Terminology issues: from Casual to Hardcore

Some terminologies used in video games are too vague when it comes to precisely defining the design of a game. Here I tackle the terms Hardcore, Casual and Midcore by providing a way to replace and understand the scope of these terms.



Terminology issues: from Casual to Hardcore


The terminology used to define a game can sometimes be ambiguous. This is particularly the case with the terms Hardcore, Midcore and Casual. This problem is particularly well expressed by many Game Design students, using these terms to define the target of their game. Two problems arise: 

_ The first one: when asked for explanations, precisions to define these terms, many of them are unable to give the correct ones.

_ The second: when they give us details, we realize that they disagree on the definition of the same term.

The same kind of problems can arise in a company if different people or teams do not have the same definition for the terms. This is why I wrote this article, to help define precisely what these terms currently mean more or less - which I called Anatomical Spectrum of Involvement.


I will now present the Anatomical Spectrum of Involvement( ASI ) in detail. It can be used to define the target of a prototype, or conversely, to define the lines of a prototype from a target. The ASI is always done in comparison with a reference, which can be a specific game or genre. 

Some will want to use it as a design tool, I prefer to expose it for information, in order to take it into account during our designs.



Although many gamers will define hardcore games as "hard" and casual games as "easy", as a designer I prefer to use the term involvement, difficulty being a separate parameter.

The more a game will ask a player to get involved the more it can be considered "Hardcore". In the same principle, the more a player will want to get involved in a game, the more it will be considered as "Hardcore".

/!\ You have to differentiate between the player and the game, indeed you can be a casual player on dark soul (you don't get involved in the game), and be a hardcore player on Candy Crush (you'll take the time to do your 15 minutes of gaming every morning, without exception, buy boosts, etc.. you are involved). )

This degree of involvement will vary according to several parameters: the complexity of the game, its depth, difficulty, learning, temporality, objectives and experience.



The complexity of a game can be related to the number of systems in a game. A system can be a simple jump mechanic, as in Super Meat Boy, to a complex economic system of an AAA game like the Witcher. 

It will therefore be necessary during the reference research to make sure to identify the complexity of a game at all levels (from micro-systems to macro-systems).

The more systems a game has, the more complex it will be. This parameter is also closely related to depth.



The depth will take into account the relationship between the systems in the game, are they connected, if so, how many connections do they have, are they combined or in symbiosis? 

The depth here refers to the relationship between Operative Action (or systems) and Resulting Actions (or their interactions), defined by Jesse Schell in his book and depending on the scale - macro or micro. 

Many independent games take advantage of this depth by exploiting at best a very reduced set of mechanics.



Difficulty is equated with mathematical balancing, the current psychology of the player, as well as the choice of designers to give or not to give the necessary tools to pass an obstacle.

By current psychology, I rely on the fact that the player's impression of the difficulty of the game does not always take into account the mathematical reality.


Learning is an important parameter, depending on its speed/ease, it will induce a different involvement. The famous phrase "easy to learn, hard to master" evokes the principle of learning, it takes little involvement to learn, but a lot to become better - and thus improve our knowledge of the game. 

Progression is the frequency with which the player is asked to increase his knowledge of the game, whether by increasing his mastery of existing mechanics, by teaching him new ones, or by combining them, etc... everything that includes increasing his understanding of mechanics. 

Iteration is the frequency with which the player is asked to use a mechanic, whether by objectives, or the essence of the game itself.

The Progression / Iteration ratio will be different depending on the mechanics and the type of game. 



Temporality is an important factor in the game. It can be distinguished in two different parts, the projection and the absolute value.

The temporal projection will be the time that the player considers necessary for his game session.  For example, when I play League Of Legend, I know that a game will last on average 30min, but to have a satisfactory game session I need 4 games, that is 2h. On the other hand, a game of candy crush will last 3 min and with my 5 lives that make a 15min game session, perfect for my subway ride. This induces the implication that the player estimates necessary to have a satisfying game session. 

The absolute value is the real-time needed for a game session, it will allow a greater laxity to the time projection. Some games have imposed times, like multiplayer games, solo games are more permissive.



Objectives are also important factors of involvement. It can be a quest, a personal objective, an achievement, ect.. 

The variability represents the intrinsic parameters of the objective, such as level of difficulty, duration, number of steps, which competence is sought, etc... The more they are varied, the more they will make the player work on different skills, which increases the necessary involvement but can also influence the motivation of a player. 

The number of objectives will have a direct relation to the motivation of the player. Indeed, depending on your player profile, the display of objectives will create different feelings.

Do you have a single goal with 5 steps or 5 goals that follow one after the other, or 5 goals in parallel, this will influence the player's motivation. 

Some people will like long and dangerous quests, others will prefer short quests to have a better feeling of progress, or parallel quests to optimize their movements, etc... 



The psychology of the player and his relationship to the fun will obviously be a key point in understanding the player's motivation.

For example, a player who gets motivated by frustration will not be motivated by a game that does everything possible to avoid punishing him. This is the motivational link, the connection between his intrinsic motivation(s) and the one(s) that the game exploits. For this, we can use Marc Leblanc's Taxonomy of Pleasures, as well as Jon Radoff's Taxonomy of Player Motivations or Bartle's Taxonomy of Player Motivations. 

Targeted Fun is a representation of the designer's desire to make his player feel fun for a precise mechanic. Not all mechanics will serve fun in the same way and to the same degree.

It is therefore important to set up the elements of fun (surprise, learning, etc. ...) around the sources of the motivation of the player. And it is mainly around these two elements that most of the game content revolves around. 



The most important thing to remember is that a player will have a different profile depending on the situation. It is indeed a mistake to think that a player will seek the same degree of involvement in a game, at any time of day, week, or even in his life.

Indeed, some players will be able to play mobile games without too much involvement every morning by taking the subway, play 2 hours every night of the week with their friends on an MMORPG, and this for several years, and have a Mario kart session on Sunday afternoon with the family. 

The context is also very important to take into account and will allow us to understand some of the inconsistencies that we can encounter when we are facing our target, during playtest sessions.

The topology of a player being dynamic, and some games having many different types of content, it will probably be necessary to apply this analysis of involvement at several levels. 



  • The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses, Jesse Schell 

  • Leblanc’s Taxonomy of games pleasures, Marc LeBlanc

  • Bartle’s Taxonomy of player types, Richard Bartle

  • Radoff’s Taxonomy of player motivations, Jon Radoff

  • A Theory of Fun for Game Design, Raph Koster

  • Magic: the Gathering: Twenty Years, Twenty Lessons Learned, GDC 2016, Mark Rosewater

  • The Loner: Why Some People Play MMOs Alone, GDC 2011, Damion Schubert

  • Learning – The talents of the brain, the challenge of machines, Stanislas Dehaene

  • Level Design Saga: Creating Levels for Casual Games, GDC 2016, Jeremy Kang


Feel free to comment and give your opinion as a comment! it will also help me to improve my future reflections and articles.


Meteau Quentin,                                                                                                                                Junior Game Designer

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