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The Quinquennial (or sometimes more often)

Various thoughts on online gaming, often pulled from articles I've written for other sources.

Author: Quizzical

We are all casual now

Posted by Quizzical Sunday February 1 2009 at 10:40PM
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Are you a casual player or hardcore? If you don’t have an answer for that ready, stop and think a minute. If you’re not going to see this until 12 hours after it was posted, I can wait an extra couple of minutes for your reply.

For most of you, there is a correct answer to that question, and casual isn’t it. Not only do you play online games, but you go to external sites to read or talk about online games. And not just sites specific to whichever game(s) you’re playing at the time. And you even clicked on a blog entry not specific to any game at all. That degree of involvement in MMORPGs makes you very hardcore compared to most MMORPG players.

Why then do a lot of players here describe themselves as casual players? The answer to that is that an overwhelming majority of players self-describe as casual rather than hardcore.

There are various reasons for this. Perhaps the biggest is that notions of hardcore and casual don’t make sense in isolation, but only in comparison to other players. Relatively hardcore players are disproportionately used for such comparisons. If one player plays five hours per day and another plays two hours per week, whom are you more likely to meet in the game? Whom are you more likely to read about on various external sources?

Even if casual players outnumber hardcore players by a large margin, when people go to make comparisons to other players in the game, they mostly compare themselves to the handful of extremely hardcore players. And compared to them, yes, most players are casual.

Another reason is that a substantial majority of players really do spend less time than average in a game. One player can play several times as much as average, and quite a few players do. But no one can play less than no time in a game at all. When it comes to calculating averages, one very hardcore player can bring the average up enough to counteract several extremely casual players.

A third reason is that humans are very averse to thinking that we’re doing things wrong. Most people would recognize that playing games too much is bad, even if there’s nothing wrong with playing games in moderation. As such, there can be a tendency to think, maybe those hardcore players are failing classes or getting fired from a job (and indeed, very few people fit into those categories), but I’m not one of them.

People sometimes complain that everything is too dumbed down, and there aren’t enough games made for hardcore players. If the overwhelming majority of players will self-identify as casual, then guess where the money in marketing games to players is. If a game can’t appeal to casual players, then it has to get quite a lot of money per player from hardcore players to be financially viable. Some games try that via item malls, but most hardcore players find that distasteful. A game absolutely must appeal to casual players in order to be commercially successful.

Indeed, if hardcore players aren’t going to pay any more than casuals, companies might well not want such players at all. Hardcore players are more expensive than casuals. They use more server bandwidth. They call for company help more often. If they are inclined to cause trouble, they will cause a lot more, and know how to cause a lot more. Glitch exploitation and botting are almost the exclusive domain of hardcore players.

That’s not to say that companies should ban players for logging too many hours. That would offend both hardcore and casual players alike, and be a PR disaster. But the point remains that there just isn’t that much money to be made by going out of your way to appeal to hardcore players in ways that will drive away casual players. Even to hardcore players who misidentify themselves as casual, having to devote your life to a game to be competitive really doesn’t hold that much appeal.

So are companies primarily interested in attracting casual players? Yes, because that’s what the players want.