After 30 years of existence the dividing lines between video game players is stark. Recently game companies are trying to merge these two gamer forces to increase their revenues, but making games that appeal to hardcore and casual gamers is a difficult task. If game developers can appeal to both audiences, a developer could sell millions of units.
The game industry was not always like this though. In the 1970s when they achieved mass popularity, video games were accessible to all types of people. Many games started off with simple controls, mainly only one joystick. Gradually, as time progressed the control schemes grew more complex. The early 1990s saw the rise of the fighter genre. With this the control pad included not only a joystick, but also six different buttons as find in games like Street Fighter II. This configuration allowed for multiple and complex combinations, which made the avatars do special movements. While the gameplay may have improved for some, the fighting games soon became unplayable to others. Fighting games sold very well in arcades, but the developerâ€™s potential audience shrunk due to their gameâ€™s complexity. As time continued video games grew even more complex. All of this chiseled away at what used to be an entertainment medium that everyone could play. The sides started to form between those who used to be able to play video games and those who could play video games. In September 1996 the Nintendo 64 was released. It was the first Nintendo console to see Mario in three-dimensions. In previous incarnations, Mario was a two-dimensions side-scroller. Its simple controls and family approved content allowed the game to be played by all gamers. The problem with the Nintendo 64 version of Mario, Super Mario 64, was that millions of Mario fans were not used to the 3D environments. For some players it was not a simple thing that they could fix over time. For some they did not have the hand and eye coordination to play the game and for others they simply got motion sickness. Games are meant to be an entertainment and if they cannot serve this purpose gamers will not play them. Every console generation since the Nintendo 64 has built itself on better 3D graphics rather than focusing on easier and simpler control setups that could be used by the mass consumer market. While the console market is not a niche market, in comparison to other entertainment industries video games lack the massive audience that those mediums reach. Everyone can watch a movie or listen to music, but not everyone can play a video game on a console.
At the same time, with the advent of online PC distribution, the complete opposite effect occurred, PC games started to open up to mass-market penetration and the group known as casual gamers formed. Casual gamers are players of video games whom may have not owned a video game console or could not play complex video games. They can be people either at work or at home who play games such as solitaire on the computer. According to a survey done by RealNetworks, a leader in the casual games market, â€œMore than 70 percent of people buying casual games from the company [RealNetworks] are women age 40 and older.â€ With the internet these gamers went on to play free games on the internet such as flash games and puzzle games. As broadband became introduced in the home, casual gamers moved on to actually buying games that they could download online.Â Casual games consist of game mechanics that made video games popular in the first place. They are games that anyone can pick up and play. In order to be successful the game has to have simplistic design with original and addictive gameplay.
On the other hand, hardcore games are the complete opposite. They usually have complex control schemes, often rehashing the current gameplay methods, and are often judged based upon their graphics rather than gameplay. It is not to say that hardcore gamers do not like originality, but there are only a handful of titles that innovate every year. It is highly unlikely that those few titles can support this $10 billion industry. Hardcore gamers like to play games that they feel familiar with. These are usually games that are filled with some form of violence or another form of extreme action. Hardcore gamers do not like sitting through non-violent puzzle games. Developers have been forced to make games specifically targeted at either the hardcore or the casual game crowd.
The resulting effect of hardcore games on the video game industry has been tremendous. While the industry makes billions of dollars, the costs of making commercial games for the hardcore audience is getting higher and higher. The budget for next-generation games (Playstation 3 and Xbox 360) is going into the $10-20 million range. Considering that the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for these games is $60, developers have to sell hundreds of thousands of units to make a profit. The quality of a game is very important, but the higher the quality the higher the cost. The game industry is becoming highly competitive. Once highly regarded developers such as Acclaim are going out of business or being bought by larger development studios. When one game selling poorly could lead to the death of a company, there is a problem with the industry.
That is the reason why many developers are choosing to create casual games. Casual games can be developed in a couple of months with a budget that is usually less than $1 million. It is in a developerâ€™s best interest to create a handful of titles at the equivalent cost to one hardcore commercial game title. This way the developer is more likely to have a game that sells well and can continue to fund future projects. According to the International Game Development Association, the casual game market is expected to be worth over $2 billion in the year 2008. Obviously there is a lot of room for developers to continually expand in this market, but the issue is that developers should not have to relay on casual gamesâ€™ low cost and high yields to fund the development of multi-million dollar hardcore games.
Nintendo realized the issue with the video game industry and is trying to lead the way to what they believe is the solution. They are trying to mend the fractured wounds that the hardcore and casual markets created. After all a game is just a game. In an interview with the BBC News the President of Nintendo Satoru Iwata said, â€œNintendo wants to bring gamers and games back to the start line of 20 years ago.â€ Nintendo believes that games should be a form of entertainment enjoyed by everyone, as video games were when they were first developed. With Nintendoâ€™s next-generation console Wii, Nintendo is forcing developers to cut their budgets by not having a console with the horsepower that the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 have. With the Wii Nintendo decided to change the way the player interacts with the game. Rather than sticking the current controller scheme of two analog sticks, four face buttons, and 4 should buttons, the Wii uses a brand new controller. Its nickname is the Wii-mote because it looks like a Television remote. Nintendo is cashing in on its easy to play console. It has created a console where both hardcore and casual gamers can play the games that they want too. Most importantly though, developers can target both hardcore and casual gamers with their games as in theory any game will be easier to play. If the Wii is successful in making games accessible to everyone in the home, it will revolutionize the way that the video game industry works.
While the line between hardcore and casual gamers has been around for years, it has only been recently that the industry has tried to do anything about it. It is going to be impossible for the industry to continue to grow at the rate that it has within the last couple of years if this division among gamers is not mended. All types of gamers must realize that both hardcore and casual games are fun in their own respected ways and it is up to the video game industry to make sure that all games are easy to play so that this line does not continue to divide the community.
â€œIGDA Creates Special Interest Group for Casual Games.â€ 12 Jul. 2005. 26 Nov. 2006.
Kent, Steven L. The Ultimate History of Video Games. 1st ed. New York:
Three Rivers Press, 2001.
â€œThe NPD Group Reports Annual 2004 U.S. Video Game Industry Retail Sales.â€ 18 Jan.
2005. 20 Nov. 2006.
â€œResearch Reveals Casual Games Provide Mental Balance, Stress Relief and Relaxation.â€
14 Aug. 2006. 29 Nov. 2006.
Waters, Darren. â€œNintendo ‘fears for games industryâ€™.â€ 24 May 2004. 28 Nov. 2006.
2 thoughts on “Hardcore vs. Casual Gamer: Round 2”
Interesting read, David. Greg Costikyan recently posted on his blog about how some innovative games which were universally accalimed and got top ratings everywhere (psychonauts, beyond good and evil) were horrible sellers and tanked the companies that made them. A sad reality, that is true.
Well the game that tanked Majesco was Advent Rising. Sure Psychonauts was released during the same time, but they didn’t put nearly the same budget as they did ith Advent Rising. Majesco saved money on Psychonauts because parts of the game were already developed when Double Head was at Microsoft. While both games were innovative in their own sense, they both lacked fun gameplay.