Gamer 2.0 is an up-and-coming and highly intriguing site focused on marrying coverage of the video game business, the various aspects video game consumerism and even the social ramifications of gaming itself with a look to the future.  Of course, they’ve also mixed in a healthy dose of traditional “here’s what we think of this game” news, previews and reviews for good measure.

We like that editorial mix!

Amadeo Plaza (what a great name!) the publisher of Gamer 2.0 recently put together an interesting, if somewhat short, look at the coming clash between casual and hardcore gaming from both a business and consumer angle.  He asked Maverick to participate with a few thoughts…and since we’re never short of opinions, we agreed!

Here’s the story: Hardcore vs Casual

The 2008 NPD figures came out yesterday, and it’s clear that the gaming industry has no intentions of slowing down its tremendous rate of growth. With sales up 19 percent from last year, it’s no surprise that people are starting to look up and take notice of an industry that has long resisted the downturn of the economy. The Wii is largely responsible for the amount of growth that the industry has seen, and as a result of that, there has been a dramatic shift of focus to an emerging audience within the community: “casual” gamers.

The Wii single-handedly brought more casual gamers into the fold than we have ever seen. Perhaps only The Sims can contest.

There has been outcry from the “hardcore” gaming population, claiming that development studios are forgetting about the people who brought the industry this far to begin with. A chasm is forming between these two groups, and a widespread feeling of resentment from the old guard community continues to grow. We spoke with a number of ordinary gamers, as well as gaming public relations specialist, Brandon Smith, of Maverick PR, about this growing trend.

The large influx of “casual” gamers, and the enormous amount of money Nintendo has been able to siphon out of this group, has gotten many game companies to begin re-thinking their own business strategies. It seems like every day we hear about a new game marketed towards “casual” gamers, as though there is this large vacuum that needs to be filled. Game companies are taking their eye off of the ball and playing an entirely different sport, pandering to a new consumer who promises them riches unlike anything they have ever seen, leaving “hardcore” gamers feeling like a deserted ex-lover.

“Casual gamers are definitely here to stay and are certain to continue growing as a market segment,” Brandon Smith said. “As the first generations of kids that grew up ‘video gaming’ reach adulthood, they haven’t stopped playing — many of these very gamers will continue to play albeit more casually as the constraints of career, family and the like continue to squeeze their free time.”

This is a sentiment web and software interaction designer, Greg Elliott, agrees with. “I used to be a semi-pro Quake 3 player,” he said. “I was very into that scene, and I miss it. But as I get older, I get my fix with games on my 360.”

IT administrator and avid gamer, Jefferson Scott, believes that “casual” gamers pose no threat to the gaming industry, “As they bring new people into the hobby they also help to bring new development dollars.” He continued, “’Hardcore’ gamers will get the games they want as long as they keep buying them, and the attention paid to the portable and “casual” gaming crowds only help to make sure that money keeps flowing into the developers’ pockets.”

Greg Elliott believes that so long as PC gaming survives, hardcore gaming will as well. But PC gaming certainly isn’t looking too good these days as people shift to consoles.

Elliott believes the trend of companies catering to the “casual” audience is  “probably more of phase, and it will balance out again.” Smith agreed with this point, stating “if the pendulum does swing that way for a time, it will come back.”

Elliott also feels that so long as PC gaming has a place in the world, “hardcore” gamers have nothing to fear. “ With services like Steam still pushing PC gaming, despite the death bell that’s been ringing forever, I don’t even think PC gaming will die,” he said. “If PC gaming dies, then yes, “hardcore” gaming might have some issues.”

There is a growing concern that as game companies see that they can bank big with easy-to-develop “casual” games, we will see a decrease in games targeted at more avid players. When confronted with this prospect, Smith explained, “it’s certainly a possibility and while I think there will certainly be fewer “hardcore” games compared to the explosion of “casual” we’ll see over the next 10 years, I think there will remain a ton of great AAA games we’ll want to play”

There is a philosophy that we at Gamer 2.0 hold to be true, and one that Smith agrees with: as “casual” gamers continue to play, they will undoubtedly find genres they like more than others, and will play them more extensively. “So in a sense we’ll also see more “hardcore” gamers joining the ranks,” Smith said. “World of Warcraft is a great example of this. A game that has crossed over…appealing to the hardest of ‘hardcore,’ and still totally accessible to “casual” gamers.”

Perhaps the question isn’t whether or not gaming companies are forgetting about the “hardcore” audience. Instead, it might simply be a recruitment period for an industry lurching towards critical mass. But when will we reach that point, and how long will companies continue to appropriate their funds towards a burgeoning, but largely green, group of gamers?

Brandon Smith’s Xbox Live Gamertag: Grokzilla


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