Going Gold #3: Rotten to the Core

Going Gold #3: Rotten to the Core

Gaming's clumsy subdivision of players into "core" and "casual" is the sign of an immature industry that doesn't know what to do with its customers.

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Applause, kudos, bravissimo! Thank you for outlining the problem so clearly for folks; oddly enough, it's us "core" fans who tend not to get this point more than the so-called "casuals".

-- Steve

It's a bizarre sort of multiple-personality disorder in the gaming sector these days, where gaming companies want to be everything to everyone but can't get past this notion that there are "lines" separating gamers. Or it could also be that they simply don't want to spend the time it takes to develop game ideas that follow the "easy to learn, hard to master" curve so that "casuals" can hop in and have fun while "core" players can pound at it for hours and discover new things.

There's ALWAYS a middle ground somewhere!

Good article but I disagree with one of the main points. You used the terms "core" and "casual" which I would consider a bit bad. I prefer the terms "novice" and "experienced". One major problem in todays industries is this attempt to make all "mainstream" ( and here this word means "simplified", "quick to play" ). Simplification is good and many games are great because they are simple. But some games simply require a more complex control scheme or trickier game mechanics. For example Deus-Ex had a rather complex control scheme with all the different things you could do. The successor DX:IW got simplified ( for consoles, which is an important fact to get to understand the current situation on the PC market ) in the wake of which the glory of the original title got lost. The reason here is simply that the layer of complexity made this game in the first place. Trying to simplify all games to bring them down to a level playable for novice players is not the right choice or all titles. Chess for example is highly complex and for many a rewarding game to play. Would you go and simplify the rules ( for example taking out most rules ) you would get a game that novice players could quickly pick up but the fun is lost ( since in this particular game the fun comes from the complexity and the strategy unfold by it ).

This is most probably also why the word "casual" received a sort of insulting character and is used when talking about watering down games. We need both, the simple games ( for novice players ) and the complex games ( for experienced players ). It's the same as with Windows and Linux. We don't need one mainstream system but one for each level of experience and taste. The same with games.

Odjin:
Good article but I disagree with one of the main points. You used the terms "core" and "casual" which I would consider a bit bad.

I agree with the rest of your post. I feel the author focused on these two words because they are bad, and that part of his point was how they are unrepresentative of all types of gamers.

The Rogue Wolf:
Or it could also be that they simply don't want to spend the time it takes to develop game ideas that follow the "easy to learn, hard to master" curve so that "casuals" can hop in and have fun while "core" players can pound at it for hours and discover new things.

Videogames used to do that all the time, and it's no coincidence that they were a big mainstream deal around then. Remember Pac-Man fever? No? God damned young people, no respect for history...

Thing is, these days people expect games to be like traditional narratives, complete with endings that are always the same for every player (with maybe the occasional good vs. evil "choice"). To get to the end, you must have x amount of skill and invest x amount of time. And if you don't get to the end, then (so the conventional wisdom goes) you didn't really play the game at all. This makes it impossible for any game to satisfy people for whom x isn't roughly the same.

Games are not stories. If you want to hit that "easy to learn, difficult to master" sweet spot, and appeal to gamers of all skill levels, you can't stay with that narrative formula. You have to present an increasing degree of challenge as the player gets more involved in the game (either through increasing complexity, tougher AI or human opponents), and you have to make it fun even if you don't meet some minimum standard of time or skill to "finish" the game. Because if you do, it'll always be too high for some and too low for others. Multiple difficulty levels can potentially even out the skill difference, but not the time commitment difference.

I think the "casual" vs. "core" division is a valid one. I just think the terms are used incorrectly, and don't work as game genres in and of themselves. There are those who play for 10 or 15 minutes at a time, maybe a couple of times a day. They may want a game to pass a couple of minutes without having to invest too much time and thought into it. Those would be the causal gamers. And then there are those who game for hours at a time, who chunk out significant portions of their free time just to game. They don't want a quick thrill, they want a game experience. Those would be the core gamers.

Notice, I didn't mention types of games. A person who plays Peggle for 4 hours at a time because they love it is a core gamer, not a causal gamer. Someone who loads up Half Life for 20 minutes at a time once a day is a casual gamer, even if the game they play is traditionally thought of as a core game. That is the problem we run into with the terms, they aren't being used correctly. They should be used to define a play style, not a game type.

So, the division is, in my opinion, real and valid. It needs to be recognized by the industry and by the players themselves. Developers need to design games for various play styles, as some games do lend themselves to the different styles more naturally than others. The one thing we can't afford to do is ignore it. The casual style gamer is still a gamer, one who could be a hard core gamer in the future. He needs to be cultivated and groomed. If we don't have new blood coming into the hobby, the hobby will die, and that's all there is to it. And let's face it, you aren't going to attract the attention of a casual player with games like The Witcher, no matter how much it might appeal to more serious players.

Royas, your casual gamer example using Half-life for only 20 minutes per day made me think. Daily gaming? How about once per week or once per month?

And how about how games are made? Is Half-life a game that can be played for 20 minutes at a time? How about Diablo II? Quake III? Some games are designed so that they can be played casually, while others require a big time commitment to even start.

HL can never be played in small chunks. You might play map after map but each map takes a noticeable time. Also it is designed to not have slow times and fast times. You are mostly handed from one action sequence to the other ( with occasional cut scenes or convos like for example EP2 had them ( too much though, it got disturbing ) ). Casual games usually break into small manageable parts like for example Sokodu ( which got quite a hype when it hit newspapers back then ). You can play 10 or 15 minute on one grid and then you can put it aside again. Most games simply do not have these small packages and are one string of action. It's the same as comparing movies to tv shows. Watching a movie in chunks would be rather idiotic while tv shows are made to yield 25 minutes for one episode ( minus notorious overlength advertisement ). Hence a movie never is "casual" even if you could torture it by watching it piece-wise. You can though chain-watch tv shows but that's also like sado-maso somehow ( rofl )

While there are definitely certain games that do appeal to the mass market more than others, I certainly agree that "core" and "casual" are not words that game developers should take into any consideration when designing a game.

I think everyone agrees that gameplay is the most important aspect of a game - an amazing story or stunning visuals are only icing on the cake. Gameplay is what makes a game fun, and more importantly, is what makes a game a game. A good general rule is people play fun games. If a game is genuinely enjoyable, people will want to play it. Focusing on stupid divisions like "casual" or "core" causes devs to mess with all the icing (story, graphics, etc.) in order to target a specific audience, and usually the actual game will suffer for it.

These divisions don't help people get into games, either. Let's say someone picks up Guitar Hero for the first time and really gets a kick out of it. He/she wants to learn more about these games. A few minutes on the web later, he/she's learned that there are 2 types of games; "casual" and "core". Guitar Hero, he/she sees, is a "casual" game. What kind of games do you think he'll try next?

When will people see? All this fighting is tearing us apart!

Any game you can save anywhere can be played in a casual style... HL2, Doom, anything. I've done it myself when dealing with crunch times at work, I get 10 minutes free so I play a little HL2. You may never finish the game that way in your lifetime, but it's a valid play style. I do know people who get bored easily. They play a half hour maybe, then save and do something else.

Royas, I agree with you to a point. I would argue that Half-life 2 and other FPS games aren't generally "casual", in the sense that it isn't intuitive for non-FPS players to pick up the controls and play.

But there are things that can be done, such as allowing saves anywhere, that can make games more accessible to those who aren't able to dedicate 8 hours a day to playing.

GBGames:
Royas, I agree with you to a point. I would argue that Half-life 2 and other FPS games aren't generally "casual", in the sense that it isn't intuitive for non-FPS players to pick up the controls and play.

But there are things that can be done, such as allowing saves anywhere, that can make games more accessible to those who aren't able to dedicate 8 hours a day to playing.

I won't disagree that FPS games like HL2 aren't usually thought of as casual, especially if you define it that way. I think most of the people who play those kinds of games are pretty serious about their gaming, and probably spend a lot of time at it. It's possible to play them casually, but that's not the common way to do so.

 

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