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Hypnos' Blog

Casual vs. Hardcore: What's in YOUR wallet?

This article has been making the rounds on game blogs and mailing lists. Some of the OMs were discussing whether we agreed with the article or not, and I thought I'd link it here and see what you guys thought.

The article is about one gamer's concern about the impact of consoles like the Wii and the growing populations of "casual" gamers on the game industry and development.

I disagree that the games industry will suffer if "young males will no longer be the dominant segment of the console audience".  No offense young men, but I believe that an industry focused solely on making products designed to appeal to young men will not have the depth or range of an industry focused on making things to appeal to, well, a variety of people.

Furthermore, if the games industry expands to include more gamers and a wider audience, it will most likely expand in terms of employees, development, and game companies.  Why would we start making fewer games for young men if they still want to buy the same number of games?  Why not develop both the games targeted to their demographic as well as different games (that they may also enjoy?)  I can see at least the same number of game companies specializing in the types of games made now in addition to the new games developed. Why not, if it is a profitable business?

Second, the person in this article seems to focus a lot on how the games made for a "casual" audience aren't pushing the limits of new technology when I feel that games don't need to be on the bleeding edge of technology to be good.  In fact, why do more games not use tried and proven technologies instead of brand new and often unstable products?  People often point to the art style of World of Warcraft, the most popular game in the MMO space right now as something that isn't hyper-realistic or the most technologically advanced.  This is not something that seems to have crippled its popularity.

Lastly, "hardcore" as it is defined in this article is a very arbitrary term.  The population of console games has traditionally been young men, but if you're the target population that a product has been (successfully) geared towards, you'll probably be an enthusiastic customer that plays the games.  It hardly seems fair to call the current population of young male gamers "hardcore" because they like the games that were made to appeal to them.  It seems a more indicator to me that the game companies have achieved their goals well.

If two people spend an equal amount of time enjoying two different games, what makes one gamer "hardcore" vs. the other?  If my flatmate spends 3 hours a day playing say, Crackdown on the XBOX 360 every day, and the other spends 3 hours playing say, Wii Sports, both focus on perfecting their scores and techniques.  Where is the difference?

I think that this attitude about "hardcore" vs. "casual" may come from the current population of video gamers feeling overwhelmed by a large new generation of game players that do not share their console and game history coming into and influencing the market.

As a martial arts enthusiast, I welcome new people practicing my style, but I do also have very strong opinions on what is "good" and what is "bad" martial arts practice, so I understand concerns, especially concerns about the new "whippersnappers" coming in without what I feel is the same knowledge and appreciation of the history and fundamentals of the art.

As a "casual" gamer, if a gamer at all, I hardly see my interest in some games as an invasion of an existing community, and I feel that being interested in some games and having some games made that I'd like more than within my rights.

What do you mates think?

Comments:

Posted by PTG

In many ways, Three Rings is proof of the inherent fallacy in his argument.

Three Rings is a (we are led to believe) financially viable and socially successful company who develops games in Java, a language that simply isn't taken seriously by most game developers.

Meanwhile, many of those same developers who insist on duplicating what is popular are going bankrupt or being bought out by larger companies.

I mean, let's face it: that grandmother is not going to play Grand Theft Auto: Rip Off The Prostitute's Arm And Use It To Beat The Cop To Death IV. Companies that cater to hardcore gamers can continue to do so, and their market isn't being lost. If the market as a whole expands, this doesn't necessarily make the component parts any smaller.

I think it also bears noting that technology has thresholds. After a certain point, new developments are increasingly just "gravy": for example, the fact that you can store seven or eight hours of content on a DVD doesn't change the fact that people don't particularly want to watch seven or eight-hour movies.

This is true of gaming as well: once 3d modelling becomes pretty darn good (and, arguably, it already is), it really doesn't matter to gamers that new technology makes the water react to light marginally more realistically.

And when you get down to it, perhaps the key to OOO's success is ideology. OOO more or less do what they want to, paying some--but not much--attention to what's currently trendy, resulting in unique products and unexpected solutions. Companies catering to "hardcore" gamers are just as capable of being original in their output, especially if that market contracts and puts "the big companies" off developing games for hardcore gamers.

In that sense, perhaps the hardcore market shrinking is the best thing that could possibly happen to it.

June 15, 2007 at 08:28 PM PDT | permalink

Posted by BrazenBecky

I disagree with the article. Game companies may enjoy what they do but they want to make money. Those over 25, even on Social Security, tend to have more disposable income to throw at a game. Young men with 40 hours a week to play must not be working much, so there income is likely limited. I am a 41 year old woman. I stay at home with my 4, soon to be 5 kids and my husband is in management at an international paper company.We pay for subscriptions for everyone in the family old enough to play. I personally play about 15 hours a week and often the whole family pillages together. The $50 a month subscription of families like us could add up pretty fast and we don't perpetually run out of money so we are steady income for 3 rings. Why count people like us out in the future of gaming?
Also, why presume "hardcore" means you play ongoing violent scenerios? Perhaps an amount of money spent or hours per week played would be a better definition. I picked Puzzle Pirates(after reading a romance novel about the game), because it was all about strategy not hacking various ugly creatures to pieces. So why discount Granny and her virtual cooking? What if she spends 20 hours a week playing and buys every accessory that comes with it? What does she have to do to be hardcore? Seems like the author of the article has a bit of a bias. If the game companies limit their market so narrowly, they will lose out in the long run, in my opinion.

June 16, 2007 at 12:45 PM PDT | permalink

Posted by Lorenith

I couldn't even finish reading that article, it seems offensive to me, this guy doesn't seem to really even know the meaning of hardcore gamer, or understand that any game can be played casually, regardless of the graphics, system, or genre of the game.

Most Nintendo (1st party) games are not aimed at any specific audience, at least it's been like that since the N64. Anyone can pick up and play most Nintendo games with relative ease, and enjoy them. A good example can be their Super Smash Bros games.

This particular game is very simple and easy for anyone to play, I've watched people that don't normally play games get together and have a blast playing it, it's a great party game regardless of skill level. On the flip side the game also has quite a bit of depth to it's play and has extremely competitive tournament players.

Nintendo is simply expanding its market some more, and trying something new out. That doesn't mean it'll stop making certain games, or getting 2nd and 3rd party developers on board to do so.

I think OOO and Nintendo have a very similar idea behind how they make games. Which is to experiment a bit, and try to make a fun game without needing all the bells and whistles. The games that are made can be an enjoyable experience for any skill level, whether it is casual or hardcore.

June 17, 2007 at 01:24 PM PDT | permalink

Posted by BulletTime

I was going to reply separately to Bia's post, but since that one's pretty much only concerned about the significance of technology (which also comes up here), I'll just incorporate that into this comment.

First off, though, I want to address Hypnos's main point - the difference between hardcore and casual. It's true that this author doesn't really define them as accurately as he should. Where he uses "hardcore," he'd be better off using "core," to avoid confusion. The video game industry's core audience has, indeed, been young men. That's not entirely, or even largely, due to some insidious spiral. There was never an audience for hyper-mundane gaming. In video gaming's infancy, people weren't always electronically uplinked. They weren't overstimulated. There was no social drive or individual desire to cook on a television screen. Gaming was, and in large part still is, an escape. That's why you had broad fantasies, bizarre worlds, and 1-Up mushrooms. (Apparently the mushrooms are still around, but they have to be saut?©ed first.)

"Hardcore" gaming is a different animal, although the author can be pardoned, somewhat, for confusing the two. Initially, the core gamers were hardcore gamers. You don't step into a fantasy for five minutes between classes. You immerse yourself. Besides, five minutes of gaming didn't get you very far in Super Mario World for Game Boy, which had no save function, and it still doesn't in WoW, whose complexity and depth means five minutes barely gets you out the gate of Ironforge.

Yes, as you say, you can have hardcore Wii Sports players. No, there's not much fundamental difference between Flatmate 1 and Flatmate 2. (Um, by the way - aren't you American? "Flatmate"?) But there's the rub - those two players are, indeed, hardcore. There ISN'T a difference between them. So it's not helpful to consider them together. The typical Wii Sports player (I speak only from secondhand understanding, here) is not a hardcore, 3-hour-a-day perfectionist, although the Crackdown player probably is. Okay, so you live with an exception, but the game industry isn't centered around your flat.

Unfortunately, the game industry is also kind of stupid. Like Hollywood, I suppose, the industry as a whole is not terribly inventive. So when a casual game strikes what appears initially to be a rich vein, it's going to spark a rush that isn't healthy for anyone. That's a bad thing - it's due to a definite flaw in the industry's thought process, but one way or another, it's there. Bemoan the industry's inability to innovate if you'd like, but the fact is that we'll see a quick spike in casual gaming. As Cleaver has himself noted more than once, that headlong rush has already begun.

I think the author's ultimately wrong in his conclusions, but not for the reasons people are discussing. I don't see the hardcore market shrinking, per se, but I absolutely believe we'll see a bunch of game companies competing to fill the casual market space. The problem? The casual market space is inherently MUCH smaller than the hardcore space. Grandma Wii isn't likely to play for hours on end, so fresh games aren't going to mean as much to her. When a million bored middle-schoolers are putting Bejeweled on their cell phones, who cares if ten companies are making Bejeweled knockoffs? They're unnecessary, and they don't add anything to the gaming pantheon. Whereas I, 21-year-old white American male, might spend a weekend devouring and spitting out GTA 6 (I don't, but I might) and hungering for GTA 7, Grandma Wii is most likely perfectly content making her virtual Veal Marsala a few times a week.

Let's say, however, that she isn't. Let's assume, by some miracle, that Grandma Wii is a long-dormant would-be hardcore gamer. What's the next step for her? An expansion pack with 15 new recipes? Of course not. If she were the type to take anything more from a game than the most basic time-killing entertainment, she'd already be playing more involved games. Not necessarily more violent, mind you, but more involved. There are plenty of RPGs and whatnot to fill the need she might have - if only she had it. So by pinning their hopes on the rapidly accumulating glut of casual games, developers are probably just oversaturating a very thin market. In short, I think you're wrong, Hypnos, in claiming the emergence of casual games will add to the overall depth and range of games. Range, yes, but not depth; when the games are designed to appeal to a mass audience, shallowness is part of the territory. You want depth, stick with the core, because they're the ones who actually demand it.

Ultimately, I think you'll start seeing companies get burned by their needless forays into the casual market, and retreat to the welcoming embrace of their core. A few casual games will stick; they'll be a little more innovative than the rest, or quicker to market, as with the first wave of Wii titles. And a few games will turn out to be less casual than initially assumed; YPP is probably closest to that model. Even out of some fairly simple ideas, you've got a huge segment of the community clamoring for more options, more depth; and a few people like RobertDonald trying to fashion options and depth out of thin air, giving them an irritating advantage over the less prestidigitatorially adept. Casual gamers are transitory; you really can't do much to ensure they stay with you as opposed to the slightly shinier puzzle game next door. The gamers you keep (as it was in the old days) will be the hardcore gamers, and you will have to accommodate them, as you already have.

However, as has been mentioned by nearly everyone that's posted, YPP also illustrates an important point about technology. Namely, that enough gamers will forgive you for not being bleeding-edge that you probably don't have to worry that much about it. I still consider the best games ever to be largely products of the SNES. Time and 3D animation haven't changed that. It's good that a significant number of games are pushing that threshold; it's the only way it'll advance. But PTG is right: if you're not able to justify that extra data usage, why incorporate it at all? I don't need to see every feather on the arrow my hunter fires, unless A) the feathers are legitimate game objects or B) there's absolutely no detraction from any other part of the game's quality. I'd like the game to make use of its platform's technological power, but I don't demand that it overtax itself to do so.

So no, I don't think of casual games as a threat. No, I don't think we need to panic about the state of video game technology. But yes, hardcore gaming, and core gamers, developed for a legitimate reason. That's not going to die, and it's not going to significantly decline as an institution. Glorify the new casual space if you'd like, but it's not a deep pool. People aren't getting a rush from casual games, so they're not nearly as important as the tried-and-true stuff. And that's what it ultimately comes down to. Casual gaming doesn't scare me because its true magnitude hasn't been revealed yet - and it's a lot smaller than the apostles and apocalyptists claim it is.

June 19, 2007 at 09:31 PM PDT | permalink

Posted by Hypnos

Wow, well written, BulletTime. I prefer your definitions of "core" to the somewhat confusing category of "hardcore" as defined in the article.

Anyway, yes I am American, but the unit I live in is the entire top floor of a building, instead of an apartment section, so I think of it as a "flat", as in the single story of a small building.

And yes, both of my flatmates are utter, utter game wheezies.

June 20, 2007 at 02:20 PM PDT | permalink

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