The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly of Casual Gaming

Earlier this week on this site I posted about casual gamers, and the hatred that is flung into their general direction. There’s still one aspect of this problem that I haven’t addressed yet. Thankfully, someone over on my Tumblr pointed out what was missing in my post:

joeyheflich replied to your photo:
Hate for casual gamers isn’t always born out of elitism. For some “hardcore” gamers, it’s the fear that people could be into their hobby, but not in a way that there’s any common ground or emotional attachment. Accept my play style, accept me.

Yeah, I dropped the ball by forgetting that entire side to the casual problem, and it’s a very large part of it.

The Angry Video Game Nerd, also a movie buff.

The following example plays close to home for more gamers than you'd think.

A lot of gamers feel like they’re completely irrelevant to a lot of the major gaming companies out there. If you’re not much of a gamer, this will probably sound silly to you, but think of it this way:

Let’s say you’re a gigantic movie buff. You know your movies, have seen the classics, follow foreign cinema. You know lots of trivia, which actor played which part in which movie, why certain films are critically acclaimed, what they represent, what trends they started, and where their influences lie. You live movies. You are movies. Now, do you think the big summer blockbusters look all that interesting?

No, they don’t. You’ve seen this before, countless times. You’re so used to seeing CGI that it very rarely comes across as remotely realistic looking. Just by watching the movie trailer, or sometimes even just the poster, you can pretty much put together the entire movie’s plot already. You want something a bit deeper, something more engaging, something better.

At some point, you might even go to a movie with a very limited crowd, one that’s dwindling down and becomes smaller as the movie goes on. You’re enjoying the movie though, you’re catching all the references, understand what the movie is trying to do and see that it’s achieving this. I’ve heard people complain about this in the past, and thought it sounded weird until it happened to me, watching Burn After Reading. An excellent comedy nobody got when I saw it in theaters.

Burn After Reading

This is the second gaming post where I bring in movies. That's some serious shit.

The opposite can be even worse, people enjoying something in a way that feels awkward. Kick-Ass for instance had a lot of more serious sceens that were painful to see because what it represented. The moments reality comes crashing back. The response? People were laughing. You feel disgusted, violated. You can’t connect with this crowd, and it feels upsetting.

There are people who play Oblivion as a hack and slash game. People who play Mass Effect as a shooter. They don’t pay attention to the story, don’t appreciate what these games are trying to do. But they are enjoying it.

Not much of a problem, right? At least the developers are still getting their money out of it.

Well, yes and no. Sometimes companies realize that there are different kinds of crowds playing these games, so they’ll try to play into the less “hardcore” crowd. It’s a bigger crowd. There’s more money in pleasing them than if you’d focus on the smaller group that actually understands what’s going on.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. At least, when done correctly. I can give two basic examples, using games I’ve previously reviewed on here.

The Good:

Assassin’s Creed series.

The first game was an awkward experience. It had some basic concepts down, but the story and more complex ideas were sitting in the backseat, occasionally showing their face for a brief second or two, but never really jumping into the spotlight. The game was an experiment, an attempt to see if there was a market to dive deeper into a franchise like this, as well as trying out new gameplay mechanics. The game itself wasn’t too great, but the potential got a lot of people interested.

The second game took full advantage of all that potential. The market proved it was willing to accept the series, and people all wanted to see what else could be done with this idea. Not only the gameplay got an upgrade, but a massive amount of research was done to get the historical aspect of the game right. They didn’t stop there either, they gave us fantastic characters and a great story as a large part of the game’s focus.

They tested their audience, tried out the market, then made a massive and streamlined game to take advantage of the potential of a franchise. This is an incredibly good way try a new IP. Sure, they could have tried starting at the level of Assassin’s Creed 2, but the amount of risk, combined with the cost, would have made it very hard for an ambitious project like that being made.

The Bad:

Dragon Age

Dragon Age: Origins was a throwback to games like Baldur’s Gate. It was a well written fantasy epic filled with magic, dragons, and most importantly moral choices. Perhaps my favorite BioWare game in how choices panned out. At any quest, you would have a choice between two sides. Neither was wrong or right, you could choose either side and have it morally justified. You could choose either side and come out as a complete douchebag. The combat was kind of broken and clunky, and the inventory a gigantic mess, but it didn’t matter that much. The game was a fun experience.

Dragon Age 2 disregarded just about everything that made the original game enjoyable to most of the people who played it. The original game’s story was crafted, felt deep, epic, and was obviously put together by people who knew their fantasy. The second had no sense of depth, was written by someone who didn’t have a basic grasp of fantasy literature, and ultimately made all the choices made by the player useless.

The way Dragon Age 2 was released made it feel like they were attempting to make a game fit to please everyone. Instead, it pleased no one. Most fantasy fans that I know loved the first game’s setting. It didn’t help that the game was nowhere near finished when shipped. The story feels inconsistent, and instead of fixing the battle system of the first title, they restarted by using a brand new one that’s equally broken.

The Ugly:

Dragon Age 2 is still a heck of a lot better than all the shovelware aimed at people who don’t know their video games.

The biggest problem with all of this is that the problem doesn’t lie with the casual gamers themselves. It’s the developers who are to blame for their lack of effort and understanding of how to use that market correctly. Assassin’s Creed became a massive hit, both with hardcore gamers, as well as people who don’t know their games that well. Part of that is through brand awareness, Assassin’s Creed is pretty much everywhere if you look around for video games.

When it comes to simple games that are openly marketed as casual games, like Popcap’s games, or even online scrabble games, there’s nothing wrong there either. If it works, plays well enough, then it’s a good game. Plain and simple. Effort will still have gone into it. By people who were honestly trying to make something enjoyable and addictive.

Sure, there’s enough game like Farmville out there, but even regular or hardcore gaming has it’s fair share of cheaply put together clones of questionable quality.

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