6 July, 2007
As I said in the previous weekend design challenge, I’ll discuss the middlecore audience. Who are in this category and why is it important to understand this group?
One problem here is that terminology, especially newly coined words, tend to have very fuzzy meanings in this type of discussion. Trying to discuss “casual” gamers vs. “hardcore” gamers gets people defining these terms in all sorts of ways. In some cases, it’s best for someone using these terms to define them as precisely as possible before using them. We again have this issue if we look over the comments in that post.
Looking over the comments, it is interesting to see that everyone so far seems to want to be part of this group. There seems to be a general feeling of unhappiness with the way thing currently are in the game industry. Not surprising, this has been a common sentiment. But, this also points out that there are a variety of reasons for why you slow down in playing games.
I’m going to argue that Jpoku and Talaen are talking about a different segment than I am. I part of their complaint goes back to another common complaint with games these days: innovation and originality. The original article I linked mostly focused on having less time, not that the games were boring. The author, SeanMike, even talked about one of the more interesting games coming out, Bioshock and how that failed to interest him.
I think the bigger issue here is time, as I said before. SeanMike talked about how he had less time due to external pressures. He also talked about trying to get out more: shaving off the goatee, getting eye surgery, and dating more. When you hit 30, your life starts to change. You start to look at your life and make the drastic changes you want before it’s too late. Finding a spouse, having kids, or settling down into a “real” job to plan for retirement become important for most people. These activities can cut into previous leisure time.
I think there’s also another factor here, where society still pressures people to “grow out” of games. Having an obsessive hobby when you’re 10 or 20 is okay, but once you hit 30 or so it’s time to focus on more important things. Society starts to pressure people even if internal pressure isn’t enough.
Okay, so using this definition, what can we do to appeal to this audience?
The wrong thing to do is to treat them like casual gamers. Most of the middlecore used to be hardcore, and they still want a bit of that hard-core experience. I think some of them fall back on casual games because those at the only ones that give them what they are looking for: gaming that doesn’t demand a ton of time. If you read SeanMike’s entry, it’s obvious that he still wants to game, and even though he plays causal games, they aren’t “scratching that itch” for a good game.
The proper thing to do is to reduce the amount of time commitment required to the game. For single-player games, this is difficult to do because people will play the game as much as they can if they like the game. And, people will remember a game more fondly if they get into the “just one more turn!” frame of mind. This is similar to how books are written: chapters are not convenient breaks for you to pause reading, because there is often a cliffhanger to make you read. And, it’s hard to say a book was terrible if you spent all night reading it. The same can be said for a game that does the same thing, even if it’s not necessarily compatible with the middlecore player.
In online games, we face different challenges. I think the middlecore and their lack of time is why we started hearing more and more about “the grind” and how terrible it is. “The grind” is usually a keyword for a large amount of time commitment to a game. More recent games have tried to reduce the time commitment required in the game: faster leveling, lesser penalties that let you get back into the game easier after failure, etc. The effective use of offline time, particularly in EVE Online’s skill system, have also allowed people to reduce their time commitment while still being able to keep up with others.
The middlecore also want their time to be more meaningful. Many people say that WoW’s advantages were the ability to get meaningful advancement in a short play sessions, particularly at lower levels, and the ability to solo. Soloing is important because it reduces the amount of time investment required to find a group when you play. (Of course, this creates problems later when you have to gently educate someone who has mostly soloed about the fine arts of working with a group….) This type of “bite-sized” gameplay tends to play well to people who have outside time commitments, and that don’t want to dedicate excessive time to a game.
What do you think? Is this the best way to get people with limited time? Or, is there some other secret? Or, is this a losing battle because people really should outgrow computer games eventually?