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Casual vs. Hardcore Players

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Editorial examination of the divide

In any MMORPG there is such a thing as Time Played. Time Played can tell you a lot about your gaming experience. Has your time been spent grinding away to get the highest level, and once you reach that high level what is next? Do you spend your time getting loot, killing other players, or joining huge raids to progress in end game content? How does time played factor into a casual lifestyle or a lifestyle bent on being the best in a particular game. A very hot topic right now in MMORPGs is the notion of both casual and hardcore gamers playing on the same server and going after the same goals. This brings up the question what is the difference between a casual gamer and a hardcore gamer?

Currently, I have been playing World of Warcraft so please understand this article will be based around that particular game. However there are elements that may apply to EVE Online, City of Heroes, Everquest, Shadowbane, etc. So with that said how much time do I spend playing World of Warcraft? I would say an average of about twenty hours a week. Please understand I do work and have a family, luckily my wife plays too. Still with our schedules as they are I would say about three to four nights a week I am playing Warcraft. I do not think this makes me a casual player by any means. Many people will disagree with that. Hardcore players spend much more time than that working towards end game goals, because really that is what it is all about, the end game.

From people I have spoken too, and played with, who consider themselves hardcore play anywhere from twenty to forty or more hours a week. My opinion, for that many hours, Blizzard should pay them a stipend. Still, I give them credit, they work hard. Their guilds are organized and have requirements. You play or you are out. These are some heavy standards to live up too. But these are the hardcore guilds. The ones we see running around in their purple gear, beating bosses on raids, killing everyone in PvP. I respect anyone who plays a game to its fullest which is what I think many of these players do. Let’s face it; not all of us will experience Ragnaros or Nefarian. It takes hours to get there, hours to learn how to beat each boss. The players who have invested time and effort into learning every aspect of the game and pushing the limit of playtime on their daily lives, I salute you. Your standards should be high, Blizzard created Warcraft; you are giving back to those developers who spent hours working on the wild end game encounters which many will never see.

This brings up the casual player concept. What is a casual player? Well, many that I know or have played with are people who care deeply about the game, work hard on their characters yet don’t have the time to put into getting them the best equipment, running the long raids, or spend hours of PvP to gain the highest ranks. Still they soldier on through the game in hopes of getting some of their goals accomplished. Having fun when they can, or logging in for a few minutes to fight the good fight. These players may be forced into PUGs (pick-up groups) for either raids or PvP. Their guilds may be small yet willing to work on getting things done. The biggest problem these and many other players face is what to do when they reach the end game. A lot of casual players argue that there is little to do in the end game of World of Warcarft unless you have time and people to invest in developing your character. These arguments are met by vague answers as to what players can do with their time. Clearly Hardcore players do not want these casual players to have simple access to all the gear and secrets they have learned through hours of playing. Who can blame them? It takes plenty of work to get the best equipment or abilities. Still, the content in World of Warcraft does not necessarily favor the end game casual player.

Once a player reaches level sixty they have several things to do. Yes there are quests for them to complete. Many of which involve the “high-end” instance dungeons people run on a nightly basis. These runs can take anywhere from an hour to four hours depending on group dynamics. However if you log in for only an hour, there is very little to do as far as instance dungeons go. If you play solo, you are forced to look for groups going out and may fall pray to the ninja looters we all know and love.

PvP is always an option in MMORPG games. The problem with World of Warcraft is that there is a queue system for players to wait in before a fight can start. While in some ways this evens out the fighting between factions. It can hurt a casual player tremendously. If you only have two hours to play, you may spend one hour waiting in line to fight. Or even worse, get into a Battleground to find that you are facing the best PvP guild on the server who will completely destroy your team. Blizzard has said they will develop some form of an open PvP area in the future. I think that will be a big help for casual players simply looking for a fun fight.

Finally, there are the raid instance dungeons that World of Warcraft has to offer: Molten Core, Blackwing Lair and Zul’Gurub. The times I’ve spent in Molten Core have been fun although repetitive. For the most part you work hard as a group to beat the bosses and see what these damage-dealing giants will drop. Is it worth the hours spent to learn this dungeon and eventually get the best gear? Well, this is a game after all, if that is what you want out of the game then it is there. Blackwing Lair is said to be even harder than Molten Core. I have yet to experience BWL, but have heard from many that it is rough. Zul’Gurub was introduced as a casual raiding experience for players. However, the bosses remain very difficult to beat and once again the twenty man instance offers much of the same only on a smaller scale. Still, this instance is tough, takes time, and certainly requires less time than the forty man raid dungeons; however it is anything but casual.

So what options do players have at the end-game? Well, hopefully Blizzard will continue to offer more in the future. I for one would like to see an open PvP area for all players to fight in. Also, some type of character development that does not involve going after purple loot (even PvP rank rewards are compensated with items). With the expansion now announced and the level cap being raised to seventy, perhaps more options will open up. The new races will offer some players the chance to start over again. The new lands may hopefully open up quest lines that a solo player can complete to gain that epic piece of gear they’ve been dying to have. Will there still be hardcore players, absolutely. They are good for the game; they can help casual players learn about certain goals they may be on the verge of experiencing. This mix on different servers should be driven by the players, not by the content. Instead of fighting between each other work together, both casual and hardcore alike.

In closing I offer players this; everyone who loves playing MMORPGs is hardcore in one form or another. Whether you play for ten hours a day or sneak away from your family and friends to get a few hours of fun in, we all play because we love games. I remember running instances with people who had a party going on around them, or people who AFK to put the kids to bed. Let’s face it, we are all hardcore. If we had the time and energy we would all be playing much more than we probably should. I just hope that the future of MMORPG games does not continue to be all about loot, or skill levels. Even though they are all about interaction with others, perhaps that community can grow through game content, to work together and make video games fun for all of us.

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