16 July 2011

Hardcore/casual misconceptions

There are a few well-known gamer stereotypes out there. Let's review the misconceptions about those types and see which useful parts remain.


Dedicated, competitive, and often tech-savvy. Hardcore gamers are also social: they are in charge of their guild, debate on forums, and, more generally, want to be in. They do not only play the game, they also play the metagame. If they have a console, they may buy the latest console FPS or RPG, or at least try it out, and talk about it. If they only play MMOG, they watch for and try out betas, compare game designs, and complain about the lack of innovation. There might be console-fighting-game-only, MMO-only, FPS-only, and other types of hardcore players. Hardcore is an umbrella term for many and diverse player segments. A hardcore niche only makes sense with respect to a particular genre (e.g. FPS), game (StarCraft), or even gameplay mode (auction house golden boys of WoW). In a Marvel vs Capcom 3 tournament, the audience consists mostly of hardcore fighting-game players, not RTS hardcore players.

Pro gamer

Pro gamers are not hardcore gamers. First, they have a manager and are financially sponsored by a brand or a big game studio. Second, they do not share their strategies until they have applied them in tournaments. Lastly, although training is a key part of their success, they may actually play less than hardcore gamers because the metagame is often more important than the game itself. In WoW, for instance, the metagame for pro gamers involves tracking forum posts from game developers or playing only with the basic UI, as tournaments forbid UI addons. Pro gamer teams also track each other's stats.


Looking at online dictionaries, casual can have different meanings. For gamers, there's at least two distinct categories within the casual umbrella: occasional gamers, or unconcerned gamers.

MMO players who can play for a couple hours every other week are occasional gamers. They may be very focused and play really well during those few others, though. Post-hardcore gamers, who used to consider themselves as hardcore but have found a partner, just got a child, etc. have become occasional gamers. Others like to play games, but have little time to spend in them, and/or do not want to spend too much money in them. This last category of players is referred to as mid-core or softcore.

Unconcerned gamers do not play seriously. They know it's just a game, and the magic circle is often quite thin. As far as time is concerned, 1-minute games while waiting at the bus stop, in the doctor's office, during the commercial breaks, etc. may add up to hours of play per day. Of course, an addiction to Angry Birds does not sound as bad as neglecting one's kids to play Aion 18 hours per day. Short, easy (dumb?), and kawaii-graphics games spread out thanks to smart phone and Facebook apps. Some of those games eventually have a social component (e.g. trading resources in Farmville to complete quests), but it's not what makes them played.

Once again, many do not see the difference between midcore/softcore, post-hardcore, and unconcerned gamers. Casual is a large umbrella term containing many player types. So-called casual games such as Plants versus Zombies sometimes hide intricate mechanics (easy to understand, hard to master). A game like Mario Party 4 could be played very differently by four friends at a party: one could play nonchalantly because she's bored, another competitively because he rocked at the first Mario Party for N64, etc.


  • The casual/hardcore distinction is not deep enough (and sometimes inaccurate). Models such as Yee's motivations of play in online games or Bateman's player patterns seem more relevant.
  • I suggest the use of personas to conceptualize a typical player. Personas follow a player-centric approach based on qualitative assumptions. When market surveys and large datasets can be expensive, personas are cheap, and everyone in the team, from marketing to design or graphics can benefit from them.
  • All players are social. The difference relies in how they are being social.

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