Why do both hardcore and casual gamers alike love the peg popping action of PopCap's Peggle so much? It might have to do with luck, or, rather, the lack thereof.
Why exactly Peggle is so damn addictive is a worthy question in and of itself, but just as intriguing is the mystery of how a game so clearly aimed at casual gamers has gained such a strong following among the hardcore. Your mom likes Peggle. That guy you know who talks about "Prestiges" in Call of Duty loves Peggle, probably more than your mom. Seems weird, doesn't it?
Wired's Clive Thompson investigated this phenomenon, and the results are fairly fascinating. Turns out PopCap themselves have put a decent amount of thought into figuring out why such different groups of people like this game so much. They actually see Peggle as being bigger with hardcores than casuals. This might be because the crazy psychedelic colors scare off casuals or because the "passive" nature of the game, which only requires you to move your mouse and click every so often, doesn't have the same non-stop click-fest appeal of something like Solitaire or Bejeweled.
PopCap vice president Greg Canessa has another theory, though. He thinks it has to do with luck, or, at least, how we perceive it. For casual gamers, he thinks, winning in Peggle is too luck-based: you just shoot the ball and hope for the best. Conversely, it's the exact opposite for hardcore gamers, who see the game as a complex system of cause-and-effect.
"They'll be sitting there thinking, 'Oh, if I bounce the ball off that peg it'll hit this other peg and jump over here, where it'll take out two other colored pegs," Canessa said.
It's not just that hardcore gamers are seeing complex systems, there's actually a surprising amount of thought and analysis that goes into the making of each morsel of these bite-sized games as addictive as possible. PopCap titles are full of "non-intuitive little things that just work with gamer psychology for some reason," like raising the pitch for successive sound cues during combos or never awarding point increments higher than ten, the developer revealed in an interview with Rock, Paper, Shotgun.
For Thompson, the crowning irony is that "casual players are misperceiving the role of luck in the game." He points out the example of Bejeweled, a game that's actually more luck-based than Peggle but also far more popular among the casual gamers who supposedly dislike Peggle because there's too much chance involved.
"Maybe this is another way that hard-core and soft-core gamers are psychologically different," Thompson ponders. "When you look at a game -- hell, maybe when you look at life -- do you see everything governed by chance and fate? Or are things up to you?"
Peggle. It's like, deep, man.