Time requirements and complexity in gaming are clearly not the same thing, but they are linked. The more complex your game, the more time required to learn it. But a game can be both ‘simple’ and incredibly hard (Meatboy), or incredibly simple yet require a lot of time (WoW). There are games that are both complex and require a lot of time (EVE), and games that are simple and quick (Farmville).
And all four games can, to some extent, be played both casually and hardcore.
But the number of people casually playing Meatboy is probably pretty low, while the number of people who are hardcore Farmville players is likely not all that high. Within the game itself, EVE has its share of hardcore (0.0) players, while also containing a large number of ‘casuals’ (Empire). The same can be said for WoW.
Game updates can, and often do, alter this formula. 40-man raiding in WoW was superstar driven, while today its weakest-link based. When you change the formula, it’s only natural that the identity of your playerbase changes as well.
If we look at a best-seller like CoD:MW, we can see that while the game does tack on a single-player mode, the game’s and the player’s primary focus is clearly the multiplayer PvP. When CoD competes with Battlefield, they do so in the multiplayer realm, and the differences are pretty hardcore details from a non-FPS players perspective. In short, the blockbuster FPS crowd ‘gets it’ when it comes to the details, and catering to the hardcore is how you win marketshare.
In sharp contrast, the different versions of Farmville compete on little more than appearance/theme. The Barbie Farmville appeals to more people than the robot Farmville, just like the Mafia version has more players than the cowboys version. The quality of the product, the details, the game balance, these things are mostly non-factors.
As I wrote yesterday, the ‘intro’ games are just that, a temporary bridge bringing the minority that has not caught on to gaming yet into the fold. Once they get comfortable, their demands will mimic those of the FPS crowd more so than the Farmville crowd; where details matter, rather than making decisions based only on superficial aspects like theme.
And whether they have 30 minutes or 30 hours, they will be educated enough to identify ‘good’ games, rather than catchy themes, and those are the titles that will continue to rise to the top. For gamers, it’s a very encouraging sign that cash-in movie tie-in games are no longer the go-to for sales, and well-designed titles like LoL, CoD, Minecraft, and SC2 are popular. The more educated the gaming public gets, the more they will demand, and only those who meet those demands will profit.