Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
October 31, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 31, 2014
PR Newswire
View All

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

What the hell does 'mid-core' mean anyway? Exclusive
What the hell does 'mid-core' mean anyway?
January 2, 2013 | By Kris Graft

Social. Triple-A. Casual. Accessibility. Freemium. Premium. Platform. Immersion. Emergent. Gameplay. Emergent gameplay. Hardcore. Indie. Disruption. Mid-tier. Skill-based. Open world. The cloud...

We all seem to have a love-hate relationship with buzzwords like these. On one hand, we can agree on what they generally mean. On the other hand, they're still these amorphous words and terms that mean something a little bit different to everyone, so there's a slight communication breakdown whenever we use them.

Months ago, we started seeing the emergence of the term "mid-core." Some say it's the future of mobile and social games. Big companies are acquiring "mid-core" developers to capture the "mid-core" audience. Game studios are creating games aimed at the "mid-core."

Instead of just giving "mid-core" a free pass to join other sacred, nebulous terms that we use constantly, we asked you, the game developer and a whole bunch of Gamasutra Twitter followers what "mid-core" means to them. Many have seriously thought about the term, defined it and are creating games according to that definition. Others dismiss it as a totally empty buzzword.

This rather entertaining experiment illustrates how scattershot peoples' understanding of buzzwords can be. But maybe it will also help you find direction for your own "mid-core" game.

'Mid-core' in a few sentences

"When I think about mid-core, it's really about distilling what you'd consider a 'hardcore' game down to its core essence, without making concessions on production quality, themes and gameplay mechanics. To us, mid-core means making a great, deep game more 'accessible' - both in terms of time (keeping sessions to 5 to 20 minutes, as opposed to hours) and platform access (it should be on many platforms instead of just one at a time)." - Frederic Descamps, general manager of Team Solstice (Solstice Arena), Zynga

"Games that are easy to learn and allow advancement with short gaming sessions, but are more engaging, more competitive and more challenging than other social and casual games. This combination allows mid-core games to reach a wider audience than a hardcore game like an MMO while also attracting players who identify as gamers and are more willing to spend on gaming entertainment." - Janelle Benjamin, SuperData vice president of research

"The mid-core is a massive audience of people who play involved games within a schedule that fits the average person. At PeopleFun we segment the gaming audience by lifestyle patterns:

(1) Hardcore arranges their schedules around their gaming.
(2) Mid-core arranges their gaming around their daily schedule.
(3) Casual entertains self with games when time presents itself.

These definitions are useful because it helps define the temporal experience the gamer is looking for." - Tony Goodman, co-founder, Ensemble Studios, founder, PeopleFun

"We see mid-core as a lighter, more accessible take on a hardcore topic or genre. Our own game Royal Revolt! is an example for this point of view: It's lighthearted, beautiful and easily learned and the main game loop fits into a bus station break -- yet it’s not casual, has some depth and is hard to beat." - Klaas Kersting, CEO, Flaregames GmbH

How Twitter defines a 'mid-core' game

Your turn

So then... how would you define a "mid-core" game?

Related Jobs

Next Games
Next Games — Helsinki, Finland

Senior Level Designer
Activision Publishing
Activision Publishing — Santa Monica, California, United States

Tools Programmer-Central Team
Vicarious Visions / Activision
Vicarious Visions / Activision — Albany, New York, United States

VFX Artist-Vicarious Visions
Magic Leap, Inc.
Magic Leap, Inc. — Wellington, New Zealand

Level Designer


James Coote
profile image
A game with a scope somewhere way above regular indie and way below AAA. E.g. Endless Space, Rollercoaster Tycoon

profile image
Based on most of the definitions I've read, Pokemon could really be considered a "mid-core" game. It's simple and fun enough for anyone to play but has the right amount of depth in the game mechanics to appeal to the hardcore.

Matthew Annal
profile image
I would say our games at Nitrome are mid core. They are not super casual but are not hardcore either. I think it is just a term for a half way house and I think a lot of indie dev games would slot nicely into this definition.

Peter Eisenmann
profile image
Definitely fits a lot of indie games, as their are neither as extensive as AAA nor as simple or polished as the few mega-successfull one-button casuals.
Taking all those positives from both ends of the spectrum that don't cost tons of money to implement (like pick-and play, deep emergent gameplay, rather short play sessions)

Lars Doucet
profile image
I really like the time-based definition. It exactly fits my current lifestyle as an adult gamer - whether or not I buy a game now has entirely to do with whether I can pick it up and play it in short sessions I can work into my regular schedule. Stuff like the new XCOM, or a great pick-up-put-down RPG with really tight save points or save-anywhere is vastly preferable to the huge, sprawling, save-points-every-3-hours fare I played as a kid.

E Zachary Knight
profile image
I think I would side with Tony Goodman's definition and say they are games for people like me. People who do not have as much time as they used to to play games, yet still want a meaningful experience. These are those meaningful experiences in convenient bite-size pieces.

Carlo Delallana
profile image
I think mid-core (and hardcore, casual, etc.) are mostly marketing definitions more useful for user segmentation. Games these days have a wonderful tendency of breaking outside its pre-defined audience boundaries.

Jeremie Sinic
profile image
My thought exactly. Mid-core is a somewhat useful term to describe players gaming habits. In that sense, I find Tony Goodman's definition quite fitting.
Now, describing what is a mid-core game is simply impossible. You can be a hardcore Bejeweled player or a casual player of an ultra-realistic racing simulation.

Tom Baird
profile image
I think that Tony Goodman's definition seems like the strongest of the bunch, especially because it avoids creating a category of game, but instead looks at how users are going to play your game.

I also think that attempting to classify games as mid-core rather than users is dangerous. It just translates into 'simple to pickup, challenging to master' which essentially describes what most games want to be. It creates a buzz-word like 'Next-Gen'(if it were literally next-gen, it simply wouldn't be available yet) which ends up becoming an empty word, since it's simply a category of 'well designed'.

Descriptions like those of Alejandro Rodriquez or Gordon Frederickson are not describing a category of game, but simply describing an ideal, which turns 'mid-core' into a back of the box marketing word, and not something of any use in discussion.

Justin Sawchuk
profile image
Hardcore - DOTA
Midcore - LOL
Casual - Awsomenaughts

Samuel Green
profile image
No matter what you think about LoL, it's not a midcore game. It's hardcore. Not as hardcore as Dota (do we need 'ubercore' in our glossary?) but it's still a hardcore game. You might be trolling though...

JoseArias NikanoruS
profile image
Curious.... I actually agree with most of the definitions. And even the "mock-definitions" are quite spot-on (they make fun of the "true definition" and that one coincides with the others)... Now, I always assume language is quite fuzzy (¡ALWAYS!) and I use it more like an impressionist painter uses colors. Sometimes you need to make a very exact "perfect definition" but the reality is so complex that it's mostly absurd to even think about making one (that's why "true hard definitions" are only found on the more simple of the sciences (physics, for example); and that's also the reason why "definitions" in scientific studies (specially psychological) sound kind of lacking and shoehorned (those studies aren't actually trying to prove what "compassion" is but are more interested in "prove" something so they use a pretty simple arrange of qualities and then refer to them as "compassion" without all the nuance and significance the term actually has)). So for my standards I think the term is actually pretty good. (note: I agree that useless and futile arguments are the most likely to sprout from this term (since we are usually pretty intolerant with things that have something to do with "our ideas") but unless they want to make a scientific study of this (and I venture that we would need another hundred or two hundred years of knowledge before we can attempt one study at this level (we're talking about a special kind of "ludic" (playful) electronic simulation)) I think these definitions are good enough for our objective: defining a new kind of game that is not so "shallow" nor so "deep").

Luis Guimaraes
profile image
In between virtual toys and e-sports.

Simon Ludgate
profile image
I think I'd measure hard-core and mid-core in terms of learning rather than time spent per play session.

I think a hard-core game is a game that requires anticipatory learning. In other words, in a hard-core game, you have to learn to anticipate the challenges and already be in the process of countering those challenges before they actually come. For example, in music rhythm games like Dance Dance Revolution or Guitar Hero, mastery of the game eventually requires memorization of the actions of entire songs. This makes it hard-core in the context that no one could possibly "pick up and play" these games on the hardest level, even if they were good at the game.

Thus, hard-core games are often seen as games requiring considerable mastery of hand-eye coordination. But they are not limited only to knowing how and when to use the controls; many hard-core games also require considerable mastery of game systems and strategies. In the Fire Emblem games, players suffer considerable losses when any character is defeated, but are mastery also requires planning ahead; as much as knowing which characters will participate in the final battle and training those particular characters in the right way from the very beginning. The games can be successfully completed on a first and error-filled play-through, but the player knows they could have done so much better and encourages repeated play-throughs to achieve that mastery.

I'd point out that the time-spent-playing is a red-herring here, because you can play and enjoy games like DDR and Guitar Hero in small 3 minute chunks. Got 3 minutes? No problem, pop in the game, strum out a song, and you're done and entertained. But such "casual" playing won't lead a player to eventually get a perfect score on every song: that requires a considerable investment of time and effort to attain mastery. In other words: it's not that the game has a long or a short play session, but a long or a short road to mastery.

I think a mid-core game is a game that is built around reactionary learning. In other words, a mid-core game teaches you how to react to challenges but always gives you the opportunity to react to them. The real defining nature of mid-core games is that a sense of mastery in the first play-through. The player isn't left thinking "I could have done so much better" in the same way they are in hard-core games. Games like the new XCOM or Far Cry 3 present their challenges in little bite-sized bits and make sure it's easy to get through them and, once you have, you're never really challenged by them again.

So the real trick to mid-core is that the game instills the sense of mastery without the same level of effort in hard-core games. You think you've mastered the game the first time through. That's kind of what makes many competitive multiplayer games inherently "hard-core": the other players who have achieved mastery really make it hard for you to maintain the illusion that you're good at the game.

For me, a hard-core game is a game that compels me to re-play it over and over again to attain mastery, and a mid-core game is a game I play once, enjoy, and never really think about or want to touch again.

Tom Baird
profile image
But then how would that idea relate to Zynga and other casual game companies attempting to start catering to the 'mid-core' audience? The definition you've given (A game you feel you mastered on the first time through) encompasses all of casual gaming as well. Where do mid-core and casual diverge, or do they? I almost always see mid-core in relation to a step up from casual, rather than a step down from hardcore; usually as a marketing buzz word to say 'We also plan on attracting console gamers' from a social game company.

It also seems like a very diminutive definition, mid-core seems to simply be defined as 'lack of depth', which isn't a type of game, it's a result of a weak design. Saying you don't feel 'you could have done so much better' on a second playthrough of XCOM makes XCOM sound shallow. Your last paragraph as well defines mid-core as simply a lesser game to a hardcore game.

Simon Ludgate
profile image
I don't think there's any concept of mastery at all in casual games. I think the lure of casual games is the sense that you've "mastered" it before you even try it out, or that you don't really have to "master" anything to enjoy it. The concept of matching three similar things in a row or a column or clicking on something with an arrow pointing to it don't require any sort of mastery in order to enjoy. So casual and mid-core games diverge in having no mastery versus having some mastery.

I don't disagree with you about lack of depth versus type of game. I don't think "casual" "mid-core" and "hard-core" are "types of games" at all. I think "RPG" and "FPS" and "RTS" are types of games. I would caution against using subjective terms like "weak" or "shallow" though; a lack of depth isn't necessarily a weakness if the consumer wants to enjoy a game without investing in depth of game.

Aaron Steed
profile image
I'd prefer it to be called goldilocks-core.

No one really has a clue what it is, but it's "just right". An excuse for critics to be fussier and designers to be more vague.

Christopher Burke
profile image
Mid-core = FPS / RTS / TBS games converted for coin (meaning, in-game premium currency) operation without a joystick, keyboard or D-PAD.

Ever looked at the DIP switches and magnetic adjustments inside of a pinball machine that allow the arcade owner to tune how long people can play on average before dropping another quarter, while still making those few minutes compelling enough to induce the next quarter drop? That's what you have to do to an FPS / RTS / TBS to convert it to "mid-core."

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Jesse Tucker
profile image
To me, hardcore games are defined by having significant depth and provide enough difficulty to require mastery of the game. Casual games provide enjoyment with minimal time investment, don't require previous knowledge of other games, and ease the player into new challenges.
I guess mid-core games (at least successful ones) get by without being too deep or requiring very much mastery, but aren't necessarily as accessible as games that do a good job at being casual.

Brian Canary
profile image
Then there is always the biblical definition:
"So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth."

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

R. Hunter Gough
profile image
pfft. I was talking about mid-core games before it was cool.

Steve Fulton
profile image
We were talking about them just a bit before that! :)

Terry Matthes
profile image
Nothing. It means nothing at all. Yay for buzz words!

James Margaris
profile image
"Mid-core" is just a term that companies making bog-standard Facebook and Mobile games use to try to position their games as something other than bog-standard.

"Hardcore" and "casual" are already virtually meaningless (as evidenced by the fact that no two people can agree on what they mean or which games fit which category) so trying to position a new term between two already basically-meaningless terms is beyond silly.

People seem to approach casual/core stuff by thinking "well I'm sure these terms mean something 'cause I see everyone using them - I guess I'll wrack by brain and figure out what!" instead of "oh hey, these categories are completely arbitrary and useless and there's no reason to believe they mean anything at all."

Come up with terms first then figure out what they mean later (or never) - how does that make sense? There's no evidence that games or gamers fit neatly into two or three categories AFAIK.

Michael Joseph
profile image
Seems this buzz word is useful for kicking off a good discussion.

Andrew Vanden said "Mid core is not word I think we need but every AAA game seems about midcore to me; most gamer-y games are not hardcore I think?"

Simon Ludgate said "I think I'd measure hard-core and mid-core in terms of learning rather than time spent per play session."

From these sorts of comments that describe the games, we can also characterize the people who want to play them. They are not the Zork players. They're not the Dwarf Fortress players. They're not the old school Doom II players who will spend 2 hours if necessary hunting down that hidden keycard or switch. They're not the Falcon 4.0 players. They aren't the old school X-COM players who will carefully & methodically hunt down that last alien. They're not that serious about or committed to their games. That's fine.

But what's not fine is if the definitions are changing over time. I think the bar has been lowered and alot of what we consider hardcore games today aren't so by yesterdays standards. To think that some folks are trying to make a mid-core to fill in the space between an already lowered hard-core and no-core casual is a little off putting. But I suppose if this will ultimately supplant the no-core space, that's a good thing.

Christian Allen
profile image
Another bullshit buzz word for executives and strategic marketing folks to throw around to sound knowledgeable.

Samuel Green
profile image
So are the current crop of midcore games hardcore or casual?

Ken Nakai
profile image
Wow, a lot of different perspectives on this. I think a lot of people are forgetting the source for the term. Hardcore. @Justin Sawchuk was on the right track but if LoL is mid-core, then holy crap. In a way, what Tony Goodman was quoted as saying in the article was pretty close as well, though it covers only one aspect of it (time commitment). The missing component is self investment (more on a psychological level than a financial one though you would expect someone well invested in a game to spend a good deal of money on it--note though that the opposite is not true: just because someone spends a lot of money on a game, doesn't mean they're invested in it...they could just be buying away the time commitment or paying to win).

Hardcore gamers are gamers who are deep into specific games. While there is a bit of strata (not everyone is an uber fan with an encyclopedic knowledge of every aspect of the game), they're usually able to rattle of various strats for the game (whether combat or leveling or whatever). Some, like some friends of mine, could even tell you what the drop-chance was for a specific item of loot. In a sense, you can measure this based on investment. They're usually pretty well invested in a game. They take the time (whether by playing a lot or actually researching) to understand the mechanics of the game so they can play better and succeed more.

Casual gamers are gamers who are really just looking to kill some time and aren't looking to be THAT invested in the game in question. They really don't care about what configuration they need to set their farm up in order to get the best crops or whatever. They want games that'll be easy to learn and can be picked up and left. This doesn't mean that a casual gamer can't spend hours and hours in a game. It's similar to the investment example above: a casual gamer wants to be able to jump in and out quickly if needed; someone who plays a game once in a while, isn't necessarily a casual gamer.

To me, a mid-core gamer represents me, actually. I've played plenty of games in various genres and have at times committed a lot of time and invested myself into the game (e.g. searching for info on the best strat or taken the time to learn the best way to use a weapon or something). I'm not a casual gamer necessarily but I can play a casual game if it's compelling enough (note: most casual games aren't). At the same time, I am in no way as invested as other people I know in games where I'll spend hours checking out various builds for a particular class for an MMO or research the amount of damage an individual bullet does in BF3. I might log a lot of time in a game that I really like (I've got 352 hours logged in Skyrim and 459 hours logged in a game called X3 Terran Conflict) but if you ask me what level of Destruction magic I need to be at in order to cast X Lightning Bolt spells before running out of Mana when I'm level 50 in Skyrim, I could care less. In the end, I want a game to be fun to play. I want to enjoy it.

Obviously, I'm simplifying a bit but the key here is the term belongs to the gamer or technically the "audience", not necessarily the game. A game can be engineered to serve multiple audiences above (look at WoW...hardcore players have multiple level capped characters, run raids often and have builds specced to maximize the specific class traits they need; mid-core players will probably have a few characters but not a lot that are level capped, probably haven't played in a while, unless they're running with a guild/friends and probably could do a better job of re-speccing their "toons"). But, the game itself isn't necessarily "hardcore" or "midcore". I suppose you could argue a game that is engineered specifically for a particular audience could be labelled as such (Farmville anyone? Vanguard Saga of Heroes?) but the majority of games out there are shooting for--rightly so in a way--a broader audience which technically covers multiple audience "cores".

This is why you might see (as I have) a number of MMOs come out trying to reproduce WoW's success but failing (at least at launch). They'll usually do something that serves one group or another or tries to serve both and fail. For example, hardcore MMO players will reach the level cap of a game pretty quickly and will often ask, "Now what?" since the game devs didn't really develop for them. Whenever I hear complaints about endgame content in MMOs, I know who's complaining. Meanwhile, midcore players are grinding and asking themselves "Do I really need to spend four hours killing rats right now?".

If you really spend the time researching this, I think you'll also notice a number of demographic trends though I'd be careful if anyone tries to go for the "big three" (gender, age, income). While there will be patterns you can see, there are always exceptions (male, 24, $50k could be a guy who married early, already has kids and a job and not a lot of time on his hands to be hardcore even if he used to be or could be a single guy who's got a nice job, no commitments and spends hours a day playing your game). Marital status and kids might help but there are, these days, a multitude of combinations of "family" status you'd have to account for to be reliably accurate.

Damn, this ended up long. Sorry about that. Short version: it's about the audience, not the game and you'll notice games that bridge those audiences tend to have larger ones (surprise!) but there are plenty of other factors that determine success.

Randy Angle
profile image
About 10 years ago - when 'casual' games were just getting their boom, it was observed that there are two primary spikes that occurred in sales - traditional gamers bought games in the 'core' genres with hard to master controls and casual gamers bought games that had easier controls, frictionless on-ramps, and generally more mass-market artistic appeal. This casual market was untapped by most game publishers leading to the rise of new digital publishers. These two bell-curves with the clearly differentiated peaks defined most games, but occasionally a game appealed to both markets and won the hearts, and wallets, of both kinds of players. What Nintendo and other arcade companies learned was that a deep game, with mechanics that appealed to multiple player types and controls that were easy to learn, but hard to master, and artwork that had broad mass-market appeal games fit this hybrid of core and casual.

With the recent collapse of the 'core' market (it just isn't profitable to be a core developer anymore), many developers have latched onto the 'mid-core' term, in the hopes of translating their core game skills to a broader audience without having to completely immerse themselves in social or casual mechanics and casual art styles.

I would hope that we are all trying to make games that appeal to an audience that will enjoy and support the investment developers make while creating games. If you wish to make really obscure games that have indie appeal, or mass-market social communities your budgets and production values will vary accordingly.

Core games went to AAA budgets when they were marketed to a broad audience that included players that never finished these monumental games. Now that the more casual players have alternatives they are happy to play fun games without the huge investments and the core players have to pay for budgets without the extra investment of the casual players. It was inevitableitable that core games would move to smaller budgets and the big money would move to games that appeal to both sides - mid-core or hybrid casual/core games.

Mid-core... I call it arcade gaming - because it takes from the lessons learned some 30+ years ago when video games were just starting out.

Marc Vousden
profile image
I don't even think the term hardcore is well defined. I've always preferred hardcore as a way to refer to the playstyle rather than a category of game or gamer.

Pokemon could be considered a mid-core game but tell that to the EV trainers out there. Bejewled is termed a casual game but there are those who have spend hours perfecting their game.

It's nothing to do with complexity of game mechanics. There are untold numbers of universally accepted "hardcore" games that are walking down a corridor blasting anything that moves without any need for significant deep thought... yet they are hardcore?

Sven Uilhoorn
profile image
Something like Mario, Zelda, Fable, Viva Piñata, The Sims, Animal Crossing. Games that are deep enough to be enjoyed by hardcore players, yet accessible enough for people who've never played video games.

Games played because those people want to play games, not necessarily kill time, and games that aren't necessarily played "FTW".

Mike Griffin
profile image
Hardcore, like gameplay, is all one word in the realm of gaming.
While our new "mid-core" buzz term requires a hyphen to connect its descriptors.

Fittingly, thus, mid-core is the middle ground halfway between casual and core interests, both of which are richly defined and understood.

Mid-core represents amalgamation, broader strokes, hybrid difficulty/session parameters, and extends a marketing-friendly, risk-mitigated olive branch to either polarity of the gaming interest spectrum.

So it's perhaps a glaring cop out to tap into a nebulous demographic prime for revenue contribution, or an urgent necessity to address millions of more experienced social-casual-mobile gamers now graduating to more hardcore-like titles.

So there it is. Mid-core are games that embrace familiar hardcore designs and mechanics ripe for appeal to core players, yet they focus on difficulty/session parameters that open the door to casual players who are graduating to pseudo-hobbyist gaming interest levels.

I'm not certain we needed another buzz term to encapsulate this convergence.

Benjamin Sipe
profile image
Best Twitter definition...

"@gamasutra Somewhere between the core giving a shit and the mainstream knowing about it."

Well said sir.

Curtiss Murphy
profile image
This definition was simple, easy to define, and useful to me, as a designer:

"(1) Hardcore arranges their schedules around their gaming.
(2) Mid-core arranges their gaming around their daily schedule.
(3) Casual entertains self with games when time presents itself.
- Tony Goodman, Ensemble Studios"

Kandarp Patel
profile image
Has "mid-core" replaced the term "AAA-lite"? Or are they different concepts?

Dave Long
profile image
"Mid-core" is an etymologically horrendous term, whatever it means. By the sound of it, 'mid-core' gamers are not part of the 'core' by any stretch (where something might be defined as having a skin or crust, bulk of its mass and then a core - think fruit, the Earth, etc;), but rather part of the flesh (fruit analogy) or mantle (Earth analogy). At the moment, our semantic definitions of gamers have the casuals (the skin or crust) then just one poorly mixed 'core', with nothing in-between (and definitely sounds like marketing speak, rather than put together by anyone who's actually thought about the structure of gaming consumers). Given this, the sooner this time dies the horrible death it deservers, the better. If this mob are the great masses that don't spend a whole lot of money, but are interested in more than just casual experiences, how about good 'ole 'mainstream'?

Terry Matthes
profile image
I don't want to be main stream. That sounds lame :( I'm MID-CORE!

Ken Nakai
profile image
I'm also mid-core but I want to be different from you. I'm going to call you MID-RIGHT-CORE and I'm going to be MID-LEFT-CORE.

Carlos Rocha
profile image
I have no idea. I'm guessing it's what marketing guys (and some developers) dream of, as a developer myself I would love to think there are people who buy games like casual people do (on platforms and spend money on micro-transactions and such) but enjoy and can appreciate a nice mechanic. I'm a hardcore gamer myself, and even if I can point to some people that like games but not play them that much, I would really classify them as casual players, because they really don't spend too much money on games (which is the way I define a casual player)

Daniel McMillan
profile image
Mid-core (moderate hard core style game play with proportionate Fiero / Relief vector) "MC = fr2"