Guest Column: “Is Casual Killing the Core?” PAX panel

Infendo was lucky enough this morning to hear from a reader who attended PAX last weekend, and his on-the-scene reporting is pretty timely, given the gaming landscape today.

“El Hajjish” attended the “Is Casual Gaming Killing Core Gaming?” panel, which featured Start Trek actor and uber geek Wil Wheaton, no less. If anyone can guess how the panel progressed before you read this column, congrats, you’ve probably been reading Infendo for a while now. For the rest of you, take a read. It’s a good way to start your morning.

I was lucky enough to attend PAX this year and I couldn’t resist attending panel discussion called “Is Casual Killing Core Gaming?” that I think sheds a some light about the fears that some core gamers have. I have a quick summary and some thoughts on the content that relates to this casual/core thing.

Sorry if this reads a bit like a rant, but the session got me all riled up and I needed to write my thoughts down even now, a few days later.

First of all, Wil Wheaton was a panelist! There was also representatives from Microsoft, Co-optimus, and others. …but Wil Wheaton!

The panel discussion was broken up into four questions, which I honestly felt missed the point. Here they are:

  • Should achievements be a trophy or a participation ribbon?
  • Should controls be simpler?
  • Do high end 3-D graphics still matter?
  • Should the focus of multiplayer be cooperative or competitive?

I feel that these questions do not get to the heart of the issue, and I would have gone with different questions. The answer to all four of these questions is “it depends on the game.” …and that was pretty much what the panelists said.

However, I do think that these questions illustrate that those core gamers who hate casual fear that their hardcore games will get watered down so that companies can appeal to the growing casual market. The sense I got is that they feel that for every casual game sold, that sends a market signal that companies should make more casual games and fewer core games. One audience member talked about something being nerfed in Splinter Cell Online – I had no idea what he was talking about, but he saw this as a sign of the game being ruined to appeal to a more casual audience. A panelist responded by suggesting that perhaps core gamers should be prepared to pay more for the very “hardcore” titles, as games that aren’t accessible to a larger audience will have to make more profit per sale if it can’t sell in high volumes, especially with rising development costs. This gets into the questions I thought should have framed the panel discussion:

What is a casual game?

First of all, many hardcore gamers can’t define what it is that they are so upset about. If the definition of a casual game is a moving target, how can you worry that it is going to ruin your hobby? Also, many people seem to confuse a “casual” game with a “bad” game.

Are core games at risk?

There seems to be a misconception that casual and core games can’t co-exist, and that every dollar spent on a casual game is a dollar taken away from a core game. Casual gaming, however, is about market expansion. I don’t believe that many people buying Nintendogs or Imagine: Babyz are giving up Grand Theft Auto to do so. These are new gamers who are bringing more money to game developers. On top of this, there seem to be loads of core games coming out for all systems and the PC. One trip upstairs to the PAX exhibition hall would reveal that there are loads of core games on the way.

If core games are “sick” are casual games a symptom or a cause?

This is perhaps the most important question for people to ask. If core gaming is getting less hardcore, is casual gaming responsible, or is casual gaming a response to that decline? There are loads of stories about rising development costs, the difficulties of selling games to an aging gamer population who now have mortgages and families and other challenges that traditional big budget core games face. Big budget games are riskier and can sink a company if they fail, and many companies are going with low-risk projects that bring in profits to buffer against the risk of a big budget title.

Does a casual gaming future mean a greater variety of games or just simpler games all around?

This is what I think the four questions that were asked at the panel discussion were trying to get at. There was not that much discussion about the impact of a glut of casual games but moreso on the fear of watering down cherished franchises to appeal to that broader audience. From what I’ve seen, it seems that we can expect that there will be more variety of games. I saw so many core titles at PAX, I honestly don’t see any watering down of core titles on the horizon. Improvements for accessibility, sure, but I don’t think Gears of War is going to have go casual any time soon.

A number of questions were fielded by audience members and the Wii was discussed. One panelist made it very clear that he felt that the Wii was ruining core gaming by diverting resources from games he likes to “a bunch of games using that waggle wand to flail around like a monkey”. Ouch.

Generally, I felt that it was a very interesting discussion, but it didn’t really address the topic properly. I had hoped to ask my questions at the end, but alas, I ran out of time. Maybe next year.

Best line from a panelist: “These angry core gamers are on the forums ranting about the casuals, but the casual gamers – they’re just playing some games and having fun.”

Here’s were I would continue to to rant about gamer elitism and territorialism, but I’ve gone on long enough.

— El Hajjish

Blake’s Thoughts: Casual didn’t kill core gaming, your mom did. In other words, casual isn’t killing anything, it’s just that insecure insiders and long-time gamers who want to exclude the “new” are a dying breed and they know it. So they hold panels and forum discussions like this to cope.

14 Responses to Guest Column: “Is Casual Killing the Core?” PAX panel

  1. Joltman says:

    I wanted to see this, but I was in Handheld Lounge B leveling up my pins in The World Ends With You, as well as doing Mario Kart DS races – even though it was supposed to be Mario Party DS competition time.
    There really is too much to do at PAX.

  2. lyskan says:

    No. Just because the casual is getting more attention doesn’t mean the hardcore’s dead. Hardcore is very much alive. You just have to find it.

  3. Noremakk says:

    Should achievements be a trophy or a participation ribbon?
    –Both; you should get some junk achievements as you go, and have to work for some really great ones that others will revere you for.

    Should controls be simpler?
    –Simpler, no, easier to understand, yes. It’s not the complexity that turns off the non-hardcore crowd, I’ve found, but how it is presented. If you’re launched into a firefight with nothing but someone screaming “Press R to shoot!” you’re lost. Only the hardcore crowd know right away where the R button is. Go through with easy (but skippable for those frustrated with how simplistic it is) tutorials at the beginning of the game, especially with detailed drawings of the controller and what buttons to press.

    Do high end 3-D graphics still matter?
    –In realistic games, such as many First-Person Shooters, Real-Time Strategy, and Sports games, yes. But really, cartoon and cel shaded do just fine.

    Should the focus of multiplayer be cooperative or competitive?
    –All of the above. Cooperative, Competitive, and cooperatively competitive. Diversity in multiplayer is what really draws the biggest crowd. If everyone finds something they like, they’re bound to stay.

  4. AC says:

    no. only certain core guys that kill themselves are getting killed. video games will evolve and become the top entertainment medium in the world surpassing movies. certain young core gamers that self proclaim themselves as hardcore become extinct, including self proclaimed hardcore developers, thereby removing barriers of video game evolution and popularity. everyone in the world will adore video games and take it serious as the top entertainment medium.

  5. AC says:

    that’s the look into my crystal ball.

  6. Liraco says:

    You can keep the “core” alive and sometimes these improvements to accessibility that makes things “easier” is really just making things BETTER and MORE FUN (unless you’re a masochist who derives their fun from dying 20 times on the same spot.)

    I think the real issue is that indeed, gamers are getting older and have less and less time to sit down and play one of those long games, so even something as simple as letting you save more often to pick up the game later is welcome. Of course many just prefer shorter games that they can get through without all the added (and sometimes unwanted) fluff.

    Was Portal a bad game because it only lasted a few hours? Is Lost Winds a bad game because of length? Indeed it seems that the hardcore are “sick” and these more “casual” games are the remedy. They won’t take over, they’re just there to help things move along and bring FUN to more people.

  7. AC says:

    my answers to these questions:

    * Should achievements be a trophy or a participation ribbon?
    who cares? is this an important subject? this subject pales in comparison to the other ones asked in importance.

    * Should controls be simpler?
    not necessarily. just more intuitive. intuitive is the key word.

    * Do high end 3-D graphics still matter?
    they do matter, but they are not the end all. but the next great thing, 3D tv’s are coming in the near future, which uses stereoscopy at each pixel to produce real 3D images. hi-def is not enough and will be standard in the near future, within 5 years time. 3D gaming is the next evolutionary step to video games, as well as more improvements to user interface. what the wii did is a great start.

    * Should the focus of multiplayer be cooperative or competitive?
    Multiplayer coop over the internet needs to emphasized more. team based games we need more of. Competitive has been done to death the last 10 years.

  8. rdaneel72 says:

    Awesome scoop. I havent seen any other coverage of this panel, but I did just wake up. Intelligent commentary by the author, too. Great content.

  9. ejamer says:

    Great write up! Thanks for sharing this.

  10. DmNt says:

    Should achievements be a trophy or a participation ribbon?
    Depends. If it’s a little achievement, then yeah, something little saying I beat that achievement would be nice. But for something bigger, that takes hours and much practice, I demand a really good reward for it. And a good reward doesn’t just mean something like, say, the hand cannon from RE4. I mean it could be a cool little easter egg or a secret too.

    Should controls be simpler?
    Doesn’t matter. I loved Kirby Air ride and its controls were very simple. But I also loved more complex controls like those of Metroid Prime that use every button.

    Do high end 3-D graphics still matter?
    We’ve reached a point in gaming where graphics aren’t going to get much better. But do they matter? Somewhat. You see, I’m fine when a developer doesn’t use good graphics, but then there’s utter laziness. Like when they just grab an old engine and don’t do anything to it. Seriously, at least try. And I’m looking at the producers for this, not the actual developers. Developers really do work, but producers just care about $, and $$, and let us forget the most important: $$$. So the producers tell the developers, “Don’t make your own graphics engine, just use this one from the N64 era; don’t worry, soccer-moms won’t know the difference.”

    Should the focus of multiplayer be cooperative or competitive?
    Both. And why not? It can be done. And it should.

  11. mumma says:

    I think you guys are confusing gamers with 8 year olds calling a “casual game” gay.

  12. Run line 10 says:

    A panelist responded by suggesting that perhaps core gamers should be prepared to pay more for the very “hardcore” titles, as games that aren’t accessible to a larger audience will have to make more profit per sale if it can’t sell in high volumes, especially with rising development costs. First of all this is a cop out. A really good game is one a new comer can get into and then get deeper into it. SF2 is a perfect example and even the first super Mario bros. You get to play it and you realize skill is the reason why you are successful. I mean to say the hardcore should expect to pay more for a game is like some one saying yes most people think our game suck but we don’t so those who want to play this must pay even more. They just need to admit they simply are not making addictive games any more unless you are addicted to HD graphics. I mean the only reason why I even know about gears of war is because I’m a graphic artist also. Do I want to play it no it’s boring. These guys are confusing hardcore with HD graphics. I’m sorry but contra 4 was way more hardcore than most of these games coming out.

    Also, many people seem to confuse a “casual” game with a “bad” game. This is true. So true but it’s only used to cement a fanboys views. If casual games are bad then that makes the Wii bad. I also want to say what is currently seen as hardcore are dumb down versions of PC games. On the PC these games are hardcore but on the console they run slower so that people with console controller can shoot others. That is the point. These HD console are not designed to be hardcore FPS system that run PC games. I mean yes halo sold well but really that game is way easier than golden eye on the N64. The HD guys are just trying to dress up a broken system with graphics. The reason why people are buying the Wii is because the part of gaming that was broken all those years finally getting fixed. It’s been fixed in such away that even new comers want to play.
    Another thing is motion controls can potential require more skill. Doing a move in Mortal Kombat:A can be done with the joypad or the IR. If you practice you can pull off the move perfectly yet if you get it wrong then you are left wide open and waggle does really work at all. To some people they would say the system is broken but to the skilled they say you just lack the skill.
    So many hardcore gamers are not really skilled at gaming they play like people playing in little league but really they are not that competitive. I mean this is why they need head sets to tell the good players what to do or try and junk talk people in to leaving.

    “There was not that much discussion about the impact of a glut of casual games but more so on the fear of watering down cherished franchises to appeal to that broader audience.” Every since gaming has been more about things that don’t really add to gaming like HD, FMV, voice chat it has been getting dumbed down. In a good game you don’t feel like you was cheated because any one of those things where missing.
    “Improvements for accessibility, sure, but I don’t think Gears of War is going to have go casual any time soon.” Your right and your wrong. Gears of war was dumbed down as soon as it was tied to a analog stick. Imagine what that game could be like with the Wii mote. For those who can’t just play res evil Wiimake.
    One panelist made it very clear that he felt that the Wii was ruining core gaming by diverting resources from games he likes to “a bunch of games using that waggle wand to flail around like a monkey”. The funny thing is you should still be able to beat that monkey but they can’t because they are use to handicapped analog controlling games. I mean I rarely loose at Wii bowling or what ever.
    “These angry core gamers are on the forums ranting about the casuals, but the casual gamers – they’re just playing some games and having fun.” Which is what they should be doing but what is funny is they are scared because they are seeing signs of games getting dumbed down on their systems. All I have to say it took the PS2 and 2 years of HD gaming for them to see this? It has been like this for a long time. These games had really big problems yet gamers ignored them for a very long time. Also lots of gamers tend to nerf the game so that skilled players don’t run off the noobs. This is no some thing you can dump on the Wii this is years and years of telling these guys they are cool for playing certain games just to realize they are not that good at gaming. Like gears of war had a problem with people rolling and shotgunning people. What is funny is this could have been fixed by simply letting people move faster. They can’t do that because then people could not hit other online players. This is an advance technique that hardcore gamers could use to make the game more dynamic yet now is just shooting over a couch blindly again.
    You know a game is not meant for the hardcore when things are taking out because people with less skill can not do them. Yet you should always give people a better way to counter rather than take things away from gamers.

    @Noremakk Achievements shouldn’t be anything like a certificate. An achieve ment in a game use to be going thur the game and not getting hit or ummm getting to the next stage. The whole achievement system is for people who are spectators not gamers who play for the challenge. They play for the story for the graphics only. Lots of hardcore gamers loved graphics back then because you had to work and get better to see the game at it’s best. It’s really weird how gamers can get all caught up in doing the press this button a thousand times for trophies mission. Yet after you get the trophy what else is there? I guess the real question is are these guys who need a reward for being good at gaming really that into gaming at all?
    I mean If I’m ranked number one on a leader board then that’s cool, if I have the highest accuracy then that’s cool, but if I get a reward for pressing some thing then a thousand times then that’s lame. It’s like MS was treating these guys like 1st graders and was trying to make them feel hardcore by giving them some thing. It worked because you guys are hooked on that crap instead of skill based games which require practice.
    The controller issue is happening really because these are 3d games yet we are supposed to use a button base controller to operate in a 3d world. This was a problem then but the HD guys just went on ignoring it.
    No one every thinks about this crap because every one though every thing was great when the PS2 was out. The prices are rising which is killing off creativity and making lots of other games risky. The Wii has nothing to do with that the HD guys just did not understand what game they where in. Hey they are both new comers it was expected.

  13. Run line 10 says:

    Doing a move in Mortal Kombat:A can be done with the joypad or the IR. If you practice you can pull off the move perfectly yet if you get it wrong then you are left wide open and waggle does NOT really work at all.

    Correction but you know what I was trying to say.

  14. InvisibleMan says:

    “Did Wil Wheaton kill Star Trek the Next Generation?”

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