10 January, 2008
I had dinner recently with someone that is doing a startup that wants to do smaller-scale games. He did an AJAX implementation of a social space, but that project had it’s own special challenges. His most recent foray is to make some games for the Facebook platform. His company built two games: one a more casual game that deals with throwing parties, and a hard-core game that has a men-in-tights theme and zero-sum PvP type mechanics. Guess which one did better.
If you said, “Obviously the hardcore one!” you have learned to anticipate my sense of irony. Well, that and it’d be a boring post if I just validated most people’s assumptions. :)
So, why does the hard-core game beat out the casual game on a pretty broad platform like Facebook?
I think people are a bit too quick to worship at the alter of casual games. They look at the games that require a lot of time commitment, especially online games, and conclude that people would be happier if they could spend less time in the game. They look to casual games as something that can easily be picked up and set aside as the template to work from. So, building more “casual” elements means that the game will be better?
When WoW first came out, most people thought it was a huge success because it’s so “casual friendly”. However, if you read up on WoW combat and how to optimize, you quickly find out that you can easily get into hardcore territory as you read through combat theorycrafting. (And that’s ignoring if you want to get into highly specialized mechanics like how to optimize your Feral Druid.) Now, sure, you can go along and ignore most of this information in WoW, but how many people really do that? Even the biggest huntard knows, “I should get more Agility!” Ignoring even the most basic combat information in WoW is like saying you’re playing Monopoly by scooting the little racecar around the board without rolling dice.
Really, “casual” or “hardcore” is more a state of mind than a definition of a game. My GF was so obsessed with Bejeweled that it made some of my game obsessions look pretty tame. (Of course, I got to top level in Puzzle Quest before she did! Mmm, RPG flavor makes everything better!) The game itself doesn’t determine what is casual so much as what someone is willing to dedicate to the game. As someone with a busier schedule these days, I play many games much more casually than I did when I was a kid. I still want deep, engaging gameplay, but I want it in more manageable chunks.
I wrote about hardcore people wanting less time commitment before in the post about Defining the middlecore. I defined the “middlecore” as the hardcore people that didn’t have a whole lot of time. I think this captures what Tuebit at WorldIV really wants: something that he can dig into without the 20-hour-per-week commitment.
However, as I commented over there, this is a tall order to fill. The big problem is:
If you have 5 hours per week and I have 5 hours per day to play, how are you going to make a contribution to the world that’s as meaningful as what I can do with my greatly increased amount of time to play? We’re looping back into the same issues we’ve complained about since EQ1 raiding required your whole life and soul to keep up. You either have to boost up the person falling behind or hold back the person charging ahead, and both options tend to upset someone. (Unfortunately, it’s usually the person with all that time on their hands that now spends it calling your CSRs and screaming ugly names at them.)
The real issue here is how do you make the contribution of the time-starved person equal to the person with too much time on their hands? Not an easy task. As I said above, the “hardcore” aspect is a question of what people want to pour into the game. Some people will always have more time and more willingness to pour it into a game than someone else. Even if we’re not talking directly about hours logged into the game, we can also talk about the time the theorycrafters spend trying to figure out the most optimum arrangement in the game. Trying to make everyone equal usually ends up just feeling rather unsatisfying for some people.
So, going back to my question above: why was the “hardcore” game (which also had a good number of women playing, assuming their Facebook profiles were correct) beat out the casual game? I suspect the reason is because people still enjoy a good game, even if it has “hardcore” aspects like direct, zero-sum competition. Even though the party game was less confrontational, it probably didn’t include as many engaging elements as the first game. So, more people played and stuck with the game.
What do you think? Are casual games overrated? Or, are the hardcore just a segment that should be ignored in favor of bluer oceans?