I'm a casual MMO player. Which is to say that, in a genre where game progression is 99% based on how long you can spend in-game, I'm never going to be able to cut it.
How casual am I? I can probably squeeze in 10 hours of computer recreation time per week at home. For MMOs, where playing them like a second job is seen as an acceptable gaming methodology, this means I'm a long way behind the curve.
I find that interesting, because a lot of verbal attention is given to casual players by MMOs, especially new MMOs. "Come on in casual players - you'll be able to do lots of things and it'll be fun!" they say. What this tends to mean is that casual players can fiddle around the edges and see bits and pieces, but if you really want to play and see the good stuff / get the good loot, you need to spend more resources - in most cases, this means time in-game.
However, the thing is that there are a lot more casual players out there than hardcore. The hardcore are more vocal and churn through the content faster, but they are a small percentage of the market. I don't have any stats for a game-by-game breakdown of casual players vs hardcore players in terms of proportion, but it's pretty straightforward that there are more players who kick around for a few hours a week as an escape in-game than those who dedicate 40+ hours to it.
Yet the MMO market tends to act like the hardcore market is the only one worth going after, that players who can't spend 4 hours a day min/maxing their character into a PvP demi-god aren't worth the time to develop anything meaningful for. Post launch, casual players really tend to get shafted as lots of development goes into an 'end-game' that requires a lot of time to get to and then a lot of time to play through.
It's a stupid model, and one that WoW (err... up until end-game, that is) and CoH/V have shown doesn't have to exist. You can let players play casually, let them advance quickly and still keep them paying up from month to month.
"But surely developing for the hardcore is a sensible idea?", you might ask. "They are the ones who are most loyal to their MMO, the ones who stay around the longest and the ones who know the game best, right?"
Not necessarily. More to come in a later entry...