cares about narcissistic relevance about their future work.

The consumer that asks seeks peers and method to segregate those that care not enough or too much.

So definitely, there are many right answers whether the question pivots on gamers or games.

The important question is: what is your context? The semantics depend upon it.

[I had a huge mis-paragraph at the top I had to remove - which is why I reposted]