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Player Types: Casual and Hardcore

Casual vs. Hardcore Players may be more properly categorized as Entertainment-seeking vs. Challenge-seeking Players.

Dan Bress, Blogger

November 2, 2009

11 Min Read

This is part of an ongoing series of articles on Player Types in "A" list Massives aimed at the American and European market, such as EverQuest®, Dark Age of Camelot®, World of Warcraft®, Lord of the Rings Online®, Eve Online®, Warhammer Online®, etc. My first goal over the next few months is to develop a comprehensive list and description of unique player types. To accomplish this I will need your input and observations.

I have read countless articles and postings about Casual and Hardcore players. What has been missing is an actual definition of what a Casual or Hardcore player is. I know, you are thinking "well I know one when I see one." That may actually be true, but not be as useful as it could be. (Please note: I am talking about Casual and Hardcore players in Massives only.)

The most common definition I have seen is based amount of time played per week, which gives us:

Time played per week 1________2________3________4________5
                                    Casual                        Me                    Hardcore

The problem here is that it is simply not true. End game raiders in WoW are considered hardcore and they typically have 10-12 hours of raids scheduled per week. They may need another hour or two per week for raid preparation. So an end game raider in WoW plays 12-14 hours per week. (Now he may log in to socialize or to play an alt, but so does any other player type.)

Self defined casual players report typically spending 30 minutes finding a group for a pick-up dungeon run and then about one hour doing the run. They typically do at least one run a night and perhaps two on a weekend. So a self reported casual player may easily play 14 hours a week, the same as a hardcore player.

Time played per session 1________2________3________4________5
                                       Casual                                                 Hardcore

At first glance this makes sense. Back in EQ raiding Plane of Hate or Fear could take 6+ hours in one session, which is obviously not for everyone. Then with the raid Molten Core in WoW, raids could be saved and did not have to be done in one session. In addition, the latest expansion of WoW added some raids that take the same amount of time as a dungeon run. So currently the length of time played per session is more up to the players and not designers.

Game Difficulty

I’m going to talk about game difficulty for a bit, and tie it into Casual and Hardcore below.

                                                      Player Difficulty
                                                              1 |
                                                              2 |
Designer Difficulty 1________2________3________4________5
                                                              4 |
                                                              5 |


Game Designer Difficulty is the difference between a crossword puzzle in TV Guide vs. a crossword puzzle in the New York Times. Some games are more difficult than others and some content within a single game may be more difficult than others. There are a number of five man instances in WoW, there is one "The Oculus" which is rarely run as it is considered by many to be much more difficult than the others.

Player Difficulty is how players approach a game and/or content. If I do my crossword puzzle in ink, I am making the game more difficult for me. I may challenge myself to do a crossword puzzle in a set period of time. I may make a crossword puzzle easier for myself by having a dictionary next to me.

In vanilla EverQuest, access to content was not limited by designers. Players could bring an unlimited number of people to a raid, thus the difficulty of the encounter was variable depending upon how many player joined. Raiders would brag about how few people they would bring to a raid. (The fewer the people, the more likely you would get loot.)

In WoW, instance designers tune the difficulty of an instance. Instances are designed for a certain level player to enter. Additionally a designer may make an easy dungeon for a certain level character with green (common) gear and another harder dungeon for a certain level character with purple (epic) gear.

Let’s talk about an instance with designer difficulty of 3. A player could adjust the difficulty of the instance by being over-geared and/or a higher level than anticipated by the designer, making a medium difficulty encounter into a trivial one. A player could make the encounter more difficult by being under-geared and lower level than anticipated by the designer. Thus a medium difficulty encounter can be made into a challenging one.

Designers also make assumptions as to what gems, enchants, potions, elixirs, food, etc. a group will bring to an instance. By using high-end enhancements and consumables, players can lower the difficulty by a bit.


My first hint that the player base was changing was hearing "lol, ‘x’ is serious bizness, amirite" both on the forums and in game. Along with this came self-described casuals petitioning that they have access to all content. Their core argument is that they are paying to play a game, and should not have to work to see content they paid for. As WoW had expanded the player base, a lot of its new players came from single player RPG where it was expected a player would see all the content. In contrast, someone who had started Massives with EverQuest joined WoW with the expectation that only some people would see end-game content.

Casuals. Casuals do their crossword puzzles in pencil. They treat the game, well casually. They don’t really mind wipes, but will give up on content after a few of them. They don’t optimize their item enhancements, or their consumables. Optimization would take time away from playing and force them to grind for in-game cash. They don’t spend a lot of time learning their class, or optimizing their talents.

Casuals want to see forward progress on their progression through the game, but accept a slow pace. On the difficulty chart above, they will modify player difficulty by being over-geared and/or a higher-level character than anticipated by the designer. Additionally they may bring in a "ringer" a high-level, highly-geared player to "carry" them through the encounter. One of the keys to understanding casuals is: they could make their encounters even easier by the proper use of item enhancements and/or consumables, but they don’t care. To casuals, grinding for gold is not part of what they consider the game, and will only do it rarely and for a specific item. To them grinding is similar to running out of bullets in a first-person-shooter and having to play Tetris to reload a weapon.

Casuals have a relaxed attitude towards other players. While they certainly can and do raid, getting a casual raid together is very similar to herding kittens. They do not worry about their reputation as a player. In their minds there is always another pick-up-group or guild, so why sweat it.

In short, casuals play to have fun. They are leaning back in their chairs, with perhaps a beer and pretzels nearby, and their favorite music on high. They may accept that a new game encounter may have a bit of a learning curve, but once they learn the encounter, and perhaps advance their character a bit, they want to repeat the encounter without any difficulty. They want their Player Difficulty to be low. They want to play the game. They want to have fun. They want to be entertained.

Hardcore. The website ElitistJerks basically defines hardcore. Forum conversations parse which spells to use down to the second. Hardcore players optimize every aspect of their character. Hardcores expect to wipe multiple times learning new content.

Hardcores test themselves against Designer Difficulty of encounters. On the difficulty chart above, they want to get to the greatest Designer Difficulty encounter as fast as possible. They will attempt to mitigate designer difficulty through preparation and skill, as far as that is consistent with getting to the content quickly. They will attempt instances before they are properly geared for them, making their Player Difficulty high. They define content in how far they have progressed in it.

This requires that a player get into a hardcore guild. In order to get accepted into a hardcore guild a player must have a good reputation. Not necessarily a social reputation, but being on time, with the proper consumables, studying the instance or encounter beforehand, having an optimized character, etc.

Hardcores often refer to the game as "work", and refer to casuals as "lazy". A hardcore will say that casuals don’t deserve to experience end-game content because they have not earned it.

A hardcore player does his crossword puzzle in ink. He leans forward in his chair, headset on, tunnel-focused on the game. He wants to do better this session than he did last session, however he defines that. While casual players mitigate game difficulty as much as possible, hardcore players embrace it. Hardcore players want to be challenged.

Entertainment – Challenge axis

As I discussed above casual – hardcore is not really about time spent. My observations lead me to believe it is how a player approaches the game that defines him. I believe that casual - hardcore is actually this entertainment – challenge axis. I call a player who rates high on Entertainment as Fun-style guy and a player who rates high on Challenge, Challenge-style guy.

Entertainment                                    Challenge

A guy that plays beer-baseball on the weekend, a guy in a competitive softball league and a professional baseball player are playing the same game. However the pro is going to spend a significant more time doing batting practice during the week than the other guys.

Decisions per Minute

When doing a Dungeon Run or Raid my theory is that what differentiates Fun-style guy from Challenge-style guy is the decisions per minute they make. My theory is that Challenge-style guys utilize a greater variety of activities during an encounter than Fun-style guys. Additionally as Challenge-style guy is more focused, the frequency of activities is higher than Fun-style guy.

This variety of activities carries over to getting a character ready for an encounter. In WoW, a Challenge-style guy may equip a trinket that must be clicked on every two minutes, while a Fun-style guy would pass that up because it is too much trouble. A Challenge-style guy may write macro-commands to do activities quicker. A Challenge-style guy may bring consumables to a raid that must be clicked every two minutes.

Decisions per Minute 1________2________3________4________5
                                  Entertainment                                   Challenge

The interesting thing about this theory is that it is testable. It would be real useful to know when decisions per minute crosses over from entertainment to challenge to needlessly difficult. My expertise ends here, at the point of saying that it is testable.

Fun-style guy and Challenge-style guy are not unique Player Types.

To know where a player is on an Entertainment – Challenge axis helps define a unique Player Type. Saying a player logs in for entertainment or challenge is universally true so not very helpful to us. What it is useful for is to help define and quantify unique Player Types.

For example Fun-Explorer guy may spend hours poking around a zone, poking his head into every cave and building, interacting with every non-player character, etc. A Challenge-Explorer guy may spend the same hours just trying to get up one hill. Now we have something we can quantify, and then use in design decisions.

A Fun-Raid guy likes to raid as much as Challenge-Raid guy. Fun-Raid guy doesn’t care about how quickly he gets through content as long as he is progressing forward. We like Fun-Raid guy as designers because he goes though content much slower than Challenge-Raid guy. As this article is already too long, I’ll get into this more when I write about Raid-guy. For now consider that Challenge-Raid guy is needed to defeat and teach raids so Fun-Raid guys can enjoy raids in their own style.

Fun-Style Guy to Challenge-Style Guy

I think I am seeing that some fun-style guys are moving up the scale to become more challenge-style guys the longer they are at end-game content. This is really hard to determine, and I would appreciate any input. For example, say WoW players are mostly 1 on the Entertainment – Challenge axis, but after playing end-game content they are 2 on the scale. Knowing this we may want to design a new game to start with a 2 on the scale to attract these players.

Entertainment or Challenge defines how players look at Massives and in fact other areas of recreational activities. My mother looks at her quilt group in the same terms. There are the quilters who make quilts from store-bought patterns (Entertainment) and those who design quilts from scratch (Challenge).

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