One of the longest running debates in the MMO world is the casual vs hardcore debate, and one aspect that has always confused me is the usual ‘solution’ you hear from the casual crowd to even the playing field. The most basic problem is that certain content, mainly raiding or high-end PvP, and all the loot/benefits from them, is not accessible by the majority of casual players. Wanting that access, casual players often wish raid-level instances could be 5 manned, or PuG’ed effectively without perfect class balance. You also hear stuff like restraining premade PvP groups to ONLY fight other premades, allowing the casual PuG groups to battle each other. And overall one of the most common things you hear is to make the overall time commitment lower, that grinding rep/consumables/gear takes too long to reach the upper levels of content.
What confuses me is if we assume we make the above changes, what would the actual repercussions be? For starters, the entire hardcore population would instantly burn through the content, because anything that’s PuG-able is going to be a cakewalk for a guild or pre-made. This means that a very vocal minority is now bitching about a lack of content, flooding forums and the like. It also means the overall progression is much faster, where even semi-casual players are reaching ‘maxed out’ status. You either rush development to throw out new content, or you suffer a much higher rate of burn-out.
WoW has shown us exactly what happens when you make anything give a reward regardless; people just stop caring. It’s bad enough when you see it in the BGs, but imagine queueing up for a PuG instance and half your group is afk-droning just to leech whatever little reward you give just for showing up, or are playing while watching TV, going afk constantly and basically playing halfassed. In a guild those players get kicked out and the problem is instantly solved, but in the forgiving world of PuG queueing, players would be stuck constantly dealing with such players. The requirement to field a competent group of 10/25, where people are carrying their weight, is what weeds out the afk players from top guilds, remove that and you remove any need to weed out, basically enabling an even large player base to stop caring.
Another thing that also confuses me is that while casuals ask for content to be less strict in class/time requirement, they still want it to be a challenge. To me this is an impossible task of balancing, because aside from a small group, whatever you do most people will find it either too hard or too easy. The reason ‘too hard’ works for the majority is players can always get better and eventually reach that level of difficulty. This also serves as great motivation to progress your character. The major problem with ‘too easy’ is that once content is conquered, it goes into farm status and ultimately the players move on and forget it. And going back to increase the difficulty would set of a firestorm among players, as you would be basically pushing a group of players backwards, which is never a good thing.
Finally, I often see casuals stating that time does not equal skill, and that if you removed the time barrier, casual and hardcore players could compete on an even playing field, since supposedly then actual ‘skill’ would matter. The flaw in this reasoning is that while certain aspects of raiding are indeed just pure time sinks (raid reset timers, gear check fights, consumable requirements) they go hand in hand with other aspects. Aside from having more time, generally hardcore players also pore over patch notes and class changes, always knowing the optimal skills/setups. In addition, they also huddle in smaller sub-groups in MMOs, generally guilds, and hence are surrounded by like-minded players with dedication, sharing in a wealth of knowledge. If there is a small advantage to be gained, the hardcore will always find it before the casual, and they will exploit that advantage to its fullest. While removing certain time constraints would indeed make things a bit easier for casuals, it would in fact make things MUCH easier for the hardcore crowd, leading to an even greater divide.
My most basic conclusion is that the vocal ‘casual’ players are actually a niche, stuck between the hardcore players that can and the true casuals that don’t care. They are just serious enough to want access to the top levels, but for whatever reason are unable to meet the requirements to access such content. But that’s just my opinion, and hopefully people will share theirs, as the mentality of the ‘vocal casual’ does truly interest me.