Is There Room Enough For Casual Gamers & Hardcore (Core) Gamers?

The famous if a little cliche’ saying “This town ain’t big enough for the two of us” might be a good summary of the state that video games are in right now. I was watching post coverage of Nintendo’s E3 conference on G4 TV, where they interviewed Reggie Fils-Aime. One of the hosts asked Reggie about the lack of games being presented for the “core gamer”. Reggie of course defended Nintendo’s presentation by saying that their Animal Crossing announcement was the big announcement for Nintendo’s core audience. The term ‘core gamer’ for most is translated into ‘hardcore gamer’.

When first comparing the casual gamer market, and hardcore gamer market, one must first define what it means to be casual or hardcore. What truly makes a certain gamer hardcore or casual? Is someone who invests around 7 hours a day into Hello Kitty: Island Adventure considered casual because of the game they play. Or is someone who only likes to play World Of Warcraft(WoW) for 2 hours a day considered casual because of the shorter investment they put in. One argument against this line of reasoning could be that these examples are the exception to the norm, because most people who play WoW become addicted. Another interesting way to look at it is if Super Mario Bros. hadn’t been released in the 1980’s and was considered new in 2008, would you consider it a game catered to the casual gamer, or the core gamer? If I wrote this article on the psychological differences between casual and hardcore I could easily take up a few posts, so instead let’s look at the marketing side of things.

Although the psychological boundaries between the casual and hardcore gamer is a pretty grey-area, the marketing aspect is as distinct as night and day. Let’s take a look at two consoles which I believe represent each side of the video game spectrum, and how they catered/cater to each individual market.

Playstation 2 – Top Ten Selling Video Games
1 – Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
2 – Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec
3 – Grand Theft Auto III
4 – Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
5 – Gran Turismo 4
6 – Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
7 – Final Fantasy X
8 – Final Fantasy XII
9 – Kingdom Hearts
10 – Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King

Nintendo DS – Top Ten Selling Video Games
1 – Nintendogs
2 – Pokémon Diamond and Pearl
3 – New Super Mario Bros.
4 – Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day!
5 – Brain Age 2: More Training in Minutes a Day!
6 – Mario Kart DS
7 – Animal Crossing: Wild World
8 – Super Mario 64 DS
9 – Big Brain Academy
10 – The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

Looking at the Top 10 sales charts for the Playstation 2 and Nintendo DS, you’ll find (atleast in this writer’s mind) the two systems that each represent the overall differences in marketing and game releases for casual/hardcore gamers. Here is when things get tricky, because when talking about casual or hardcore games, it’s impossible to decipher the two by gameplay content. If you took a room full of people from different walks of life, their interpretation of hardcore vs. casual gameplay would be immensely different. Instead, to define what it means for a game to be considered for the casual/hardcore market, let’s look at the average time investment that some of these games offer. The big titles that jump out when you talk about time differences is easily Metal Gear Solid 2 and Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day. Hell, Brain Age’s time consumption is revealed in the title itself; they are basically saying that the enjoyment found in this game can be had in minutes. While, if you’ve ever played Metal Gear Solid 2, you’d know there are certain parts of the game that are just cut scenes that probably last longer than an entire sit through of Brain Age.

So how does this all play out for the future of the video game market? I believe that instead of the market separating, and each going in their different directions, I believe they are coming together. Satoru Iwata, President of Nintendo gave a perfect example at the E3 conference with the release of Mario Kart: Wii. The average play time of this game, if there were figures released I believe would show a massive fluctuation in time played. Another game I believe you could look at is one I just recently purchased, Burnout Paradise on the PS3 (or Xbox 360). In terms of time spent playing, I’ve had sessions that have lasted only 15 minutes and some for hours. In those 15 minutes I was able to be involved in parts of the game that were the exact same as the multi-hour sessions.

It is going to be very interesting to keep an eye on the video game market in the next couple of years. With the huge wave of free flash-based games hitting the market, and shorter time consuming games raking in money; Dylan said it best with ‘Times they are a’ changin’.