This short essay was first posted to my original blog on August 1, 2008.
Most of the discussion on casual and hardcore games paints a mutually exclusive picture. But casual and hardcore aren’t two ends of the same spectrum: the opposite of a casual feature is not a hardcore feature.
There are, however, things that interfere or reduce a game’s ability to be played in a casual or hardcore manner. Why define what casual/hardcore aren’t instead of what they are? Because, for example, having simple controls says nothing about a game’s ability to be played casual or hardcore (it’s useful for both), but complex controls make it difficult to be played casually. This is all relative, of course, and heavily dependent on pre-existing knowledge. Driving a manual transmission is a pretty complicated UI affair, but once you know it the experience is largely transparent and becomes a non-factor.
Things that reduce casual play:
- Complex unfamiliar controls
- Multiple channels of audio-visual stimulus
- Steep (but not high) learning curve
- Long start up to start play times
- Long minimum play sessions
- Inability for players of different skill levels to play together or against each other
Things that reduce hardcore play:
- Lack of product depth
- Lack of replayability
There’s probably a few I’m missing; I was surprised I couldn’t come up with more for the hardcore list.
How a game is played over it’s life cycle likely has an impact too. A game with a steep learning curve and complex controls would prevent it from being played casually, but once past that (and assuming no other barriers) you could conceivably play it in a casual manner. That may be particularly valuable if the product no longer has the same hold on the consumer’s attention as it did when they first got it.