Breaking Down Casual Gaming Misconceptions

infendoguestarticle.pngDaniel from the excellent blog DanielPrimed.com sent us this guest article about everyone’s favorite subject, Casual Gaming.

You know something that really frustrates me beyond belief? When I am scrolling through an online message board and find gamers whom downright slag out the recent push for casual gaming. This new orientation of gaming has undeniably been receiving quite a lot of heat from a number of members within the ‘core’ gaming crowd. Especially among hardened Wii owners whom are feeling the pressure on their identities as gamers. You see, the truth is a lot of this hate is extremely misguided.

I’ve had this article in cold storage for at least a month now and it was only the other day that another couple of incidents occurred which reminded me of how important this issue is. So I want to tackle this issue head on and hopefully continue to report on and share my ideas on the topic.

What is Casual Gaming?

Casual gaming is essentially gaming made for casual gamers or non gamers, that is people who are new to or don’t play video games on a regular basis. Casual gaming in a way is designed to be the first stepping stone for new players onto the gaming scene.

What Defines a Game a ‘Casual Game’?

It is generally accepted that casual games would consist of at least two or more of the following attributes:

* the gameplay is straight forward and easy to understand
* the game goes to an effort to make sure that it is understood
* the game is ‘approachable’ and accessible
* only a few buttons are required to play
* generally speaking the graphics are simple
* no long term commitment (very dispensable)

But more importantly it has to successfully appeal and be easily enjoyable by new players. To further clarify what a casual game is here are some examples of games that fit this bill:

* FreeCell
* Peggle
* Bejeweled
* Diner Dash
* Zuma
* Wii Sports
* Wii Play
* Picross

So now that we know what casual gaming is all about lets dive into some misconceptions.

All Casual Games are This Type of Game

As I was writing about what defines a casual video game I realized just how problematic casual gaming is. As casual games have slowly expanded, gamers have had difficulty in classifying casual gaming and in many ways still don’t know how to handle this foreign concept. This is a similar issue with survival horror games. Some may regard casual gaming as a separate genre of its own. But as you may have realized, reading over what defines a casual game, casual games are not a genre of their own. Instead they are an orientation or style of games with a loose set of rules.

At this current stage casual gaming does not properly function as a genre. A genre has a set of attributes and in terms of video games all games with those respective attributes fall under that genre. So then lets try this out; Is Super Monkey Ball as a casual game?

The issue here is that if casual games were a genre then each game would have to be manually placed into that genre because there are attributes which make Wii Sports a distinctively casual game and Monkey Ball not so. Even though they both fit under the previous defined rules. One could argue that the attributes that define casual gaming as a genre would therefore need to be adherently more complex but then where do we draw the line in the sand? We can’t without getting messy.

If the previous paragraph confused or at least made your brain sweat then point in case. The difficulty in actually understanding what this casual gaming business is all about has been a strong contributor to the mess surrounding casual games. It opens the door for a lot of confusion and continual typecasting.

All Casual Games are Bad Games

Out of all of the misconceptions this one probably holds the most water. The mass market nature of casual games ensures that there is a lot of money to be made for publishers of casual gaming and due to their simplistic nature it is cheap and easy to quickly create a successful casual video game. Even if the game is only a moderate success a lot of money a significant amount of money is made as production costs are kept down.

So as a result of these two things it becomes clear why some developers have seized the opportunity and released countless clones ripped from other, more successful titles or, on the flipside low quality casual games. This in turn has oversaturated the market. Its quite sad that in a genre field where innovation and good game design is the key for a massively successful game that these other developers have come in and destroyed the casual gaming ecosystem.

For regular gamers this suggests that all casual games are like this and it only makes it easier to unfairly write casual games off. This is then made worse by game reviews. As previously mentioned, people are uncertain as to how to regard casual games, this is the same for the game reviewing process. How do you rank Brain Training to Contra 4? Each demands something entirely different from the player.

This again has created a lot of confusion as journalists stick to how they have been taught and give Brain Training a 7.5/10 and Contra 4 a 9/10. They review games on the grounds that the person reading the review is a hardcore gamer instead of scoring each game based on how well the game succeeds in pleasing it’s particular audience. Therefore going by the book, Brain Training is dubbed as an average title.

The combination of bad press and average game reviews give the impression that casual games are inferior to regular games when in actuality they aren’t getting a fair trial.

Casual Games are Destroying the Games Industry

The previous misconception follows directly into this one. To continue on; if Casual Games are mostly of poor quality, polluting the gaming landscape then this is clearly a problem. A problem which all casual games are to blame for. Essentially as the title goes casual games are destroying the industry with their inferior, budget quality.

We know that this is not true from what I stated above. So this misconception has already been debunked but, of course, I want to go one better and further prove my case.

Casual gaming is good and can only be positive for the industry. Casual gaming is all about audience expansion and the more people that play games, the better. Because when more people play games, the gaming economy increases, we see more games but in particular more quality games. Probably the most important thing about audience expansion is that as more and more people begin to understand games for what they are, gaming will (finally) be accepted by the mass media as an art form. Which is the ultimate goal.

Casual Games are Not for the Core Gamer

The displaced position of casual gaming as mentioned under the first point has certain repercussions with the overall gaming audience. The greatest repercussion in my opinion is the backlash from some players which echoes throughout the industry.

The way that casual gaming has grounded itself appears to have strengthened the selfish “us vs them” mentality among the core gaming group. That is the perception that one group (the hardcore group) is superior to the other (the casual playing market) . Furthermore as a hardcore player we must maintain our high gaming status by refusing to playing (but more importantly accept) casual games.

This whole hierarchical view of the game industry quite frankly disgusts me. I cannot understand why people feel as though they have the right to dismiss other audiences of players. Pure ignorance.

What you will and probably already have found (as an intelligent reader of my blog) is that casual games are normal, they are fun, they are games. Much like the answer that Nintendo PR often respond with to questions about the company alienating long term players; anyone can enjoy a casual game, it doesn’t matter what sort of games you play.

I guess this is less of a misconception and more of arrogant pride getting in the way of some truly fantastic gaming.

Conclusion

My goal in writing this piece, much like some other articles that I write, is to project an important message. In this case, one of acceptance by highlighting examples of dismissal. I hope that when reading this article you can look at yourself as a gamer and perhaps remove any previous resistance you’ve had towards casual games. I believe that casual games are very important for the industry, not just for new players but for us too; the hardcore.

19 Responses to Breaking Down Casual Gaming Misconceptions

  1. Wow, thanks for putting forth the opportunity guys. 🙂

    I wrote this article a while ago now and I’m very hesitant to read over it again as I’m sure that there is an ample amount of grammatical errors and lack of real expression. Generally speaking though it gets the job done and that’s what’s most important.

    If possible (in terms of time constraints) I’d like to contribute a few more guest articles. Be sure to laud me with your opinions and critique guys.

  2. Roxxor says:

    Great atricle! I typically stay away from the low-quality casual games, but there are a few really good casual games. I don’t shun the casual gaming group at all, because they might eventially become core gamers and try the main games like Mario and The Legend of Zelda. I like the Brain Age games, but I also like The Legend of Zelda games. I am more of a fan of the hard-core games. I just like trying a little bit of everything. I look foward to some more of your guest articles. 🙂

  3. Joltman says:

    Excellent!
    This definitely highlights all the problems that today’s gamers have when trying to decide what is a casual game and what is a hardcore game.
    I was raised in the 8-bit era, and I came to know what each was, but I started from the beginning – today’s gamers haven’t had that much education in gaming, so I think this article is a great read to help them get that needed education.

    I am both a casual gamer and hardcore gamer – I love games. Simple as that.

  4. nil says:

    One thing about this core vs. casual argument that always bothers me is the overlooked arcade angle. The terms we currently use to define casual games also applies to most every arcade game ever made.

    Think about it. Don’t all arcade games need to follow these rules?

    * the gameplay is straight forward and easy to understand
    * the game goes to an effort to make sure that it is understood
    * the game is ‘approachable’ and accessible
    * only a few buttons are required to play
    * generally speaking the graphics are simple
    * no long term commitment (very dispensable)

    And arcade games are the basis of the video games industry.

    “Hardcore” games like Street Fighter can be played on either a basic level or an advanced level and still provide an enjoyable experience. That’s why I tend to classify people rather than games. I know a guy who was obsessed with finishing Metal Slug without continuing. That’s hardcore.

  5. neko to kuruma says:

    Regarding the bit about journalists and scoring towards the hardcore audience: The reason they do that is because more often than not, the people that are subscribing to a gaming magazine or reading a game review site are hardcore gamers. The whole definition of a casual gamer is someone who plays sparingly, and likely wouldn’t know/bother to look up review information. So the reviewers review games based on the publication’s audience, not necessarily the game’s audience. And that makes perfect sense.

    I agree with nil. The article mentions a few puzzle games, and the same “rules” can be applied. Anyone can pick up Tetris, Bejeweled, or Zuma and play casually. Hardcore gamers will pick up these games and go for the fastest finish times, the high-scoring combos and the like.

  6. HelixRocker says:

    I liked the article and think it is a shame that more “mainstream” blogs and game jornalists(wow that leaves a bad taste) don’t understand. I grew up in the 8-bit days and back then there was no “hardcore” and “casual” memes like now, just good games and bad games. Although the funny thing was that my older friends from then all thought that Zelda and Super Mario Bros were the time equivalent of “casual games” and always complained about them killing computer games and what not. Funny how the more things change the more they stay the same, huh?

  7. robo_rob says:

    You know, to be truthful, it makes me very angry everytime I read or hear somebody complain about casual gaming. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but didn’t games start out as casual entertainment? I mean, wasn’t Pong in bars and social settings?

    I’ve been a gamer all of my life, and can honestly say this is just ridiculous. What appears to be happening is there is a breath of fresh air in the gaming world and it has some people scared that they might have to stop calling people newbs and lose some of their conceitedness.

    Seriously look at the biggest games of all time, how many are casual games? If you really want to think about it, even Madden is a casual game.

  8. robo_rob says:

    Whoops, forgot this part.

    Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Katamari Damacy.

    These are recent games that have been universally loved by the gaming community and are what kind of game under classification?

    casual

  9. Thank you all for your kind words. 🙂

    nil – Thats an interesting angle that you have there about people playing games on different levels relating to the type of player they are. More complexities are raised when people like us here; more hardened players, when we play games on different levels. It doesn’t polarize us into one group or another because we choose to play a few games in such a way but it shows how fragmented (dare I say..broken) these terms are.

    neko to kuruma – Yes, these outlets are definetly serving their readers which is fine. That’s business..I guess. When you look across the board these magazines and websites are the only real, widely substantiated critical opinion on games out there. So when anyone, goes to look up a game review (even say by Google search), they will find something that serves only one market and as such provided a skewed critical opinion.

    This burrows down into a few core issues with the current video game reviewing framework, something that I could rant on for some time. In short though; people are reviewing games as software (ala check box and a list of requirements) instead of critique (such as in film). This creates problems across the board. >_

  10. Olas says:

    This was a good article, and this is an issue that certainly needs to be cleared.

    I personally think the problem is that “Casual” and “Hardcore” are bad words to use in order to describe these different catagories. Instead it should be “Simple” and “Complex”. After all isn’t the definition of a casual game: easy to understand game with very strait forward gameplay and simple graphics.

    The problem with the word “casual” is that it suggests that you play the game “casualy” or from time to time without too much devotion. However, we as gamers are can usualy spend as much or as little time and effort on a game as we want. For instance METEO’s for the DS would be considered a casual game. Yet I remember playing that game nonstop into the late hours of the night trying to get higher scores and unlock every planet in the game. I played that game all the time with LOTS of devotion. I also remember the first time I fought someone in METEO’s VS mode and completely destroyed him. I don’t think I called him a noob (because I’m not mean like that) but I’m sure he felt like one.

    This is a prime example of a “casual” game being played being treated very “hardcore”. And since Meteos can be played very “uncasualy” calling it a “casual game seems inapropriate.

    However, nomatter how hard you choose to play it, meteos will always be “simple” nomatter how it’s played. This is true for all puzzle games and supposed “casual” games. Therefore referring to them as “simple” or “strait forward” games is far more appropriet and doesn’t make them seem as objectionable for the hard-core audience.

    However ultimatly the important thing is that you are having fun. If you like more simplistic, easy to understand games then play those games. If you like long, deep, intricate games that take time and effort to play then play those games. Just play the games you like and don’t bother with what other people think is good or bad, as long as you’re enjoying yourself thats all that really counts.

  11. NinKenDo says:

    On a related topic I find it interesting that there can be very “casual” gamers that become quite “hardcore” about one or two particular games. For example my dad is definitely not a gamer, yet he played Tetris to the point that he could completely destroy me at it. He could get to level 10 without even trying and I remember him getting to like level 16 or above which it not at all easy or just a casual game session. Likewise, my grandfather would only play the game Duck Hunt and he was amazingly good at it. He would be sitting as far away as the cord would let him and he would pick off those duck like nothing. My point here is that games don’t have to require intense resource management, 10 step combos, or an epic storyline to be extremely fun and be taken seriously by those who really enjoy them.

    Take a game like GTA, I consider that to be a very casual game, and by that I mean a lot, if not most people who play GTA do not finish it, they will merely screw around, drive over some pedestrians and maybe go on a few missions. It has a lot of depth to it and can be hardcore, but when I was in college when GTA III came out all the people who bought it were the same ones who played games like Madden and used their PS2 more as a DVD player than to actually play games.

    The stigma of “casual” really is wearing thin and I think people need to rethink why they like games and think back to what their first game experience was like, because I bet it was a so-called casual title even if that branding didn’t exist yet.

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