I am a hardcore gamer, and you are a casual noob.
That’s pretty irritating to hear, isn’t it? I have no way of proving my status of “hardcore”, nor do I know enough of your gaming habits to pass judgment. Why, then, have the terms “hardcore” and “casual” become common-place jargon in the gaming community? More importantly, how can we throw these terms around if they don’t even have solid definitions?
Let’s try to put our finger on the definition of a hardcore gamer, shall we? Are you officially hardcore when you own dozens of games across several consoles? Maybe it’s based on what kind of games you play, with RPGs, with their immense depth, comprising the hardcore market. Do I have to invest a certain amount of hours per week into gaming, or play on the highest difficulty to be hardcore? If I find beating a game gratifying and don’t just “play for the fun of it,” am I hardcore now? Do I have to be of a certain age and still enjoy older titles?
I certainly don’t see any answers coming from that mess, and we haven’t even gotten to the casual side. Does playing Angry Birds on my phone instead of Mega Man X on a Super Nintendo emulator make me a casual gamer? If I enjoy Call of Duty multiplayer immensely, but play no other first-person shooters, am I a casual? If I don’t bother with the hype-ridden arguments between console owners and PC gamers, and instead just play a select few games just for fun, am I gaming casually? Does gaming on a tablet instead of a Nintendo 3DS XL make me a casual gamer?
Here’s a better question: Why do we care? Do any of us actually cling to this fictitious status of being “hardcore” or “casual” gamers so desperately that we need to label it? What purpose could these titles possibly serve other than creating unnecessary differences between gamers?
Well, as it turns out, there is one purpose—it just isn’t our doing.
Although these terms are two of the more infamous tools for schoolyard name-calling in the gaming community, the industry as a whole makes much better use of them. Drop the disparity veil for a second and look at this scenario from a business perspective. There are, essentially, two types of consumers (whose names you must know by now). Moreover, developers and publishers have to market their games and hardware to the appropriate target market if they expect them to sell well. So, in this way, the differences between hardcore and casual gamers have an enormous effect on the structure and quality of most releases.
Let me run you a hypothetical. Let’s say there are currently two popular consoles in the market, both of which cater to the hardcore consumers. The more popular of the two has made its name through multiple critically acclaimed shooter franchises, while the other is praised for its variety of exclusives. So, if a company wants to put out a console of their own, what makes more sense: Trying to break into the hardcore market which is populated by players who already own consoles, or cornering the casual section all for themselves?
What I’ve just described is the basic thinking behind the release of the Wii. Nintendo lead the casual charge with their family-friendly Wii system, and they’ve refused to loosen their hold on that portion of the market. Despite Microsoft’s efforts with the Kinect and Sony’s desperate push with the PlayStation Move, Nintendo reigns supreme when it comes to the quirky, simple, and age-friendly.
And that’s just one example of a somewhat dated system. So, how do player differences affect gaming today?
Nintendo has played off of the popularity of their Nintendo DS line’s control scheme by implementing a tablet-esque controller with a touchscreen interface in the Wii U, mimicking the dual-screen design of their handheld.
Now, why would they do this? Just because they’re Nintendo, and they can? Possibly. But it’s more likely that they wanted to drift away from the immediate association with casual gaming that the Wii created, and instead get hardcore players’ attention. And exploiting (in a good way) the success of what is widely considered the “hardcore handheld” was a perfect way to start. They also began releasing more action-oriented titles on the Wii U such as Bayonetta 2 and Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition to further their hardcore appeal—something that the typical Mario horde can’t do.
Nintendo certainly isn’t the only one who knows about these divisive labels. Sony chose to implement improved streaming and browsing functionality on their newest handheld rather than focusing solely on game quality. This is actually less of a given than you might think. Yes, hardware should improve and adapt to our digital age, but there’s more to these features than just that; they added value to the device for players who are less likely to spend all day gaming without alienating PSP owners who were looking to trade up.
Gamers are a critical, selfish, and ravenous bunch. We want what we want, how we want it, and we’re going to be pissed if it doesn’t happen. No game will ever satisfy everyone, but everything will be liked by someone. That’s a pretty accurate description of the video game player base, yet we chose to split it right down the middle into hardcore and casual. But if you dig a little deeper into developer planning, you’ll see that these labels are pretty worthless. Yes, player “type” does play some role in marketing, but even something as basic as genre is more important. Naughty Dog isn’t selling The Last of Us to “hardcore” gamers; they expect action, shooter, and survival fans to buy it.
If you ask me, considering yourself a certain type of gamer is snobby and ridiculous, and players simply need to get over themselves. Video games are a creative medium designed to offer something fun; they shouldn’t devolve into some classist rant. But again, that’s just me.
Readers, what do you think? Should this terminology carry any weight? Does it actually influence anything, or is it just our way of labeling player preference?
Date: February 27, 2013