Gamers have never been short of few insults, but these days there's a whole new "C-bomb" being thrown around – one that's causing all kinds of offense on the chatrooms. But what exactly is a "Casual," and why have they got so much to answer for? Read on to find out.
Nowadays, most people recognize that gaming is no longer a niche activity. The popularity of mobile gaming has opened up the pastime to millions who would previously have had no interest, while the success of family-friendly consoles like the Nintendo Wii has introduced the concept that gaming can bring a household together, rather than split them apart.
The video game industry is booming; the figures speak for themselves. Last year, Grand Theft Auto 5 became the fastest-grossing entertainment product of all time, taking over $1 billion in just three days. Meanwhile, gaming research body Newzoo predicts the global gaming market will be worth $88.4 billion by the end of 2015. Yet, despite the rude health of the industry – something that has brought more products, innovation and investment than ever before – many old-school gamers complain this newfound popularity is ruining their precious hobby.
More often than not you’ll find these people lurking on gaming forums, waiting for any excuse to berate casual gamers for the demise of their favorite franchises. “The new game in this series sucks,” they’ll say. “It’s because too many casual gamers are playing these games now. They’ve changed. They've ruined them.”
There are a couple of major problems with heaping the blame onto such a specific demographic of video gamers, however. The first is: how do you define a casual gamer? If you only play video games on a mobile phone or tablet, are you a casual gamer? But what if you play these games for countless hours, every day? If the only console you own is a Nintendo Wii, does that make you a casual gamer? What if that same Nintendo Wii includes every available back-release for the NES and SNES, are you still a casual gamer? If you only play games once a week, but relish the complex mechanics of a title like Faster Than Light, are you a casual gamer?
The truth is, maybe it’s not casual gamers ruining gaming, but people using such labels. Video games aren’t an exclusive hobby, and shouldn’t be treated like one. The people who call out gamers for being casual are the same kind of people who’ll ask you to name more than three songs of a band you like, just to prove you’re into them. They’re elitist snobs, and they do the industry no favors.
In actual fact, casual gamers have been around since the very dawn of video games. Most people playing Tetris or Pac-Man weren’t blowing their every last cent in arcades trying to hit the top score. Yet, with more people playing videogames today than at any other point in history, the market, like any business, has changed. And with it, there’s been an increasing shift in the diversity of titles we’re playing, the platforms we’re playing them on and, of course, the overall gaming audience.
With mobile gaming revenues set to overtake those of consoles this year, more and more developers are choosing to invest in that sector. Far from this being some dilution of gaming as a whole, it’s more an adaptation of the industry to fit into more peoples’ lives. A lot of people don’t have the time to sink hours every day into a video game, and while previously this might have proved a barrier to entry, now people can make gaming a part of their day-to-day without sacrificing other areas. This has helped lower the public stigma surrounding gaming as a pastime, and has reaped huge profits for the companies that produce such titles. And, if you didn’t realize: more money means more investment in the industry as a whole.
A common complaint with companies pursuing profit is that, by making their games more accessible, there is an inherent drop in the difficulty rating. It’s true, over the years game series such as Final Fantasy, Resident Evil, Assassin's Creed, Halo and even Pokémon have become less difficult. While Final Fantasy ditched its infamous turn-based combat system in favor of a more simplistic mechanic, Resident Evil branched out from its roots as a survival horror title to become something far more action-based. In an interview with Gamespot, the director of the Pokémon series Junichi Masuda hit the nail on the head when it came to explaining his decision to make the later games less difficult.
"Rather than any actual feedback from players, it's more accepting the realities of modern life," he said. "Kids these days, or even people who grew up playing Pokémon, everyone is a lot more busy. There are a lot more things competing for a person's time than there were back then. For example, there are so many free games you can play on your phone now, there's so many entertainment options, so making it a little easier to play is the reason for that."
With video game titles facing more and more competition for our attention, it’s natural that developers might want to adjust their output accordingly. After all, can a game really be judged a success if 75% of the people who buy it never get to see it through to the conclusion? What incentive is there for developers to invest time and money in a decent story arc or inventive environment design if the difficulty level prevents the majority of modern-day gamers from ever witnessing all that hard work?
The problem with blaming a specific audience for a poor-quality game is that they didn’t make it, and very often decisions are made on their behalf by a distributor who’s simply looking to turn around a quick release and maximize profit. Call of Duty: Ghosts didn’t score favorable reviews in comparison to previous Call of Duty titles, with the main criticism being that it was too much of the same. The question is: is that the fault of the gamers, or the people making them? If the game had been harder, but just as repetitive, would that have been better? And if such titles sell well, who’s to say that millions aren’t enjoying them? Is that not, in itself, a good thing?
For those who argue “no,” there are plenty of game developers out there who are releasing more innovative, challenging games. The success of indie titles such as Super Meat Boy, Shovel Knight and Child of Light – to name but a few – proves there are plenty of top-quality games out there if you’re willing to look beyond the “triple-A” franchises. Just like the difference between a Hollywood blockbuster and an indie gem, the onus is on you to seek them out.
One other thing many long-serving gamers often fail to grasp is that the industry doesn’t – and never did – “belong” to them. For every person blaming casual gamers for ruining a game, there’s another that blames hardcore gamers for spoiling their fun. There’s a fine line between catering for the needs of different audiences, and who’s to say one party is more valid than the other? Perhaps the solution is to offer both parties something in the same package…
A title like Destiny does a brilliant job of appealing to a wide variety of gamers at all skill levels. Players can choose from a range of difficulty levels and a large variety of multiplayer versus modes, so there’s something that appeals to all tastes. Those on the hardcore-end of the spectrum can take part in raids that take several hours to complete, while those with less time on their hands can still get a satisfying experience with less of an investment. That’s a great bit of compromise.
That said, there are still plenty of games out there for whom “compromise” is a dirty word, and who pride themselves on being notoriously difficult. The Dark Souls series punishes even the slightest error with death, potentially forcing players to replay sections of the game over and over again. This has earned it a dedicated fanbase among elite gamers, and that in itself has become a selling point. Without the world of “casual gaming” to contrast itself to, it’s possible that the series would never have turned out this way, suggesting that, rather than gaming being one large diluted market, it’s actually splitting into several smaller, more dedicated ones.
Instead of being so quick to blame casual gamers for poor-quality video games, perhaps we should look at the bigger issues at hand. The video game industry is a business, after all, and with so many great studios shut down over the years the pursuit of profit will always be a valid factor. What’s important to bear in mind is that videogames as a whole certainly aren’t being ruined. If you find yourself disappointed with the latest installment in Major Series X or Y, just remember: there are plenty of other great titles out there deserving your support. Bitching at other parts of the gaming community really isn’t helping anyone.
Written by Mat Ombler for Highsnobiety.com