Another Casual Player Definition

I’ve been following Lord of the Rings Online developer Orion’s blog pretty closely where every day he updates the masses as to his redesign of the Red Maid dungeon, Garth Agarwen.  It is really interesting, and reading some of his mundane tasks really gives a good showing as to why design is slow.

One of his latest posts remarks on how Garth Agarwen is going to be re-released in bite-size form aimed at casual players, which is a hard “niche” of players to define:

It’s difficult to define the casual player, so I’m just going to go with the tried and true generalizations that may or may not be true of any given part of the player base: Casual players are those that value play time at a premium rather than a given; their time is precious and spent in many areas and as a result is parcelled in ways that make sense for their lifestyle, play style and life commitments. Casual players would prefer to have a fun bite-sized experience that is entertaining and challenging, but fits within schedule demands that other persons may not necessarily be beholden too. Casual players are not looking for the easiest path to fun, they just want a path to fun.

I have never nodded so much in reading a paragraph written by a game developer.  Like I have noted before, casual vs. hardcore does not really denote the amount of time played anymore.  I think, in line with Turbine’s devs (and hopefully many others), that casual vs. hardcore is based on the unquantifiable amount of fun per time played.

“Casual” like so many terms is becoming a misnomer for a way to define gamers, but the concept is simple.  Does the game let the player actually play without significant hurdles to overcome?  MMOs are a niche market partly because they are one of the few video gaming genres that requires hardcore play in the majority of gameplay.  Console gamers and non-MMO PC gamers probably scratch their heads in wonder.  After all, the point of playing video games it to actually play, right?

–Ravious
the majesty of my tower of hats

24 thoughts on “Another Casual Player Definition”

  1. Dear Game Developers,

    A “Casual Gamer” will never read your articles or previews. They don’t care about “upcoming games with X or Y features”, won’t scour the net for information about your game, and likely won’t register on your Forums until forced to.

    Sincerely,

    Not Hardcore Gamer, Not Casual Gamer

    Gamer

  2. I have a deep problem with this as a definition, and one that worries me for my own future enjoyment of MMOs. It comes down to what “fun” is.

    After ten years of MMOs, my top 3 “fun” things to do are

    1) Exploring and seeing new content
    2) Inventory management and housekeeping
    3) Levelling

    I reckon I am safe on 1 and 3, but 2 is constantly at risk.

    I really value the fiddly little bits that Developers seem to be so keen to automate. I love spending a Sunday morning moving stuff around in my bank. I love farming crafting mats and spell reagents. I love having bank alts and crafting all over the place and forgetting who has what and having to log them all in and look through scores of bags and vaults until I finally find the thing I want.

    To me, that’s fun.

    I play most days and probably notch up 40 hours a week at least. I have plenty of time to play around with my inventory, go exploring, grind levels. That’s what I call “casual” play. I don’t raid, I don’t do epic quests, I don’t do raid-like group content. I don’t do dull daily quests or repeat quests or PvP scenarios or battlegrounds to accrue alternative currency to get gear, because, frankly, I don’t really care what gear I have.

    I want a lot of fiddly-diddly stuff to putter around with, none of which is very difficult to do or requires very much attention. That’s my idea of casual gameplay.

    I fear, though , that what I will get in years to come is all my fun housekeeping taken off me and allocated to automated processes, while I get offered watered-down versions of “hardcore” content I never wanted to do in the first place.

  3. I don’t see how #2 doesn’t fit perfectly in the definition. I would say that mats and crafting is one of the most casual aspects found in mainstream MMOs. You can do it solo. There are minimal content gates (not counting skill advancement). The time you spend doing it is actual time doing it. It can be very bite-sized. Etc.

    Barbie-dolling yourself or a house is also very casual, IMHO. Sure everybody does not think it is fun, but those who do get nearly maximum fun/time ratio.

    Now when you increase the complexity to EVE or ATITD levels… well then it becomes a tad more hardcore, but that’s a feature for those games.

  4. Wait…isn’t casual when you take off all your armor and run around in zones that take hours to find people so you can kill them, and if they are not there to kill, ask your guild mates to be blood walls instead?

    DANGIT

  5. “Casual players are not looking for the easiest path to fun, they just want a path to fun.”

    So non-casuals don’t want a path to fun? And do non-casuals not value their time as much as casuals? Just because someone has more of something, they don’t value it as highly?

    At some point, being ‘too casual’ means you might not be able to play every MMO, or all aspects of one. Continually making smaller and smaller pieces of an MMO available to casuals will in turn drive off those who DON’T want everything in tiny little pieces.

  6. Very true. It seems WoW is having this difficulty right now. I do think that “hardcore” are definitely more willing to work for their fun though.

  7. I don’t agree with his definition. Not entirely at least. In my experience, time available to play of course is a factor, but I think the biggest difference between “casual” and “hardcore” players is how much game **** they’re willing or able to put up with.

    If we go strictly by time available to play, the categories break down as soon as you mess with that time. As a thought exercise, we know that if we give casual players gobs of time to play and we seriously limit hardcore players to maybe an hour or two every day, all that we’re doing is to limit or expand the window in which the player plays the game and little else. Player preferences remain unchanged.

    Please, tell me if you ever heard from a casual player “Well I got a 2-week vacation coming up so I will -finally- be able to raid 14 hours a day!”. Or a hardcore player saying “Well, poo, I’ll only have an hour a day for the next two weeks, so I’m gonna start exploring the world or maybe socialize a little, that’s all I can do”. No, it doesn’t work this way and we know it. Time is only a factor. An important one, of course, but not the main one or even the cause of the division.

    The reality I have observed (with variations, as it happens usually with reality) is that there are people willing to put up with game **** from the start, and willing to -make- the time to do so, while there are others which will -never- put up with that game **** even if they have a whole weekend available to do so. Time, or the lack of it, is not going to change what people want from a game and the kind of gamer they generally are.

    I really don’t wanna put words in his mouth, but the vibe I get from Orion’s post is “Let’s make things shorter, not necessarily better” which I’m sure is an improvement however you slice it, but it’d be nicer if we could have something deeper in meaning and effect than this.

    As far as the actual GA redesign, I don’t know how much can it be done for the poor thing. It’s suffered from Maraudon Syndrome from the beginning: A bit out of the way, in the middle of the progress path, you go in knowing you’ll replace whatever you get there in a few levels, messy layout and so on.

  8. I think hardcore and casual are too abstract to really develop for. It’s probably best to ignore theory and just develop the game you want, testing to tailor the difficulty to the market size you want to attract. I know abstraction is a part of life, but like you said, the definitions are so nebulous that they can mean anything.

  9. It seems mostly to me that people think of themselves as casual or hardcore, and as a way of dismissing others too. Casual seems almost dismissive when used in forums and such, while hardcore seems to imply skill and dedication, at least from those who use the terms most. There is no middle-ground, even though there probably is. We really need to ditch these terms and come up with something else, although maybe that’s not even needed.

  10. @Julian

    What in God’s holy name are you blathering about???

    It’s a combination of how much time they have and how much time they want to receive 1 unit of fun in return for.

    A casual with lots of free time probably won’t put up with a lengthy time investment doing non-fun things even if there is fun to be had afterward. That’s because every X minutes they spend in this game they want to be having Y amount of fun. For “hardcore” folks X may be longer or to them the prep-work may be fun.

    What Orion’s talking about is reducing the amount of time required to access the optimal quantity of “fun” shit so that it fits within most people’s X.

  11. And, pray, what is this mythical optimal quantity of fun -and- how can you even begin to vaguely approach an attempt to nail most people’s X when the sample size is about 500K people with 500K different schedules and different availability of time?

    We talk as if Orion (or anyone else, really. I ain’t picking on him) has the formulas and everything just right on paper when in reality he might very well be redesigning GA just to get rid of junk that should have never been there in the first place under the more or less vague idea of “make it shorter and less crappy so more people play it”. Come on now, this is not about Xs and Ys.

  12. And, pray, what is your point? Any of the points you’ve “argued” will do.

    He is indeed getting rid of the stuff that shouldn’t have been there. How did he decide it shouldn’t have been there? Because it didn’t fulfill what he already understood to be that optimal (www.dictionary.com) quantity of fun and he knew that he could get rid of that stuff to bring the time it takes to do the instance back down to a value less than the majority’s X.

  13. But we are assuming that what they remove will make the place BETTER, while all I see is they will make the place SHORTER. The ‘trash’ before a boss serves a purpose, as does the maze-like design. They set up the feeling of accomplishment. If GA was just “zone in, see boss, kill boss, profit”, it would be a shitty instance. Oh ‘casuals’ would love it, since it would fit perfectly into the 20 minutes a month they have to play an MMO, but everyone else would either mass farm it for drops, or play it once for 20 minutes and move on without a second thought.

    For a good example of ‘short and shitty’, see the rank 20ish dungeons in WAR. They are 30 minute ‘casual’ dungeons, and they are completely pointless. Too short, not remotely epic, and they end so fast it’s not even worth the time putting a group together. In direct contrast is something like Gunbad or Bastion Stairs; longer, more challenging, and ultimately far more rewarding. Same game, same PvE system, two VERY different experiences.

    Point being, just ‘refining’ a dungeon (or anything else really) into JUST the ‘fun’ bits might just turn those bits from being fun to pointless.

  14. Syncaine, it is definitely a balance. Risk v. reward. Accomplishment vs. win button. Fun vs. grind.

    But, I do want to quote something Keen just said about Onysxia:

    I think she always represented the type of raid that WoW needed. It was a very, very quick fight with only a couple dragonkin in the way. It took maybe 5 minutes to get to her once you start and the whole raid never took more than 30 minutes. I remember wishing that all raids were like that because having to sit for 5 hours in Molten Core or BWL was such a waste of time. Onyxia was a quick dangerous kill that gave you recognition and reward.

  15. Onyxia was only ‘short’ once you beat the encounter (and even then, it’s 30-45 minutes total start of raid to portal out, assuming you don’t wipe once and your guild organizes quickly). Until you did, it was a LONG set of quick wipes and “WTF GET OUT OF THE WHELPS NOOB” on vent. That encounter and Razorgore broke more guilds than TBC raid changes.

    In terms of frustration and the need for dedication, Onyxia easily trumps MC in that regard also, because at least in MC you made slow but noticeable progress as you down each boss, and even the trash dropped set items. Onyxia was all or nothing, and at the beginning (the first 20+ attempts) it was 3-5 minutes of attempt followed by 15-20 minutes of run back and rebuff. As a former officer and raid leader of a top server guild, we had to TRICK people into showing up for early Onyxia attempts, just like we had to do for BWL at the beginning.

    If that’s the ‘casual friendly’ design LotRO is talking about, /pray for the casuals.

  16. Oh and Unwize…. that’s why the watcher is gated requiring that
    folks do each of the 6 dungeons in the cluster before hand.

    PS, which I could edit to make play on “sense of accomplishment” re: Sync’s demolition of ‘what a shitty instance that would be but casulals would love it’ ;-}

  17. You’ll never satisfy everyone with the same content. I do think that savvy MMO devs will design for short session gaming, more than they have to date. (Though they should have long session gaming options as well.)

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