In the previous edition of this book, this section was called “Core Versus Casual,” but in the past few years these terms have begun to lose their meaning. The game industry used to assume that there was a binary distinction between hardcore, deeply committed gamers and more casual ones. With the arrival of games built around social networks, it has become clear that this is not a binary distinction but a continuum called gamer dedication. You can measure gamer dedication by a variety of metrics. Barry Ip and I proposed a list of these metrics in our article “From Casual to Core: A Statistical Mechanism for Studying Gamer Dedication” (Ip, 2002). Some of them were borrowed from Scott Kim’s Game Developers’ Conference presentation “Designing Web Games that Make Business Sense” (Kim, 2001). Even though these are older articles, their content is fundamental enough to still be relevant today.
The 15 measurable qualities of dedicated gamers that Ip and I proposed are as follows:
- Technologically savvy. Highly dedicated gamers are more familiar with the latest releases and developments and show greater interest in new gaming-related technologies.
- Have the latest high-end gear. Dedicated gamers will acquire the latest consoles, PC hardware, and mobile devices to keep up to date with the most recent trends. They are more likely to own, or have owned, a wide variety of older game platforms.
- Willingness to pay. Enthusiasts are more inclined to spend money on games and games-related products. Conversely, casual gamers are more inclined to wait for price discounts and special offers before committing to a purchase.
- Prefer violent/action games. Kim suggested that hardcore gamers prefer games that show comparatively violent and action-intensive content.
- Prefer games that have depth and complexity. Dedicated gamers prefer games that deliver greater complexity and that require a longer time to master, regardless of their themes.
- Play games over many long sessions. Dedicated gamers are likely to devote considerably more time to playing games in a single session.
- Hunger for gaming-related information. Devouring everything from the latest news, previews, and reviews, to interviews with industry experts, the hardcore gamer actively seeks gaming-related information through the Internet, game magazines, and books, such as strategy guides.
- Discuss games with friends online. Dedicated gamers like to discuss gaming with others and to visit game-related Internet forums or chat rooms regularly.
- Play for the exhilaration of defeating (or completing) the game. A dedicated gamer will play persistently for the enjoyment and exhilaration of defeating the game and is likely to be more forgiving of aesthetic flaws such as poor acting or a trivial plot.
- Much more tolerant of frustration. Hardcore gamers are much more tolerant of difficult games or games that might frustrate them in some way. Casual gamers are more likely to abandon such games.
- Engaged in competition with himself, the game, and other players. Hardcore gamers want to feel the satisfaction and reward of competing and improving their skills against other players and/or computer-controlled opponents. Less dedicated gamers would not, for example, be inclined to play endlessly to reduce their lap-times in Gran Turismo by a fraction of a second, or have the patience to learn every combination attack in Street Fighter, or even to achieve a higher score.
- Age at which first started playing games. If players started playing at a young age, and have since been regular gamers, then this would indicate those who are more experienced and knowledgeable. Gamers who start playing later in life are seldom as dedicated.
- Comparative knowledge of the industry. Dedicated gamers are likely to show broader knowledge and awareness of industry activities and trends, new technologies, and game development methods. Less dedicated players may keep track of upcoming releases and game reviews, but not events such as industry layoffs or mergers.
- Early adoption. Dedicated gamers are the ones who attend midnight release events or take extra steps to get hold of games before their official release dates through gray-market imports.
- Desire to modify or extend games in a creative way. hardcore gamers frequently modify commercial games in a variety of ways. These can range from simple changes such as giving characters new skins to change their appearance to programming “aim-bots,” separate pieces of software that work in concert with an existing game to give the player an unfair advantage over others. Casual gamers seldom take the time to make these kinds of modifications; they tend to play the game as-is out of the box.
Of course, how much weight you give to each of these factors is up to you. The purpose of the original article was to suggest ways of measuring these for research purposes. As a designer, however, you really need to know only the ways in which gamers exhibit their dedication. For example, if you know that dedicated gamers seek out information about a game while it is still in development, you can set up developer blogs or give out press releases to help reach that market.
In reality, of course, there are as many types of gamer as there are games; everyone has a reason for playing computer games. But if you design a game specifically for one end of the dedication continuum, you probably won’t sell to many people at the other end. A few very well-designed games manage to appeal to both: GoldenEye, for example, can be played happily by both core and casual gamers. Core gamers can set the game at the highest difficulty level and drive themselves crazy trying to cut 15 seconds off the last time it took them to play a mission. Casual gamers can set the game at the easiest level and blast away, enjoying the game’s smooth controls and visual detail. Rock Band is another good example.