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Jun 11, 2005

Comments

1.

The divide between hard-core gamers (almost anyone reading here) and casual players (our spouses, parents, kids, bosses, etc.) is real -- as evidenced by Stuart's ignorance of just why it is that people play casual games and how they find them.

IMO there are at least three deep differences between core and casual players: first, hard-core players are willing to invest significant time (hours or days, not minutes) into a game. A casual gamer will give up on a game if it even looks intimidating, time-consuming, or too complex. Five minutes of play, even over and over again ("I can stop any time I want" :) ) is fine. But if the game requires hours to enjoy, or if installation takes more than a few mouseclicks or more than a minute, and especially if the game isn't fun in the first few seconds, forget it.

Second, hard-core and casual players differ in the kind of experience they're looking for. Most hard-core players are looking for a direct, achievement-oriented, often aggressive, even confrontational experience. Casual game players want anything but that: "head-to-head" play (much less PvP!) is inscrutable to them; anything beyond a "Top Score" list is often seen as too competitive and aggressive for their tastes.

Finally, we know how to reach and (most of all) monetize hard-core gamers' desire for single-player and online multiplayer experiences. Casual gamers are much more fickle, and much more difficult to monetize. Game giants like EA have lost millions of dollars (despite Pogo's current success -- don't forget EA.com) trying to make casual games sell. Popcap and others have done well, but not by the standards of any studio with a hit core game. Casual games typically cost a pittance to make by AAA-retail standards, but if you don't make anything from them as a developer, you still lose out.

The paradox of the casual play segment is that while it is much larger (in terms of people, play-minutes, downloads, etc.) than the hard-core segment, it has also been more difficult to convert this into significant, repeatable, dependable revenue streams -- especially from the POV of hard-core gamers and those who develop for them.


One last note on an already too-long post: given these differences between core and casual players, we have also segmented out two other types: "committed" and "commando" players; these along with "core" and "casual" round out our "4Cs" gameplay model. I'll leave the full description for another time. :)

2.

Another aspect is "stickiness": how do you make a game sticky for a casual player without turning the said person into "hardcore"?

no answer from me yet.

Frank

3.

I've come to the conclusion that the key difference is that casual gamers don't believe games, in general, are fun. This means that the promise of future entertainment doesn't hold them as it would a hardcore gamer, who knows they enjoy games in general - of the genres they believe they like, at least. As a result, casual gamers approach every game with skepticism. This might explain the aversion to competitive play too... direct competition rarely treats newcomers well.

If all this is so, self-described hardcore gamers should respond much like casual gamers when confronted with games lacking a loved genre, loved franchise or trusted recommendation. I've encountered this myself, with friends eager for Battlegrounds in World of Warcraft drawn in by the mostly co-operative approach to play in multiplayer golf RPG "Shot Online". (I've never had so much trouble getting gamers just to download a free MMO beta, either, and every last one was hooked.)

Going by this: since making the game sticky is the same as convincing the player that future play will be worthwhile, there's no distinction between getting a casual player to come back and turning them into a hardcore player - for that game, anyway.

So, for a given game, a hardcore gamer is one who believes the game experience to be familiar and enjoyable and a casual gamer is one who suspects it may be neither. A casual gamer who gets stuck into a game will turn more hardcore with respect to that game. In general terms, a hardcore gamer would then be one who believes games they haven't played will be familiar and enjoyable, though this may be limited to games in certain genres and so on.

Just a thought - that maybe there's something simple behind this casual/hardcore split that we can learn more from.

4.


Mike>

The paradox of the casual play segment is that while it is much larger (in terms of people, play-minutes, downloads, etc.) than the hard-core segment, it has also been more difficult to convert this into significant, repeatable, dependable revenue streams -- especially from the POV of hard-core gamers and those who develop for them.

Magicback>
Another aspect is "stickiness": how do you make a game sticky for a casual player without turning the said person into "hardcore"?

Ruari>
A casual gamer who gets stuck into a game will turn more hardcore with respect to that game.

Is time spent in a game the best proxy for attachment/engagement/commitment, and in turn, is this the best metric of "hard-coreness"? I realize this is a uniquely MMO (at least in terms of emphasis) view-of-the-world. But is it a universal?


5.

I, too, question some of the ways players classify "hardcore" vs casual here. Mike seems to suggest that "casual" players lack the desire to play long-term and gravitate to "confrontational play."

I have friends who are "hardcore" console FPS PvP players but "casual" MMORPG players... why? Because they crave the intensity of the PvP experience, but don't want to "waste their time" leveling a character, and since most PvP really BEGINS at the "level cap" they're bored stupid trying to get there.

Conversely, I have friends who hate the PvP element altogether, but spend very close to 40 hours online in MMORPG's... something that would seem rather "hardcore" as far as a time investment goes.

I, personally, was insulted by the attitude that mike put out that, "A casual gamer will give up on a game if it even looks intimidating, time-consuming, or too complex. " While I'm sure the offense wasn't intended, it's that kind of conceit that can build a substantial barrier between play styles.

Listening to my "casual" MMORPG'ers as they rate the game they're going to play (they only have time to invest in one) I've noticed that it's not a decision of complexity, but in the reward for investment- and not the way you might think. If they determine that the game grants imbalancing rewards to people that play hours on end AND that they have to compete with that person, they don't bother trying. They know, at the front, that they can't match the time investment, so they won't try.

It's a question of extremes. If the "hardcore reward" is only marginally better than the common gear, then the casual player can feel they can still contribute, but if the "hardcore reward" is TOO powerful or offers TOO MUCH of an advantage, the casual player cannot contribute.

It's not just combat either. When "crafting aprons" became available for millions of credits on SWG, many "casual" crafters gave up, or guilds banded together to buy aprons for their guildmates. The advantage these conveyed became seen as a barrier that was much more difficult for a casual player to overcome. Some found "niche" markets, catering to the low-level that the ubercrafters ignored, but many simply left, feeling unneeded.

Game developers don't have to make "simple" game mechanics to bring in the casual players. They simply have to balance "rewarding the hardcore player for his time" with "insuring the casual player doesn't become irrelevant."

6.

Time spent in a game is a good primary measure for commitment or attachment -- this works as well for hard-core bridge players or dog show contestants as for MMOG players.

However, hard-core attachment isn't the only measure of market utility for players of MMOGs. Using 'time in-game' as a measure maintains the focus on only the core player (those who currently play these games anyway). Are only those who are willing to devote themselves (in terms of tens of hours per week) to a game interesting to MMOG developers? Or can we break out of the hard-core shell and extend MMOG gameplay to those who are, in terms of time (and type of play) "less committed"? Is this a valuable audience for MMOGs?

I believe it is. There's a lot of buzz around broadening the audience right now. Whether people will actually do that, or whether they'll just try to make the audience change how it plays, remains to be seen.

7.

Chas said, Mike seems to suggest that "casual" players lack the desire to play long-term and gravitate to "confrontational play."

No, what I was was that casual players won't commit to play a lot (long session times), and gravitate away from "confrontational play."

Conversely, I have friends who hate the PvP element altogether, but spend very close to 40 hours online in MMORPG's... something that would seem rather "hardcore" as far as a time investment goes.

In our model, we call such people "committed" players. These are often socializers, innkeepers, guild leaders, etc. -- those with a high time commitment to the game but without the same desire for direct, uber-achievement-oriented, aggressive, and/or confrontational play. It's this latter element that sets them apart from the core player.

'Committed' players occur in most MMOGs today, though they are largely ignored (in terms of gameplay) by the developers. In most MMOGs you have to go through the hardcore grind first -- get to the level cap or whatever -- and then you can branch out a bit. M59 and UO support such committed players a bit, as does WoW, with their guild structures, mining, and crafting paths. Even in these games though, these paths are clearly secondary to the mainline core levels-for-killing-stuff path.

I, personally, was insulted by the attitude that mike put out that, "A casual gamer will give up on a game if it even looks intimidating, time-consuming, or too complex. " While I'm sure the offense wasn't intended, it's that kind of conceit that can build a substantial barrier between play styles.

I'm not sure why this was offensive; I didn't intend it to be so. What I was talking about was simple fact. If you study the real casual game scene (not remotely related to anyone playing a MMOG), you'll find that casual game sales can suffer significantly if there is one extra step in the download or installation process. One too many instruction screen and your downloads and sales drop off. There is a very clear and factual basis for my statement; this isn't a conceit at all.

Listening to my "casual" MMORPG'ers as they rate the game they're going to play (they only have time to invest in one)...

Let me make this really clear: if someone has time and inclination for even one MMOG, they are not a casual game player. They may be on the casual end of hard core, but there is still a huge psychological and social gulf between them and people playing a few games on Yahoo or Popcap. Talk to your boss, parents, spouse, long-suffering girlfriend, librarian, clergy, etc: these people have lives, homes, hobbies, and little to no interest in anything in the current MMOG space. These are the "casual players" I'm talking about.

Game developers don't have to make "simple" game mechanics to bring in the casual players. They simply have to balance "rewarding the hardcore player for his time" with "insuring the casual player doesn't become irrelevant."

I disagree with the first statement based on what's worked for those who have been successful in the casual market. However I agree strongly with your last statement. The real trick in incorporating casual (and other) players into the landscape that currently rewards hardcore players is making sure that none of them sees themselves as irrelevant to the game or the other players.

8.

Ruari O'Sullivan >>"I've come to the conclusion that the key difference is that casual gamers don't believe games, in general, are fun. This means that the promise of future entertainment doesn't hold them as it would a hardcore gamer, who knows they enjoy games in general - of the genres they believe they like, at least. As a result, casual gamers approach every game with skepticism. This might explain the aversion to competitive play too... direct competition rarely treats newcomers well."

I've gotta disagree. The fact that these gamers are, well...gamers...would indicate that they do indeed believe games are "fun". However, they choose to invest less time in a game than a typical hardcore gamer. Could be a matter of priorities. Could be that they simply don't have the time or that they prefer more diverse entertainment.

Neither do I think that a casual gamer approaches games with skepticism. Their aversion to competitive play is more often due to a game system that rewards hardcore players for their time and effort. I'm not saying that's wrong, but you can't expect someone with a level 12 Squire to get excited about jumping into PvP with your 65 Epic TankMage.

9.

I think we have multiple concept of what a casual player is. We can stick with statistical demographic segmentations, but conceptually I don't we are all on the same wavelength. But that's OK. Let's work the idea through :)

Nathan ask about time as a proxy for gauging the transition from casual to hardcore. I personally prefer some kind of metric for Personal Significance (PS), but I think Time Spend (TS) is the best proxy so far. Dollar Spent (DS) [not in RMT, but total dollar spent on the hobby] might be another one.

I'm thinking about a way of being sticky without forcing time commitment (into the grind, the accumulation of item/level, etc).

In some way I think of it as being committed to a cable network, but not to a particular channel. In this way, the mode of play is sticky, but the game does not need to be.

Frank

10.

Mike Sellers>if someone has time and inclination for even one MMOG, they are not a casual game player . . . there is still a huge psychological and social gulf between them and people playing a few games on Yahoo or Popcap. . . . These are the "casual players" I'm talking about.

Are people making a mistake in trying to use the terms "hardcore" and "casual" across game genres?

I would propose that those words have very different meaning when talking about the Yahoo! Games population versus the MMORPG crowd.

If you play Bejeweled (or MineSweeper, or MajJong Solitare or any of the other crazy popular Yahoo! Games) for hours a day, I have a hard time not considering you "hardcore" even though you may not know EQII from WOW. But that breaks Nathan's model - the Bejeweled player is competing against the high score table and avoiding direct competition. And I'm guessing it does just fine on the whole revenue-stream thing.

At the same time, there is no denying that World of Warcraft (in particular) has tapped into what has to be considered a "casual MMORPG" crowd. My god, my father is playing it (oh wait, that's probably what my son says). He'll never make level 60 (I'm not sure he'll ever make it to the Deadmines), but he's playing ten or so hours a week. That is pretty "hardcore" for a normal hobby, like stamp collecting, but is laughably casual in World of Warcraft, where maxing out a character takes something on the order of 250 game hours if you are *trying*. Meaning Dad's unnatural focus on gathering Peacebloom is doing nothing but pushing him backwards.

I leared the hard way that 10 hours a week on Final Fantasy XI is the equivalent of 10 hours a week sitting quietly in a room and shooting a flashbulb in your eyes. You'll get tired eyes, but not make much in the way of progress. Perhaps all FFXI players are "hardcore." But to ignore the "casual" distinction emergent in the MMORPG genre, or to limit them to the Yahoo! Games crowd is to ignore what seems to be an important phenomenon (at least in terms of sales figures).

11.

It's more productive to look at it from the casual viewpoint. It's not casual players that are more skeptical or more afraid of competition, but hardcore players who are too ready to accept boring load times, arcane game mechanics and repetitive gameplay. Casual players are interested solely in the fun:time ratio. If something takes more than one play session to do, it's not worth doing. Think about it, do you tally up your victories and losses between games of pick-up basketball? Of course not. Only professionals who play for money are so serious about winning.

I find it difficult to believe that casual players of anything disdain competition. Almost every game in existence requires another player (except some computer games). The difference is that casual players don't play to win, while hardcore players do. A game has to be flexible to accommodate both styles (maybe by having PvP players "bet" a certain amount of experience/gold, or by having lethal/non-lethal battles ).

Usually, casual and hardcore players can be identified by their skill at a game. Powerful, skillful, popular, rich players are hardcore, unless they bought it all on Ebay. MMOs are a special problem, but I think I agree with Mike Sellers in that all MMO players are more or less hardcore. Most of the appeal of MMOs lies in long term accomplishments and achievements, which casual players have little time for. Any MMO more complex than Katamari Damacy or Bejeweled probably won't attract too many casual players.

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