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Redefining the Term “Casual”

Written by on Aug 17, 2012
Redefining the Term “Casual”

Nobody wants to be a casual gamer. They’re the people who have no idea what the difference between an Xbox or Playstation is and are dragging the industry into the belly of the beast known as mediocrity. Maybe we have Nintendo to blame for this casual gaming phenomenon. In between every good Wii release was a truckload of shovelware that only the most oblivious kids and grandparents would enjoy. And because of the popularity of mobile games and apps, casual gaming has proven to be a major thorn in everyone’s side.

At one point, I was one of these “hardcore” gamers lamenting Nintendo’s shift from king to jester, stomping my feet in anger at every new Wii This or Wii That. Somewhere along the way, though, my gaming habits changed. In the black and white, casual vs. hardcore debate, I had fallen to the other side, no longer entranced by the usual AAA blockbuster games. I actually think I’m somewhat of a casual gamer now, but before you gasp too loudly, we should at least accept that there are varying degrees of casual. The industry is not divided so simply between dance mats and first-person shooters.

To clarify, my casual “self discovery” doesn’t mean I’m ready to sell my Xbox 360 in exchange for an account at Party Casino, or even that my Android-based media player gets used more than my Xbox. It’s entirely possible for these things to coexist, because people have multiple needs. When I need an adventure (and have the time, which isn’t often), I’ll play something like Dust: An Elysian Tail. When I only have a few minutes to kill, then maybe I’ll take another stab at speed-running through Spelunky.

If you noticed, both of these examples are XBLA games. XBLA is where my shift to casual gaming has really become apparent. When given the choice between a disc-based epic that spans 40+ hours of gameplay or an arcade title that’s significantly smaller and easier to play in chunks, I’m more likely to take the latter. I love bite-sized games. They fit well into my busy adult schedule. It’s not that I don’t appreciate epics. Hell, if co-op is involved, count me in! The problem is that they’re too much of a commitment, physically and emotionally. Once you start an epic, you have to stay on top of it, usually for hours at a time.

The thing is, I still like the challenge of “hardcore” games, which is why I could never get my gaming fix solely from mobile games like Cut the Rope and Where’s my Water? (as much as I liked both of them). Casual doesn’t have to mean easy and pandering. It means I can pick up and play something without the need to invest in a complicated story or control scheme, then put the game down again whenever I want. That could mean hours or minutes. Regardless, I’m in control of the experience. If wanting that kind of control makes me a casual gamer, then so be it.

Responses to Redefining the Term “Casual”
  1. avatar
    Ned on Aug 24, 2012

    There's articles like these all over the net. :(
  2. avatar
    Joe on Aug 24, 2012
    For me it's a time/age thing. The older I get the less time I have. Even if I have 2 hours to play a game, experience tells me that if I'm not incredibly enthralled in that two hours, I'll either never pick it up again, or it will be a long time before I do. This has happened to me with Darksiders, Red Dead, Ratchet and Clank, Metroid Prime 3, GTA IV, Deus Ex, Half-Life 2, Bulletstorm, Dead Island, Prince of Persia, and dozens of others I'm sure. These are all games I want to play and enjoyed, but didn't "hook" me from the start. Rather than start another one and not get anywhere or even worse, have to replay the first 3-4 hours since it's been so long since I first attempted it, I opt to not play them.

    Instead I'll watch TV and play Ticket to Ride or Bejeweled at the same time. When I get on my PC, I play Super Meat Boy or some other game that I know I can quit at any moment without missing out.

    It's just harder to commit to a game I feel luke warm about. If a new inFamous, Starcraft, or Borderlands came out tomorrow (almost true for one of them) I'd make the time. I have a break from school right now and I pan to play through at least one, hopefully three of those games I listed above, but then it's going to be back to the grind. I can empathize with both sides on this one, and in the end, all I can say is that these endless time-management, gambling-like social, pay to be able to play again sooner games can't die soon enough.
  3. avatar
    Clark on Aug 24, 2012
    In regards to that Kotaku article, I don't necessarily want shorter games. I want games that, as Joe said, "I can quit [and start] at any moment without missing out." His example was Super Meat Boy, which of course I don't care for, but it's a game that can last just as long as any major story-driven game.
  4. avatar
    Ned on Aug 24, 2012
    OK, so Clark is NOT a "casual" gamer, and never has been. He's always stuck to his guns on his gaming opinions, even throughout all of gaming's mutations, and is still deeply rooted in gaming's purest form - the video game.

    Joe's story is quite similar, but he has really enjoyed the ride. I don't take of his recent choices as "admitting defeat," just as a gamer who will always enjoy the time he has to play in whatever form he can.

    Tablets, phones, and the coming Ouya are turning billions (but not all), of gamers on their heads and reminding them what it means to play video games.

    My story started on an Atari 1600 (I think), being very bored with Spy Hunter, Salmon Run, and Snooker. Trying again on the Nintendo with Super Mario Bros. Then finally finding one franchise that stuck, Mortal Kombat, on the Sega Genesis. However, my social life was much more important. (I did, however get hooked on the text-based Ancient Anguish for a few months). I lost interest for years, picking up a game here and there, until Prince Of Persia: The Sands of Time literally changed my life, leaving me addicted to heavily story influenced action-adventure games, and I was fully convinced that Games had FINALLY reached there potential and deserved my respect.

    Now, here I am, admitting that theatrical gaming is NOT gaming in it's truest, or even it's greatest form. I could be called a "niche" gamer, enjoying the frills but never appreciating gaming at it's core.

    So that's me being as honest as I can, but still standing up for what I love - games that take me on an adventure.
  5. avatar
    Ned on Feb 24, 2013
    So.. The Vita has the ability to stop a game at any point, leave it alone for hours, and pick up exactly where you left off. I did it several times with Uncharted and didn't feel a huge lack in fluidity, and that game's like playing a blockbuster movie.

    The PS4 reveal promised the same feature, and I'm sure any competitors are thinking of or already implementing the same thing. Also, from day one, PS4 games are supposed to feature remote-play on the Vita, which means epic games in your pocket. Smart glass and the new Playstation app coming to all smart devices could push this type of future even further. I'm talking about the end of booting up games, finding saves, having to sit through a cut-scene before you can go to the bathroom - even continuing your game on the bus or on a break. considering all this actually happens, what are the chances of a return to "hard core" with the majority of gaming time?
  6. avatar
    Joe on Feb 24, 2013
    I'll have to think about that, but I do have to mention that the DS has been doing that for years. As long as you don't completely power off the system it can stay in standby mode for days. I've always wished that every system had the ability to sleep like the DS.
  7. avatar
    Ned on Feb 25, 2013
    I got my wife a pink DS and never touched it, so I had no idea. I used it a lot on the PSP, though, during MGS: Portable Ops and Tekken 5, but I didn't think about how convenient it was at the time. Currently, as my daughter's growing up, I've been playing Ni no Kuni on the PS3 when she's awake (if I get the chance), and Bioshock 2 when she's down. I find myself gaming bits at a time all day, though, on the Vita. I get completely absorbed in a game, and then find myself amazed at how easy it is to just tap the top left button and switch to real-life mode. Then, later, I'll be waiting at a store, watching a comercial, or at any other free moment promising more than 30 seconds of time, and I'll tear through some soldiers in Unit 13, get half way closer to a gatling gun on Uncharted, or get one more kill in PS All-Stars. It's incredle. Of course, the Vita's catalog holds a decade of PSone, PSP, mini's, freemium games, and a lot of stuff you can get on a phone, and that's cool, but with some of these full-blown "epics" I don't feel like I'm missing out on the PS3 console experience at all. I'm in the zone, and then out as quickly as it takes for my daughter to say "I want juice." Every time I slip in and out of reality like that, I think "this is the future of gaming."
  8. avatar
    Clark on Feb 25, 2013
    Yeah, that's basically how I felt about the DS, but I'm kind of over having a dedicated mobile gaming system now. An all-in-one device like a smart phone or tablet is so much more convenient that I'm willing to sacrifice having access to "epics" on the go. I don't really need to fuel my gaming 24/7, anyway, and the more hardcore games available for Android and iOS are usually good enough to keep me busy until I get home. However, those features on a home console make a lot of sense.
  9. avatar
    Ned on Feb 25, 2013
    Let me clarify. I'm not asking "Would you carry around a Vita or similar device?" I'm asking "If/when the new Tomb Raider becomes as accessible as the next Cut the Rope, will you still choose the new Cut the Rope?"
  10. avatar
    JR on Feb 25, 2013
    Why does it have to be either/or? Also, being able to suspend a game doesn't magically make it accessible. There's still complex controls and story that aren't easy to jump in and out of. Have you ever booted up an adventure game after taking several weeks off? It's very hard to get back into it.
  11. avatar
    Ned on Feb 25, 2013
    Yes. Of course I have, and it feels overwhelming for a bit, but that's just my point. You won't have to put it away, because it will be accessible two minutes later while you're waiting for your kid to change his clothes, waiting for your order at MacDonalds, or any other time you would nomally be playing with whatever apps you have now. I know it's difficult to grasp, because I couldn't envision it either, because handheld games have always felt like handheld games. Uncharted has been one of the most ambitious franchises this gen, and they successfully stuck one in my pocket. Put Halo, Gears of War, Bayonetta, or DMC, in you pocket and might start to understand the scope of what is happening.

    It doesn't have to be either or, and you all are very good at beating around the bush. This article is about choosing casual games over epics because of quick and imediate accessibility without barriers of time. When that changes, will you like it or not? When you have Batman: Arkham Island next to West Legends at your fingertips, is there a chance that you will find your way back to spending more of your time on epics than casuals, yes, or no?
  12. avatar
    Clark on Feb 25, 2013
    I think we understand, Ned. The DS, which we've all owned, has offered console-like experiences in the past. Obviously not on the same scale as Uncharted but enough that I have a good idea what I'm missing by not owning a 3DS or a Vita. I have to stress that point, because you keep bringing up portability. I don't really want to buy a current-gen handheld gaming console, even if the games are accessible. It's one more device I have to juggle when my gaming habit isn't so out of control that I need access to hardcore games all the time.

    Now if home consoles can provide the kind of accessibility you're talking about, then yes... that would make it easier to get back into some of the blockbuster franchises I've grown away from. But as JR said, having a quick save option isn't always enough. Shutting off a game is more than just the physical action of "shutting it off." Blockbuster games require just as much of an emotional commitment as they do a time commitment.
  13. avatar
    Joe on Feb 25, 2013
    Absolutely I would spend more time on longer "epic" games, but as always, I will like the smaller less involved addictive games like Cut the Rope or Jetpack Joyride. So no I won't cut those out completely. They've always been a part of my repertoire since Tetris, mosaics, and PacMan. I've always had a soft spot for Popcap games like Zuma, Astropop, and Peggle, so I'd still play both, as I believe you would expect.

    The problem I have is that I want to get into Darksiders 2, but can't justify booting it up when I know I won't have 2-3 hours minimum, so knowing that I could pull it out of my pocket and have the full experience would be awesome, but it'd have to be at a distance. If my only option is to do that at home, then there isn't a lot of practicality for me. Currently with my old scholl PSP200 I can remote play games on my PS3 from my home network, but only PSnibis and PSone emulators. It's fairly useless. Same thing about streaming videos I have on my PS3 hard drive. The value for me comes in how the PS4 would do that. It kind of seems like the same thing they have going on already, just adding the ability go to sleep mode.

    I really hope one could play full versions of the game on the Vita and on the PS4 sharing the same save file and having instant pause/sleep functionality and playback from either device. If that were the actual case without having to buy two copies of the same game, then I'd be very interested, but I haven't seen claims quite that bold yet. Let it be known here and now that even though my most recent played games definitely fall on the more casual side of the gamer spectrum, my drive to play the bigger games has in no way decreased, in fact my backlog of these games has grown to a staggering amount. I have close to 30 blockbuster used to be $60 games on my shelf or hard drive waiting for some love.

    One more year of school. Then I will be Master Joe. People have to call you master when you get one of those degrees, right? =)
  14. avatar
    Clark on Feb 26, 2013
    Well, and I think we need to stop defining casual games as anything made by PopCap and Rovio. Ned, this article wasn't about choosing casual over epic if you're still going to use Cut the Rope and West Legends as your casual examples. It was about redefining what a casual game is, because there are plenty of "hardcore" games that lack an engrossing story and don't require players to spend hours learning the rules. So many of my editorials have been about this concept, but it feels like we're still not getting it.
  15. avatar
    Ned on Feb 26, 2013
    Clark, you're right. I have absolutely no idea what you mean when you say casual. Could this site just use the blanket term used by most of the gaming world- inferring simple, small, short, and accessible to most audiences? It's still non-specific, but it can be used as an umbrella description with hundreds of categories inside, similar to the blanket cinimatic words, "horror," "drama," and "chick flick." It's ok to have a "hard-core," or "epic" casual game. This is just a suggestion, but I think it will be easier for some of us then trying to keep up with a site-specific vocabulary.

    Fire at will. I may be the only one who here who's definition-confused, after all.

    Joe, how fast is 3G? My Vita has a 3G card, and can do remote play from anywhere, but I doubt that's fast enough, so would the PS4 need a 3G/4G card as well, or do you think they could both just connect to Gaikai for cloud save data and stream games the way Netflix streams movies? Does Steam stream games to a PC?

    Making all games accessible from any position is ambitious, but I have faith in the overall idea. Someone will find a way to do it, whether it's Gaikai, Smart Glass, or a Steam app for tablets and phones. Just the fact that they're trying is promising for the future. I'm not afraid of a "casual" take-over anymore, so that's good.
  16. avatar
    Joe on Feb 27, 2013
    Not fast enough or consistent enough to reliably stream games in HD. The PS4 wouldn't need a 3G card, it would need to be on a network connected to the internet. Those type of cards are just a the hardware needed to grant access to cell towers. Also, Steam is just a distribution and friend service, almost identical in function to PSN or XBL. There is software (games) to buy and a way to connect with friends who also used said distribution service. No streaming games. You just download and install. That's what makes it so versatile.

    I get what Clark is saying about casual gaming. Games like Outland, Journey, and Shank are not trying to compete with the GOWs, Halos, Tomb Raiders, and Uncharteds, but it doesn't make them casual games in some people's eyes, but in fact by playing those games more completely in shorter intervals, that could and possibly should be what casual gaming is. In fact, over time, one could easily spend more time in one of these in shorter intervals. I have a friend who isn't a gamer and has logged somewhere around 26 hours in Jetpack Joyride over the last month. Seriously. It's insane.

    We're not trying play semantics here about what "casual gaming" means so much as trying to add a definition. There are great gaming experiences available on platforms that are made by the three traditional companies and developers that can create awesome gaming experiences without developing for the same.
  17. avatar
    Clark on Feb 28, 2013
    At the end of the day, we should be embracing these little mobile games, anyway, because they're bridging the gap between gamers and non-gamers. Being a gamer isn't the social faux pas it used to be. Just about everyone's got at least one game they're addicted to nowadays. It's hard to criticize someone's love for console gaming if they're going to log 26 hours into Jetpack Joyride, am I right?
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