The article was written by Filip and originally posted on our blog thingtrunk.com, with his permission.
Hardcore and casual gamers
Doom - the essence of hardcore games vs. Solitare - the very core of casual games
One of the most basic distinction between players takes their dedication and time spent playing games into consideration. Those who play computer games daily, stay up-to-date with new releases (both software and hardware) and have time for long game sessions are called hardcore gamers. They like competitive gameplay, challenges and mastering highest difficulty levels and cutting-edge hardware. I used to be a hardcore gamer when I was younger.
On the other side of the spectrum lie the so-called casual players. As the name suggests, they play games from time to time, often on a mobile device during the daily commute. Limited time and long downtime between game sessions force them to select simpler games which don’t require as much focus and concentration and can be interrupted at any time. A lot of casual players do not consider themselves gamers at all. My mother fits this group perfectly.
The majority of hardcore and casual games focus on a narrower, smaller audience and try to give them the best experience within a specific genre. FPS enthusiasts have Call of Duty, PUBG, Halo or Overwatch, HOPA fans play Drawn, Midnight Castle or Enigmatis. If you’re an admirer of a specific game type, those games will surely suit your needs. If you are not, they will probably be too difficult, too niche or not engaging enough.
But what if you didn’t have to limit yourself to one of those groups exclusively? If you don’t have enough time or determination to finish a hardcore game but you want deeper game engagement than most casual titles gives you, maybe there is a middle ground?
Mid-core games are (truly) for everyone
Different cultures, ages, tastes.. Mid-core games try reaching all players
The idea behind mid-core games is to mix together aspects of casual and hardcore games and come up with something appealing to a broader audience. This means waiving those features that would limit the game’s target and focus on what’s attractive to most players without necessarily making the games easier or shallower. As a result, mid-core games are more inclusive not only in terms of game mechanics but also its subject and themes. That’s why such games often replace extreme representation (be it either gore/hardcore/graphic or childish) with symbolic or pop-culture references.
The ideal mid-core game is engaging, challenging and hard to master for a hardcore player but at the same time easy to access, graphically appealing and not too demanding for a more casual audience. But does it exist?
Some may say that games accessible and engaging for everyone are just a myth - an idée fixe that is impossible to create. Try to create a game for everyone and you’ll end up with something for no one. But we choose to believe that with clever design decisions and careful compromises this can be achieved. And that there are games that fall under this category already available.
What makes a game mid-core?
It could be tempting to say, that every game that is not all-hardcore and not all-causal is a mid-core game as long as it discards radical themes. That would be not only a simplification but an overall wrong assumption. It’s not enough to just remove some extreme elements from a game to make it attractive to a broader audience. We believe that there is a set of important traits a game should have to be a mid-core game. Below is our list of that features.
Low minimum hardware requirements
Minimum requirements listed for 8BitMMO
To maximize the target audience, a first step is to offer a game, that works on any computer. A common, office or home computer should pass the minimum hardware requirements of the game. A potential client shouldn’t have to wonder if her computer is powerful enough to run the game. The same goes for any peripheral that is required to operate the game; these should be ubiquitous.
Any advanced graphics features that require more powerful CPU/GPU could, and probably should be implemented - after all, we want to be attractive to gaming enthusiasts as well - but supporting them shouldn’t be mandatory to run or enjoy the game.
Easy to operate
In Journey player uses only 3 keys and the gyroscope
The mid-core game should be fully playable using only one device (mouse, keyboard or gamepad). This doesn’t mean that the game should not have support for more devices used at the same time. But none of the options, features and game mechanics should require the use of more than a single one at a time.
Again, a game might offer additional shortcuts on a secondary device, but it should be optional not part of the basic control scheme.
Ease of access
Downloading, installing and running a mid-core game should be straightforward and hassle-free. The smaller the download size the better. The user should not be obliged to install any additional applications, should not be forced (at least initially) to create accounts on any outside services or portals. The “distance” between seeing the game you like and actually playing it should be as short as possible.
Don’t require good reflexes
The mid-core game shouldn’t depend too much on good reflexes, agility, and eye to hand coordination, as not everyone is super-skilled that way. This limits some of the popular game mechanics but at the same time greatly expands the game’s audience.
Although in most cases, this may require slowing the pace of the game a little, there are even some arcade platformers that meet this criterion. They give players obstacles that require good reflexes in small, easy to comprehend chunks, where a player can learn how to proceed further, or otherwise assist if someone keeps struggling.
Easy to learn, hard to master
Track Mania Nations - move forward and compete with other players
A good mid-core game (some will argue that a good game in general) should be easy to play right from the start. All the basing aspects and mechanics should be clear for a player playing the game for the first time.
The mechanics should, of course, evolve over time making them more demanding, complex and engaging. But this should be done by gradually adding new elements to already learned basics.
Respect player’s time
Player’s time is the main (some could even argue that the only one) resource that she can give to our game. Every minute she invests, she would like to “monetize” in fun, enjoyment, or entertainment. That’s why a good mid-core game should respect her time and make the most of it. Any artificial prolonging of the game, any level that is not introducing anything new and mindless backtracking or grinding should always be avoided.
Additionally, the player should ideally be able to play a mid-core game in both short and long sessions. The game should either have frequent save points, save game progress on exit, or have any other mechanism that minimizes the loss of progress the player has when exiting the game.
Don’t punish for early mistakes
Dark Souls series is the very opposite of the idea of not punishing player for mistakes
A mid-core game should never punish you for the past mistakes you did (especially the ones you made when learning the game). I’m not talking about any false moves a player does during tackling the current issue. We are talking about a choice she had to make a couple of hours ago that will ruin her game in the future. All the choices like bonus points and skill distribution, should either be reversible or should have no definite good or bad impact on the long-term play.
Enjoyable from the first playthrough
A good mid-core game should not require anyone to play and lose the whole game a couple of times before learning how to win. This can be fun for some players (the whole idea behind roguelike game is starting from the beginning hundred of times, each time progressing a little further) but this renders the game frustrating to a wider audience, thus making the game more niche.
Short repetition cycle
In Braid user controls the repetition cycle
In most games, the player loses or dies after making too many mistakes. This is totally normal and acceptable practice in mid-core games. But what’s important, is that this event should not have too harsh consequences. Death or failure should be easy to make up for by giving a player another chance without losing too much of already gained progress.
Most popular way of achieving this is frequent save points to which the player is reset each time she loses the current objective. This gives a way to improve the next run without wasting time.
Clear objectives and progress
The player should always know where to go and what to do next. She should have both short-term and long-term objectives going on at every time and their progress displayed as frequently or always available to browse. This gives the player a purpose to play further and plan the game session ahead.
Angry Birds prove that clear visuals are important
It’s very important for a mid-core game to have a clear visual distinction between active and inactive elements, between GUI and game world, enemies that have different traits, platforms that are reachable and not, buffs and debuffs, power-ups and traps, different resources and so on. The player should know from the first glance what she is approaching and if that’s a positive or negative game element.
Easy to come back to
Easy access to the info about basic gameplay mechanics and progress makes the game more approachable even after a long break. You never know if a player remembers which combination of keyboard keys does what, so she should be able to read the tutorials once again to refresh her memory.
Avoid niche themes
theHunter: Call of the Wild is a beautiful game about hunting
Avoiding niche themes is not limited to visual themes like gore, hardcore or childish. Subjects that are attractive to only a very limited audience (like niche sports, gardening or racing among many others) should be avoided as well. They may match perfectly the taste of those particular group but will scare all other groups away.
This aspect of the mid-core games is the hardest to define. Many good casual games pass most or even all of the features listed above. What they usually lack compared to hardcore games is they are not engaging or challenging enough. With so many restrictions, most casual games have a shallower story, simplified mechanics, and lack challenge.
A good mid-core game combines engaging gameplay (from hardcore games) with “casual” accessibility.
So, why do mid-core games matter?
By now you have probably noticed that many points are convergent with general guidelines of good game design and practices that for some time now have been gaining in popularity. This might be a sign of developers looking to attract broader audiences and a trend where mid-core games become the mainstream where they belong.
Following all the rules stated above is, in our opinion, the only way to make video games a true mass medium, which will be suitable for everyone (just like the movies and TV are now). So far, due to a difficult to reach an audience, publishers’ reluctance and general difficulty of developing such games, mid-core games are sparse and pay the pioneering cost. Hopefully not for long, as some brave developers and publishers already try to build this market.
Where to find mid-core games?
Good mid-core games are hard to come by so we have decided to create a Steam curator (Midcore Games) where we’ll be recommending games that, in our opinion, meet the criteria. If you disagree with our opinion or would like to recommend us a title that you think is a mid-core game, feel free to post on the curator’s Steam group or contact us directly. We are always on a look-out for more mid-core games so we’ll appreciate any hits from the community.
Book of Demons - our shot at mid-core
This is how we, at Thing Trunk, understand mid-core. We needed to define a set of rules that, for us, make a good mid-core game as we are currently developing a game that tries to cater to a wide audience. Book of Demons is the first installment of a series of mid-core games called Return 2 Games. At the time of writing, the game is in Early Access on Steam. The development takes a lot of time and resources as meeting all the requirements stated above is a very challenging task. But we hope that the final result will mix the best of what hardcore and casual games have to offer. If you want to check how we are doing, be sure to grab the free demo, and let us know what you think in the comments below.