Monday, November 05, 2007

Hardcasual: The Groundswell

That would be a great name for a fantasy fiction trilogy, wouldn't it?

Anyway, a post on Level Up today addresses something that's come up in this blog a few times: the incompatibility of the hardcore gaming experience with the time demands on your modern adult. Nintendo talks a lot about recapturing people who fell away from gaming. But there's another huge swath of us who never gave it up, who started playing games as young children and kept it going right through college. The games didn't leave us -- they didn't stop being fun, or become too complicated. It just turns out that when you work a full-time job and have a family, gaming in six-hour sessions becomes less appealing, not to mention impractical.

Often, I read complaints that a game is too short. This is a value consideration: if you spend $60 on a six-hour game, that's only $10/hour. If you spend $60 on a forty-hour game, that's a piddling $1.50/hour. Objectively, it's clear to see which is the better deal, especially if the gamer in question is, say, a college student with unlimited time and extremely limited funds. On the other hand, I'd think it's worth the extra money for the salaried professional whose time is at a premium. $60 isn't cheap, but it's not back-breaking either. And let's say that, realistically, you can only squeeze in an hour or so a night of game time. This six hour game now takes almost a week to complete -- or about as long as it used to take me to plow through a 40-hour game in college. Both of these straw men spent $60 on a game that they completed in a week, using most of their free time to do so. They come out even!

This isn't to say that there isn't a place for both types of games. But I would hope that publishers understand that there's a large, well-heeled segment of the market that actually does want short games, or games that can be played in bursts, without sacrificing complex gameplay or mature themes. If "hardcasual" is to be the term, then so be it. Just don't confuse lack of time with a lack of interest.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As you've said, Perfectionist tendencies can sort of spill over into Tourist and Completionist territory (and vice versa)

Take a game like Ninja Gaiden. A "Perfectionist" might put in a lot of effort exploring the game's many weapons and combos, learning which to exploit against each enemy type.

This impulse isn't so easy to separate from the satisfaction a "Tourist" might find in seeing new levels. The Perfectist is "touring" parts of the game. Each new tactic he discovers is akin in some way to a new level he sees on his "tour" and like the Completionist, the Perfectionist may be compelled to keep at it because he doesn't like the idea of leaving certain combos and tactics unexplored. He doesn't like the idea of "missing out" on parts of the game, especially if those parts turn out to be really useful, and dramatically change the game's dynamics.

(Though on occasion Perfectionists might discover particular tactics so useful they make further discovery seem unnecessary.)

Perfectionists may also be drawn by the ego reward of mastering a supposedly "elite" level of play. Knowing that you are able to play at a rarefied skill level can be very satisfying. It's a nice ego boost. It tells you, "You are clever. You are capable." And just as importantly "You do not suck." It's the satisfaction (and negation of insecurities about one's own competence) that comes from mastering any initially difficult skill, even those not related to games. It is also the pleasure of problem solving. One must suss out the mechanics of what's *really* going on. What is advantageous? What is deleterious? What is totally unimportant? If the enemy is dominating you, how do you counter?

It can be quite enjoyable to discover and better understand the facets of higher level play. For example, once you know all of the maps of COD4 and are familiar with various weapon strengths and weaknesses etc... once you devote enough time to the game and begin to consciously consider why it is certain tactics seem more effective than others and which can be used to counter others etc... the game becomes much less a random spazzfest, and more of a chess match. One develops an intuition about where and when to expect an enemy flanking attack and how best to ambush it.

A perfectionist may be driven not just by a desire to do better than the competition. They may feel that a "deeper" understanding of a game makes the game much "funner". They might grow to feel that players uninterested in higher level play are not *really* experiencing the game.

Of course not all games are suitable for such approaches. Barbie dream house is not COD 4.

Finally, a "Perfectionist" type player may paradoxically avoid much fare designed for "Perfectionists". A player that has taken the time to "perfect" COD4 may shy away from World @ War, Killzone 2, or similar fare because they feel they've already committed enough time to COD4. Why sign up for a similar title that requires learning a new system, especially if that new system is likely to disappoint compared to the old, revered one?

Perfectionists may be more casual and tourist-ee in titles outside of their main obsession.