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Casual gamers vs hardcore gamers
by Flavio Damasco on 02/24/14 12:10:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


hardcore vs casualA lot of time passed since my last post! Shame on me, but I was super busy... or I wasn't and I simply was lazy... or both!

Talking about time, it flies and games and gamers change.

A few years ago, when iPhones, iPads and Wii became popular, two


 new “genre of gamers” were born: casual gamers and, their counterpart, hardcore gamers. Who are these casual and hardcore gamers? Nowadays, this is really a tricky question, while it was easier to answer a few years ago. Why I say so? Because the so-called early casual gamers (those who played Farmville, for example) have evolved, have moved to more complex games and they don't play “casually” anymore: they attach to a game for long time and many hours a day. Are they still casual than?

And, about hardcore gamers? Are they simply those who play many hours per day? Or are they those who play some games defined “hardcore”? And what about hardcore gamers appreciating more accessible ones? But which games are “hardcore”? Are considered hardcore the games that are time-consuming? Are considered hardcore the games that have high levels of difficulty? Are considered hardcore the niche games with a small amount of players although their high quality? Are considered hardcore the games containing a high quantity of violence?

These are just a few questions to try to define hardcore games, but the main ones. Usually it is believed that a hardcore game answers YES to all the previous questions, but let's see if it is true and if it its true only for them:

  • Call of Duty:COD
    • many hours long? Yes, in multiplayer
    • difficult? Yes, depending on player and opponents' skills
    • niche? No: a lot of people play COD
    • violence? Yes, lots of realistic violence
  • League of Legends:
  • many hours long? Yes, in multiplayer
    • difficult? Yes, depending on player and opponents' skills
    • niche? No, a lot of people LOL
      play LOL
    • violence? Cartoon mild violence
  • Monster Hunter:
    • many hours lonMHg? Yes, several hundreds
    • difficult? Yes, it is solely based on player's skills
    • niche? Depending on countries: in western ones it's not very famous, but in Japan it's a top seller
    • violence? Fantasy violence against monsters
  • Final Fantasy:Dissidia_Final_Fantasy_-_CG_artwork_of_Warriors_of_Cosmos
    • many hours long? Yes, several dozens
    • difficult? Depending on the time spent on grinding, so the answer could be, “not really”
    • niche? Depending on countries; in western ones it's quite famous, but in Japan it's a top seller
    • violence? Fantasy violence
  • FIFA:many hours long? Yes, in multiplayer
    • difficult? Yes, depending on player and opponents' skills
    • niche? Not at all
    • fifa09_large_1
      violence? No violence beside fouls
  • R-Type:rtype
    • many hours long? Depends on player's skills
    • difficult? Extremely difficult
    • niche? Yes, extremely
    • violence? Somehow: spaceships shooting lasers...
  • Blitz Brigade:many hours long? Quite
    • difficult? Yes, depending on player and opponents' skills
    • niche? No, this is a social game
    • blitz
      violence? Yes, lots of realistic violence
  • Candy Crush Saga:candy
    • many hours long? Yes, a lot
    • difficult? Advanced levels can be really tough
    • niche? Not at all!
    • Violence? Extreme violence against candies! So, no.


From this list, if we take a closer look, we see that games like Call of Duty (which is considered hardcore) is not really different from Candy Crush Saga. Can we really judge a gamer from what he/she plays?
Would it be better to judge them by the amount of time spent playing per day? For example, on average Hay Day is played even 81 minutes per day per player, and Hay Day is definitely considered to be a casual game... Candy Crush Saga is played even more!

Likewise, we could try to argue that it depends on the platform on which the game belongs, but we have several problems with games such as Angry Birds and Minecraft, which are long, difficult, one of niche, the other not and somehow violent. Even consoles such as Wii (erroneously considered to be casual) hosts games such as Pandora's Tower and Mad World, which are far from being casual games!


So, we can not easily define casual vs hardcore gamers on the played game structures, on the quantity of time spent playing or on the platform used... This makes things really tricky... Especially if you add that somebody plays both games considered to be hardcore and casual!

But, we can ask another kind of question, maybe more interesting for future discussions: does it still make sense to divide these two kind of players in two opposed groups? Is this still relevant?


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Andy Gainey
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If I had to take a stab at this, I'd suggest casual versus hardcore is mostly about the amount of progression a player strives for and experiences. *Player* progression specifically, not in-game character progression.

This generally consists of two things: How much knowledge does a player have about a game, and how skilled are they at playing it.

Games like Final Fantasy emphasize knowledge, with hardcore gamers attempting to learn about every item, every location, every character possible. Mostly through playing, but I'd suggest that spending a lot of time on game wikis would be indicative of hardcore play too.

Games like Call of Duty are more skill focused. Hardcore players continually get better at the controls, better reflexes, more efficient use of weapons, smarter use of the environment, predicting and outsmarting opponents.

Games that are typically considered casual tend to focus more on a consistent experience that doesn't require a great deal of progression. There might be a gentle learning curve at the beginning, and then beyond a certain point, players just play the game. They're not getting particularly better at it, they're not learning more details about it, nor are they even trying to do so. They're just spending time comfortably having a reliably enjoyable experience.

Of course, a lot of casual games have enough detail or difficulty to allow a subset of players to play them in a hardcore fashion. You can play Candy Crush Saga casually, but you can also continually try to get better at it. It's also possible to find ways to play typically hardcore games in a casual fashion, no longer trying to improve, but just sort of "going through the motions" using existing skill/knowledge, perhaps focusing more on the social side of multiplayer than on minmaxing the game mechanics or exploring new stuff. And some gamers might switch play styles between different games, and sometimes even on the same game, depending on their moods at any given moment.

Given these facts, it's probably wrong to call a game or a gamer casual or hardcore, and instead better to refer to a play style as casual or hardcore. But there will of course be tendencies: Some gamers play with a hardcore style more often, others more with a casual style. And some games tend to promote hardcore or casual play styles (whether implicitly or explicitly). Curiously, I bet there are some games out there that were intended to primarily involve one play style, but ultimately the majority of play turned out to be of the opposite style.

Flavio Damasco
profile image
Looks like our points of view are quite similar!
I find your argumentation extremely interesting! I think it is a very good addiction to my own considerations and I am very happy that this post made somebody think about this topic.
In my opinion, this hardcore-casual distinction is getting older and older every passing day. I believe that, if we want to (or must) categorize players, than hardcore vs casual is no more the right way. Furthermore I also find stupid the "fight" between people believeing themself belonging to one of these groups; this for 2 reasons: fighting because of games is stupid by itself (i.e. they are games and game means fun) and what you believe is hardcore might look casual to me (and the reverse is true too, of course).

Andy Gainey
profile image
Yup, I agree that it's useless, harmful even, to label games and gamers as hardcore or casual. But I still find some value in the distinction, similar to how I find value in the classifications from the Bartle test of gamer psychology.

As a game designer, I like to know what kind of play styles my (hypothetical) games support, how naturally each of those styles is supported, which audiences will appreciate those play styles, and how to effectively market to those audiences. Understanding the ways in which my games support hardcore or casual play as I've defined them above helps with this.

And as a gamer, I need help understanding my own psychology, to know what types of play styles I enjoy, and understand what play styles various games offer, so that I can spend my time playing the games that I will actually enjoy, rather than wasting time being frustrated or bored with a game without fully understanding why.

I'm reminded of an article I read recently, and the embedded video from Malcolm Gladwell about chunky spaghetti sauce:

The specific point that stuck with me is that consumers are often incapable of consciously deciding for themselves or telling producers what they actually want. And what they think they want is frequently quite inaccurate. I feel like I've been in that boat for many years as a gamer, and I'm only slowly beginning to understand what I really enjoy. And I need to also keep that in mind as a designer when asking gamers what they enjoy to play. Their answers can provide useful information, but they aren't the full story, and might even be misleading.