The game industry continues to believe that casual and hardcore players are separate monolithic audiences interested solely in games reflecting their respective play styles. The latest entry along these lines is the mid-core game, which seeks to claim a middle ground between the two.
The underlying case for mid-core players is genuine enough: there are many players who would like a deeper, more engaging experience without the burden of a steep learning curve or large time commitment.
But mid-core comes up short for the same reasons traditional casual and hardcore thinking does:
- It confuses product specific engagement and commitment characteristics (where they are valid) with demographic characteristics (where they are not). To claim there is an audience of casual players, hardcore players, and now mid-core players outside the scope of a single product is nonsensical. These are different people for different products, and one game’s hardcore player is another’s casual player. And remember: everyone is hardcore about something.
- It falsely assumes there is a spectrum of play from casual to hardcore where a given product falls, instead of treating casual and hardcore play as separate and compatible in the same game. To make a game more casual is to make it more accessible; to make it hardcore is to make it more engaging. Good casual design increases a player’s willingness to play but does nothing to increase their desire to play. Good hardcore design improves a player’s desire to play but does nothing to increase their willingness to play.
- It takes a very narrow view of player behavior: that an individual seeks the exact same play experience every time they sit down to play.
Of these, the last is most important. In the busy, chaotic world we all live in, our ability to engage and commit to a product varies from day to day. When you build for mid-core, you haven’t addressed this problem any better than casual or hardcore approaches because you’re still building for a fixed level of player engagement. Which means you’re still going to lose consumers when they want to engage more and there’s nothing interesting to do, or you require them to engage more and they don’t have the time.
It’s a lot like picking a single price point for your product — it can work, but it’s not terribly efficient compared to free-to-play models. And it’s a poor strategy for any product hoping to build a long term relationship with the player.
We should enable high levels of casual and hardcore play in the same product, not find a happy medium between the two. Doing so doesn’t re-align your product with a different demographic or change the level of engagement; it expands your product’s audience to include a much greater number of players, without sacrificing one group to make room for another.