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Is a "Core" user just one who spends a lot?

By on March 5, 2012
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One of the things I love about blogging is that it allows people to take your ideas, riff on them and improve them in the process.

Gereko Hoppsbusch

I was reading Randy Angle’s blog on Analytics & Metrics in Game Design via a vanity Google search, and he commented on my post Why Core Gamers Hate Social Games: Because Their Selfish Exploitation Of Casual Gamers Is Coming To An End.

Randy had already discussed in his post why have free players to provide the “party” atmosphere are so important to whales and high-rollers. He then turned my idea on its head and says:

This is an interesting redefinition of what “core” and “casual” actually means – and may for the first time reconcile what is really going on. The “core” players are the one who pay for the game and “casual” players are the ones who provide the party or social atmosphere. I was always reluctant to believe the old definition by time played (core plays more than casual)  – my wife, who enjoys puzzles and card games, will play those for dozens of hours each week, but she would not consider herself a “gamer”, and as busy as I am, I generally only get limited time to play as many games as I like… and the ones I do get to play tend to be for 5 or 10 minutes at a time, but I definitely define my lifestyle as “gamer” by choice. So I like the idea of “core” or “casual” describing a game player’s spending behavior, not the kinds of games they play.

Is someone who plays Triple Town, Temple Run and Draw Something and spends $100 a month a casual player? Is someone who downloads Mass Effect for $4.99 from a Steam sale but finds he doesn’t have the time to finish it a core player?

What do you think?

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve:
  • Thank you for all the feedback. It’s clear that core/casual carries different meanings in people’s minds. I’m not sure that amount spent is the best definition, but I do think that when someone has put in 100+ hours on Bejewelled Blitz, it is hard to call them a casual player.

  • “I use “core” and “casual” to differentiate the kind of games and therefore players that play them. “–Andrew Eades

    I think it’s interesting to factor in the complexity of a game to determine its appeal to casual or core gamers. However, assuming a “core game=core gamer” and “casual game=casual gamer” can be inaccurate because it fails to address the cases where a core game is played by a casual gamer (which is totally possible; for example playing Halo Reach (core game) in easy difficulty), and where a casual game is played by a core gamer (we can think of a core Tetris player).

    Ideally, in order to avoid confusion, I wish people used the terms “core” and “casual” to define the people and their way of playing a certain game, while sticking to terms such as “complex” and “simple” to define the games themselves.

    I tend to be a core gamer of every game I play, whether it be Zuma Blitz, Triple Town, Civilization or Halo.
    On the other hand, I had a friend who played Final Fantasy 10 rather casually, mainly to enjoy the cinematic cutscenes and couldn’t care less about the characters’ optimization (he would let friends do that for him, even). He would also play Halo with us because it was a way for him to get together, but wouldn’t bother trying to complete the game in solo on top difficulty.
    Also, I see many games nowadays vaunting their appeal to “casual and core gamers alike”. Which is totally conceivable imo.

  • Andrew Eades

    I use “core” and “casual” to differentiate the kind of games and therefore players that play them.

    A core game has depth and complexity right out front. It requires the player to invest time up front in learning the game, its world and its mechanics. Some gamers love this but it puts non-gamers off. Core games are typified by shooters that assume hours of FPS experience even before you start playing.

    A casual game is designed to reduce initial complexity to a minimum, to bring immediacy to the forefront. Casual players like this as it makes play easy to get into and snack on. Most people can cope with this type of game. Casual games are typified by simpler mechanics that use your real world experience as the starting point. We all got gravity and catapults before we ever downloaded Angry Birds.

    Neither term has anything to do with how much a player spends in my view.

  • That’s good food for thought. In my view, there is no such thing as casual game or hardcore game, but only casual gamers and hardcore gamers (and a whole spectrum in-between). 
    This is because imho, games can be played in so many different ways: puzzle games can be played competitively, FPS or RPGs can be played casually. It’s not because you play a social sim or a puzzle game that you are a casual gamer. Note that people are not the best at describing themselves, because they have biases.Depending on whom you ask, being a “hardcore gamer” might be considered cool by some and creepy by others. But what if they end up spending the same amount of time on games? That’s why I like to use only measurable data to make up definitions.One might not define oneself as core gamer but if they spend 2+ hours per day on Bejeweled, they are simply hardcore puzzle gamers.As well, someone who plays Halo once in a while with friends could be described as a casual FPS player.One more thing is that I think the core-casual definition is not static for each player. Everyone evolves (willingly or forced by external events –like the birth of a baby :).As much as I would like to describe myself as a core FPS gamer, I haven’t played a FPS seriously in a while now, and although I participated in Halo CE tournaments back in the days, I can no longer objectively define myself as a core FPS player. However, given my time spent on Skyrim, there no way I am not a core RPG player at the moment 🙂
    And when the next Halo comes out, I might become a hardcore FPS player again.

    Although we might have to dig deeper to find what makes a core gamer (like the competitive vs relaxing approach for example), and it’s true some might say I still qualify as a FPS core gamer given my past gaming habits, money spent, imo, is secondary in defining a core or casual player.

    I might buy all the expansion packs in Halo, or all the optional cars in Forza, but how could I describe myself as core player of those games if I merely play them at all in the end?
    I could be a whale or high spender but still a casual player of those games.
    Someone who purchased those games second-hand, never purchased DLC pack, but played them for hours daily would in my view qualify better as a core gamer.

    It’s just two different things in my opinion: whale=>money spent; core-casual=>time spent.

  • Nicholas – thanks for finding my blog post about your blog post 😉 I’ve always liked what you do here – thanks for making our little industry better.

    Ivan – remember my comment was just “casual gamers” and “core gamers” – not “casual games” and “core games” – the gamer is different than the game. I still think Bejeweled is a casual game and Halo is a core game.

  • I wonder why we wouldn’t change the definitions of core and casual players, considering the game market has changed so much over the years.  I consider myself a core gamer, I play many of the console titles such as Mass Effect, but I also can’t get enough of Triple Town.  So am I core because I play Mass Effect?  I’ve thought about this quite a bit and I like to consider players who don’t identify as core gamers the “casual core,” meaning there are people in our audience who play just as much, if not more, than those who play on console titles but do not consider themselves hardcore players.

    The reservation of “core” to console titles seems to be coming to an end.  Players don’t finish these titles, they’re too expensive to make, take too long to play, and players want access to their games everywhere.  I suppose that’s when the “core” term becomes irrelevant over time.  

  • On a side note, a former coworker once made the very interesting remark that there were 2 types of whales in f2p games : those who pay a lot, but also “virality” whales who send a lot of requests, bring in a lot of new players or re-engage existing players. Those are possibly just as important. 

    In any game, it’s important to identify the set of users who contribute the most to keeping the game alive, whether financially or through the community (viral channels, social media, forums, youtube videos, etc.) This set of users are at the center of a game’s ecosystem. Hence, the core. 

  • Let’s not change the ideas behind terms unnecessarily. I don’t find anything particularly wrong with “whale” or something similar as being a term for high-spenders, but let’s keep “core” as referring to “serious” games. It isn’t all that hard to see a difference between Mass Effect and Doom compared to Triple Town and Tiny Tower, so let’s keep the classical names for these differences.

    It is an interesting idea, though.