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Two ends of the same line: the casual/core war

By on April 26, 2011
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There’s a war going on. Here’s an exclusive report from the field by our correspondent Patrick O’Luanaigh, one time CEO, nDreams Ltd.

The skirmishes are increasing in frequency and intensity. The occasional f-bomb has been dropped by both sides. And I’m here, in no-mans land between the two armed camps, wondering what the hell they are fighting about.

“Casual vs Core”; “Freemium vs Retail”; “Social vs Console”. We’re regularly being told to pick a side and hang on for the ride. Everyone knows that the games industry, and in fact the entire gaming landscape, is changing rapidly. But you know what? I’m getting seriously fed up with the increasingly battles between casual and core fan-boys.

The core fan-boys talk about how evil social games are, how they have no skill or ‘art’ behind them, and that they are just a fad. Meanwhile, the casual/social fan-boys talk about how online social games are the only future and that traditional core games are dinosaurs that will disappear in a few years because they’re niche, expensive and insignificant.

I’m pretty certain that both of these groups are wrong.First up, there is a big difference between game platform, business model, and whether a game is designed to appeal to core or casual gamers. Many people seem to be confused about this. There are lots of casual console games increasingly making use of social networks. There are many core games which run in a browser. There are increasing numbers of excellent core games which are free and rely on the ‘freemium’ model to make money, and I think there will be many more over the next few years. There are many casual games which are sold for an up-front fee. Platform, business model and the core/casual design of a game are pretty much independent. So let’s stop yelling about console vs Facebook. Let’s stop shouting about buying a game from a shop versus downloading for free and paying for in-game items. This ‘war’ is about game design, specifically games created to appeal to ‘core’ gamers versus games created to appeal to ‘casual’ gamers.

The Core-Casual Schism

So let’s look at other creative industries where the ‘core/casual’ split exists in exactly the same way.

  Core Casual
Film Donnie Darko Avatar
Book Life of Pi Da Vinci Code
TV The Wire Big Brother
Game Killzone Cityville

 In all these industries, there are many fanatical ‘core’ fans who love to slam casual successes like Titanic, X-Factor or Steig Larsson books. And many people who fail to recognise what makes many core titles so special, and fail to notice that core titles can also be commercially successful. But what we’ve seen time and again is that, just as there are a wide spread of different types of people, there are a spread of different types of films, TV shows and books. The success of Big Brother didn’t destroy quality television. Titanic didn’t stop studios making some amazing niche films.

I’ve played high quality, brilliantly designed games in both the core and casual areas; go play Plants vs Zombies and try telling me that game isn’t a triumph of game design and effort. Check out Batman: Arkham Asylum and try telling me that doesn’t offer incredible value for money. I’ve played dreadful, poor-quality ‘core’ games and dreadful poor-quality ‘casual’ games; both ends of the spectrum have both good and bad examples.

Platforms and business models are definitely changing. But there will ALWAYS be both casual and core games, regardless of what device you play them on, and how you pay for them.

Casual and core are just two ends of the same line. Isn’t it time to celebrate this great diversity rather than picking a side? Surely the fact that there is a different type of game for everyone now is a great thing? Surely more gamers means a stronger industry and more success for all of us?

At this point Patrick was caught in a crossfire, and is now in intensive care at the Zynga-Bungie Memorial Hospital.

About Patrick O'Luanaigh

I'm CEO of nDreams Ltd, a production company/development studio based in Farnborough, UK. I wrote a book called Game Design Complete, used to be Creative Director of SCi/Eidos and have a wife, two girls and one cat.
  • Your argument is deeper than you think. Best related video I know of http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/malcolm_gladwell_on_spaghetti_sauce.html

  • Patrick

    F.I.G – There are many, many people who love Titanic, Steig Larsson’s novels and X-Factor and believe the opposite to you. That’s what makes life so interesting.

  • I’m not sure I agree that the casual example is always crap.
    I love the Da Vinci Code. The plot is weak, the prose is horrific, the characterisations are non-existent but the craftsmanship of the page-turner writer is really clear. I wanted to turn every page – no, I enjoyed turning every page. As pot-boilers go, it was marvellous, and Dan Brown is a master of that particular craft.
    Even the early Big Brothers were good. If you replaced Big Brother with Eastenders or some other highly polished TV show you’d get the same comparison.
    In other words, both sides have different audiences to satisfy, but the companies who do satisfy will be those who master their craft.
    And that’s not about being crap.

  • I love the examples of Core vs. Casual in other media. The Core examples is always good, the Casual example is always crap. With the exception of games.

    In all of these media as you say there’s a battle between the casual and the core consumer (and the producers too, often). It’s all part of the fun and we can expect it to keep going in games too.

  • Andrew Eades

    Indeed. It’s about the audience you wish to address. You have to design different games for non-core people. That doesn’t have to make them worse experiences but they might not sate a hardcore gamer as much as another game. I’ve been playing Portal 2 (just like every other gamer) and I wish that I could show how brilliant it is to my non-gamer friends but it needs a lot of gaming experience to truly enjoy.