Gamers don’t want Hardcore

Oh… gamers think they want hardcore.  They even say they want hardcore. But no, they do not want hardcore, or at least not the kind of hardcore that mmo developers usually dole out to appease their requests.

When a gamer says they want something to be hardcore, they mean to say they would like to achieve something and then stand triumphant while those who have not achieved that thing are impressed beyond measure.  It has to be something that they can achieve where others fail. This is where the vision stops.  Players don’t stop to think WHY those who are impressed have failed to achieve.

In SWG, getting a gunship is considered a somewhat “hardcore” space goal.  In order to get one, you have to kill hundreds of fighters of every kind, of every level.  The barrier that keeps most people from getting a gunship isn’t some boss, but rather a huge boring grind. Many of the ships you have to destroy to get a gunship die after a couple hits, but are so weak you could bring your engines to a full stop and safely go to the bathroom during a dogfight.

It should be the other way around.  Hardcore should mean that you have to face very difficult fights where you could easily die against a dangerous opponent.  Instead, your chief enemy in most “hardcore” games is boredom.  * Cough *  Darkfall  * Cough *

When players ask for hardcore, they may expect some twitch-based challenge or near-impossible boss, but they’re really asking for a huge grind.  Hardcore doesn’t = Challenging.

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Suzina is a 27 year old who usally plays the same MMOs as her husband. Games played: UO, EQ2, FFXI, SWG, LOTRO.

17 thoughts on “Gamers don’t want Hardcore”

  1. “It should be the other way around. Hardcore should mean that you have to face very difficult fights where you could easily die against a dangerous opponent.”

    Agreed, but the problem with this is – as far as I know, since I don’t know every MMO around – that encounters/fights/bosses/dungeons/however you wanna call it are largely non-adaptive. You have a few sets of behaviors, a few sets of conditions and off you go. The encounter runs.

    On a truly adaptive system (which is right next to magical flying ponies on the shelf), it doesn’t matter. The encounter tailors itself to the group taking into consideration a myriad of parameters. But in hardcoded encounters, we can’t make them too hard for two main reasons:

    – Too hard scares people away. As you point out, people say they want difficult, but they really don’t and it’s true. What they want is “challenging with large chances of winning”. If you make an impossible encounter, soon enough nobody will play it. And if nobody will play it, why did you make it in the first place?

    – Hardcoded encounters that are too difficult, and the pinnacle of challenge in your game (if there’s such a thing), are one exploit you missed away from becoming tomorrow’s loot piñatas. And then it’s hotfix time which costs money. It’s much more cost-effective from a dev standpoint to “get it right” (or as close to right as possible, this ain’t an exact science) even if it’s not too difficult than to spend months detailing an impossibly hard encounter that will be undone by a stupid bug someone missed.

    I definitely agree with the sentiment: People don’t want difficulty. They want an entertaining challenge they can be reasonably assured to beat at the end, and that’s not the same thing. Not by a country mile.

  2. Addendum and mini-bomb:

    That’s why every time I see an announcement for a super hardcore screw carebears complicated and unforgiving MMO I wonder if those devs are making a game people want to play, or a game the devs themselves want to play.

    Complexity is not complication. Complexity is good, complication isn’t, and I’ll debate the faithful hardcore until the universe turns to lead about this point.

  3. “Players don’t stop to think WHY those who are impressed have failed to achieve.”

    This is the boggling part because where in life does this really happen?

    Regardless, I think from a developer’s standpoint you do want hardcore accomplishments where hardcore = 1000 hours of mindless grind. Dedication is hardcore. So is skill… in Guild Wars, I would say the people that get gold capes every month are hardcore. I would say people who have difficult raids on farm status are hardcore. I would also say a person with a stable full of max-level alts is hardcore.

    It’s a very subjective word. So, I think when players ask for something “hardcore” they are asking for an accomplishment they can achieve but few others can’t. Unfortunately the rewards (carrots) are lopsided. Zubon’s latest post on Sets of Sets is a good standpoint. People with those titles are, I would put forth, hardcore, but the reward is meh in the game with hundred upon hundreds of titles. Getting “God Walking Amongst Mere Mortals” on the other hand in Guild Wars is very notable… although extremely boring in parts to get.

    I also don’t understand your Darkfall comment, especially after reading Syncaine’s and Keen and Graev’s very exciting posts on the game. Or is it that Darkfall is not actually hardcore?

  4. But…but…I don’t want hardcore.

    I want “Balanced” gameplay. If I want to go extreme, killing all the time, I want the game to offer a way to do that..

    If I do not have the time to do that, then I want an “easy” button too (i.e: something that gives me a quick fix of fun, with no heartache or loss)

    Balanced…is better.

  5. Also confused on the cough at DarkFall. Are you trying to say DarkFall is just a grind to achieve success, or am I not reading that correctly?

    While I don’t care to define hardcore (since the definition is about as accurate as defining ‘playing too much’), success in DF is about as far away from a grind as you can get without playing a FPS. Are there certain grind elements, sure, but ultimately the deciding factor will always be player skill, and not character stats.

    Which is of course why DF won’t appeal to 95% of the ‘MMO’ market, but for the niche it caters to, its hard to argue that it does not deliver.

  6. Hardcore needs to add new content, not just be harder…

    Look at the new-ish Brimstone reward gear in Kingdom of Loathing. The Bad Moon runs necessary to get the gear are harder, yes, but also different, since the attribute changes actually affect the strategy needed to play well.

    (FWIW, I’m not that hardcore yet, with only 2 hardcore ascensions under my belt, along with the other 10 or so softcore ascensions).

  7. I think the point (and a good one at that) is that currently, by large, hardcore refers more to an insane commitment of time than an insane commitment of skills, or an insane commitment of creativity or an insane commitment of social skills.

    Hence the grind.

    And as pointed out above, the problem is that if people are playing your game, the only thing you -know- positively they have, is time. You don’t know if they have skill. So you’re pretty much forced to at least make things time focused because you want to cater to what your players have and can offer, not to what they don’t have and can’t offer.

    In other words, why make a twitch game that rewards split-frame reactions if most of your potential players have coordination problems even getting out of bed? That’s a nice way to ensure few people will play your game.

    I agree that niches are necessary, and we must have niches. But I’d also point out that those niches need to want to stay alive, and at least think, passingly, of wanting to expand in order to have an easier time surviving. A dead game is a dead game, niche or not, and we don’t play dead games.

  8. “When a gamer says they want something to be hardcore, they mean to say they would like to achieve something and then stand triumphant while those who have not achieved that thing are impressed beyond measure.”

    That does get right to the point. These players want to be superior to other players and have a way of showing it, even if they don’t necessarily have anything to be superior about. However, the vast majority of the player population is, by definition, average, and so any challenge that is accessible for the average player is not going to be “hardcore” enough for someone who wants to lord their superiority over someone else.

    I have way more respect for tactically smart players in MMOs. Players who do things like flank an enemy, strike where the enemy is weak (instead of trying to nuke the tank all the time), or sneak around and seize an objective while the enemy is occupied elsewhere.

  9. “When a gamer says they want something to be hardcore, they mean to say they would like to achieve something and then stand triumphant while those who have not achieved that thing are impressed beyond measure.”

    Uh… have you been in real life lately? ;)

  10. In terms of MMORPGs, when I want something Hardcore I usually mean that I want it to be time-consuming. Something that specifically isn’t twitch and isn’t over with quickly. It can be challenging too, but generally the time investment is the bigger factor.

    Rep grinding, slow-paced leveling (at least much slower than the current trend), rare random drop farming– these are Hardcore to me. Raiding repeatedly is also Hardcore (though that’s something I’ve never requested). PvP that requires preparation (gear or otherwise) and / or stiff penalties.

    The assumption that when people ask for Hardcore, they’re really wanting something unfairly competitive in their favour– This perspective rubs me the wrong way. I feel it’s easy to be condescending toward some theoretical player that desires personal favouritism, but real people… When they request challenge, they usually prefer fairness and balance too.

    I’ve asked for Hardcore. I know exactly what I’m asking for and what I’m likely to get. There’s far more confusion about what results in requesting something Casual. I request Casual too, because if I’m paying a monthly fee I want the game to have depth and variety. I want it all. =P

    Ravious says it but I’ll repeat: These are such subjective words that any discussion of them goes into multiple directions, primarily definition and preference.

  11. The top GvG Guild Wars players are pretty awesome. I did GvG for a few months, just to find out how it was. It is… one of the harder things I’ve done in MMOGs.

  12. “I think the point (and a good one at that) is that currently, by large, hardcore refers more to an insane commitment of time than an insane commitment of skills, or an insane commitment of creativity or an insane commitment of social skills.”

    I think that’s one way of defining hardcore…and not one that I agree with. Oh sure, that’s one potential way of describing hardcore, but that’s like saying “Democrats like socialism, or are ultra liberal, or want larger government spending”. Not only is it an emotionally charged statement, but it’s not even wholly accurate. Only a small subset of Democrats fit any of those labels, but the statement assumes otherwise and presumes that anyone discussing Democrats need only apply if they’re discussing the same criteria.

    Really, the political analogy may be more apt than not, since there are so many variations to the concepts of hardcore or casual that simple black and white definitions provide a marked disservice to any discussion in which either label is used.

    For example, I consider myself to be relatively casual, but by most people’s standards I’m terribly hardcore. My guild can down Venril Sathir in Everquest II, which we consider to be easy. The fight takes us only a few minutes, so there is no grind. The zone that Venril is in is not large at all and there’s only a few non-named monsters inside that need to be cleared before fighting Venril himself. So, there’s really next to no time committment for any guild to get to or even to engage and defeat Venril Sathir.

    He’s just hard. Period.

    Now, he’s obviously not that difficult for us, or we wouldn’t be able to kill him virtually any time we want. However, for the vast majority of Everquest II players, Venril Sathir is damned hard – virtually impossibly hard. He has a myriad of fail conditions and any single member of your raid force can trigger any of those conditions throughout the fight. Having just one person on your raid that doesn’t understand the fight, understand their own spells/arts, or who doesn’t pay enough attention is enough to wipe your raid in just a few seconds. It’s an unforgiving fight to the inexperienced, incompetent, impatient, or unskilled.

    Would you consider that to be “hardcore” according to the definition used here? Because just using time or “grind” as the defining criteria doesn’t seem to fit the bill.

  13. I think there’s a confusion of terms. ‘Hardcore’ is more about levels of dedication than ability. Grinding through 100 hours of tedious and easy gameplay would still make you hardcore because few others would have the drive to do so. To describe someone who can take on the most difficult encounters we should perhaps use a term like ‘elite’.

    The confusion arises because of the overlap between the two terms. in the Venn diagram of ‘elite’ and ‘hardcore’ most of the elite group sit within the hardcore, but there are plenty of hardcore players who are not elite.

  14. “When players ask for hardcore, they may expect some twitch-based challenge or near-impossible boss, but they’re really asking for a huge grind”
    In all games I know of the near-impossible boss that only takes a half hour to kill if you have the “skill” still requires a huge grind. Not for the day you actually killed him but the months and months before hand working on your equipment or “alternate advancement”.

    I am playing LotRO right now so I will give an example of the Watcher fight. To kill him takes about 45 minute I believe. No problem the most casual of players generally could find and hour of play time. That however is not the limiting factor. Nor is getting to highest level, though not a trivial amount of time. The watcher has a very large dread debuff. If you don’t have the required radiance you will spend all your time frozen in fear. So you have to get your 12 man party all 6 radiance pieces. The day before the Watcher is might be advisable to do a three hour run to kill the belrog so you can do a turn in for the 2 hour 30 radiance buff. It does not stop there. You will want a 10 in each of the virtues most useful to the Watcher fight which might not be the same virtues you wanted previously to be 10 for your hard mode runs for radiance pieces. You might want the legendary skill that can only be bought with highest faction with the dwarves not to mention the page grinding you did long ago to get the other legendary skills. You will likely want some of the new jewelry from the elves that can only be bought at maximum faction and the gold leaves needed for purchase require a daily grind. Then you have your legendary items. Grinding any old weapon to max level is not sufficient for the Watcher. You want to the best legacies and maybe the longest grind of all you want the high tier relics so deconstruct a few thousand legendaries.

    I am not familiar with Venril Sathir in EQ2 but I expect it is similar. The time and grind comes long before the actual fight that gives the “proof” you are “hardcore”.

  15. There’s a good example of this in the game I play, Final Fantasy XI.

    Argus is a notorious monster who drops a rare/ex (think its close to bind on pickup for WoW terms) pendant which is probably one of the best pieces in the game in terms of usefulness. It’s not a tough monster at all for a max level player, you can kill it easy. But the spawn conditions are insane.

    What he has is a 18-30 hour window. That means, from the last time he died, he can respawn again in 18 to 30 hours.

    That means to camp him, you have to be willing to stay up to 12 hours straight. And thats not all. He is called a shared spawn, which means even when his time is up, he may not even appear. Another monster called the leech king can instead. If he is killed, you have to wait another 18-30 hours. Other players are there trying to claim him as well. So you can spend all this time for nothing, only to watch as another player gets Argus.

    The drop rate too is abyssmal, the wiki says 17%. With all that I’ve listed before, players have gone 1/10 or more on Argus, which could be months of realtime.

    Thankfully Square-Enix wised up and enabled an alternate means of getting the pendant which don’t drive people insane. But they have the best examples of hardcore/grind you will ever see.

  16. As for impressing others by your ‘achievements’, this is art imitating life. Those with fast cars only really impress others who want fast cars, but they certainly impress them. In games, it is impressive to have $RARE_ITEM, but only to people who want to get the rare item.

    he elite impress the elite, the hardcore impress the hardcore, and the casual are mostly bewildered that someone can either be that good or dedicate that much time.

  17. Elf, as a player with a casual schedule but hardcore interest, I’m only impressed with skills, not with obsession. Those who spend an insane amount of time in a game only earn my pity or disdain, while those who play skillfully earn grudging respect. When it takes a player a huge time investment to develop those skills, I side with the pity attitude, and chalk it up to bad game design.

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