Get Lost, Hardcore Gaming!

There seems to have developed a major snobbery in the gaming world – if a game isn’t hardcore then it’s undeserving of any real consideration and you’re an “imbecile” (not my word) if you happen to be a housewife who enjoys casual games. Where did this all come from? Games are meant to be fun entertainment, so why have people become so vitriolic about them?

Scratch that. Why have certain hardcore gamers become so vitriolic about the non-hardcore?

As a game creator who loves playing games, I find that many hardcore games are simply too hardcore. Why, for instance, when I play a game on “easy”, do I still die so many times that I’m forced to give up part way through? Bioshock was guilty of this and I have no interest in returning to it because I know it will only wind me up again. Many people regard it as a great game, but any game that I can’t finish because I don’t enjoy the experience is not great in my book.

Okay, I know that my reactions may be slowing down as I get older, but isn’t that a part of why the developer creates an easy mode? It’s supposed to allow those without ninja button skills to play and enjoy the game, too. I paid good money for this game, why shouldn’t I enjoy it as much as anyone else?

It’s because of this that I find myself buying fewer and fewer hardcore games, which is a shame because some of them look fabulous and could be great fun. But it’s that word “could” that puts me off. How would I ever know without buying?

Yes, I could play a demo, but it seems to me these days that game demos are becoming rarer all the time. Besides, the demo is not the issue but the fact that some games seem to squeezing out all but the hardcore gamer.

There are games that give me hope, however. I’m currently playing – and thoroughly enjoying – Tomb Raider: Underworld. Okay, I’m playing it on the “easy” setting, but it’s still a great game to me. I don’t feel that I’m being excluded or that I’m missing out on anything because of this, so to me this is a great game. So far it is tons better than Bioshock. Well done Crystal Dynamics (the developer)!

So, really, I don’t want hardcore gaming to get lost, but just to be less hardcore.

The games themselves aside, the attitudes of the hardcore gaming “press” are much worse.

This piece has its origins in my reaction to two things that appeared on the net. The first was Randy Sluganski’s article about PC Gamer’s condemnation of the Nancy Drew games. The second was Yahtzee’s latest gaming rant in which he refers to the huge non-hardcore audience as “imbeciles”.

Okay, the Nancy Drew games don’t appeal to me, but I recognise that to a large section of the general gaming audience they are an enjoyable form of gaming and Randy was right to voice his opinion on the matter; something which I think he did in a very professional manner. He could easily have been much more vitriolic in return.

His main point, that a magazine about PC gaming which isn’t actually being representative of the whole range of players who play games on a PC, is a very valid one. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why PC gaming appears to be dying – at least if you think of PC gaming as traditional retail only.

Okay, there may be many fewer people buying hard copies of PC games from the shops or even online, but the number of people playing games on their PC must be huge when you take into account the number of downloadable games available through the many portals. “Casual” if you like.

Actually, I dislike the term “casual” more and more. When you look at the games portals, they’re offering a larger selection of games all the time and many do not really sit well within the “casual” umbrella. Perhaps we should term them “general” or, even better, “non-hardcore”.

Getting back to the point, it was Yahtzee’s derogatory remarks about the non-hardcore audience than annoyed me the most. How can everyone who doesn’t play hardcore games be an imbecile?

Yes, I know that he does his “reviews” in a manner that’s supposed to be controversial (and often it works really well), but sometimes it’s just nastiness for its own sake and in this instance indicates a weird kind of snobbery that seems to be pervading hardcore gaming.

I suppose I found it particularly offensive because I’m a developer who happens to be working on games aimed at this non-hardcore audience, so does that make me an imbecile, too? Perhaps even a double imbecile? I enjoy making games for a more general audience and would never see that audience as other than valuable.

There are times that some of these games can come across as patronising or even childish, but that’s mostly because the creators have erred on the side of caution in order to make them easily understandable and accessible. However, the success of recent games like Women’s Murder Club, Emerald City Confidential and Return to Ravenhearst show that many of these general gamers enjoy games with more depth to them, too.

These last three games, although they have lots of adventure style gameplay, have also come under some criticism from the adventure gaming community. Instead of embracing these games as a broadening of the genre, some criticise them because of the way they “casualise” the gameplay. Considering that the adventure genre has itself has had a lot of unfair criticism from the hardcore press, I find this an unusual viewpoint.

What, then, of the people who like both hardcore and non-hardcore games, myself included? How are we catered for in all of this? In many respects, not very well at all.

Ivinia, one of the posters on the Just Adventure + forums, wrote this: “There is, however, the other side of the coin with portals focusing mostly to the older female crowd… it would be nice if gaming genders/age groups/genres as whole were represented and someone would cover the full spectrum of gaming in an even-handed way.”

Really, that’s the heart of the problem – the market is being seen as two very different things when it comes to gaming press sites or publications and we’re desperately in need of something to bridge the divide.

Or are they simply too separate for such a site to draw in the users? Are those who do play games in both camps too small a number to justify such an investment?

Whatever the answer, the journalists working in the gaming press should be able to understand and appreciate audience tastes that don’t always fit with their own mind set.


  1. Hi Steve,

    Just discovered that you’ve reworked Mr Smoozles so it works under Vista. Not sure when you did that, but THANK YOU! 🙂

  2. Hi,

    I did that about a year ago. 🙂

    It takes me ages to catch up on things, too.


  3. Steve, about Mr Smoozles will you be coming out with a Mac version? any news about The Sapphire Claw? Best r.

  4. I’m afraid that a Mac version really isn’t an option because the Game Maker engine I used only works on the PC.

    As for The Sapphire Claw, I recently posted a new screenshot.

  5. Forgive this long ramble, but it’s nice to see a developer taking part in this discussion. And I’ve myself recently been thinking of some of the same issues (I’m a part time game reviewer and developer).

    I fully agree that there’s a gap that needs to be bridged. But I only partly agree that hardcore games are to hardcore. And actually I hear and read a lot of the opposite opinion.

    From a historical perspective, I think a lot has happened since the days of Contra and other difficult games from the 8 and 16 bit era.

    One of the first steps towards making games a bit easier and more accessible was probably in-game tutorials, more save slots and more check points. Then it became a “standard” to show gameplay tips during loading screens. And in recent years developers have realized that the control systems and interfaces needed some fine-tuning. The result is, that many modern games — at least to some degree — feature simpler and more context sensitive controls. Of course, the controls are not as simple as in games from the 8/16 bit era, but simpler than most games from the 32/64 bit era. Also, more games than ever offer you the choice of changing the difficulty without re-starting the game from scratch.

    Of course, all these changes don’t necessarily make a game easier. But my experience is, that most modern (action) games are quite easy on the easiest difficulty setting. And some recent games like Fable 2, Tomb Raider: Underworld, Gears of War 2 and Prince of Persia (so people say, I haven’t played that one) are even easier. So I think there’s a clear trend, that developers are thinking about these things and are trying to make their games less hardcore.

    Actually — in my opinion — one quite bad thing that has come out of making games less hardcore and more mainstream: Some genres have almost disappeared or offer to many games that feel watered down. E.g. a lot of modern games feel like action games with a hint of “something else”, whether it’s elements from adventure games, RPGs, platform games or action-adventure games. In the same period of time, fewer full-blown games have been released in most of these particular genres (at least on the main gaming platforms).

    But that’s perhaps another route. Back on track. I agree that more can be done. Both in terms of making existing games less hardcore (more than the typical 3 difficult settings would be a nice start), and especially when it comes to game types and genres.

    And by that a totally agree with you, that there’s to much stereotyping going on when it comes to games for e.g. women. What I’m probably trying to say is, I don’t think we need a hole lot more Beweled inspired games or Hidden Object games 🙂

    Not that these games don’t deserve their place in the gaming world, but more focus on new/other concepts would be nice. Regarding big budget retail market, you know as good as anybody, being an industry insider, that high development costs often forces game companies to do safe bets. So most big budget retail games are aimed at boys and men from circa 14-35 years old — a lot of action games, sports games etc.

    But let’s not forget about Wii, and also games like Rock Band and SingStar. I know some hardcore gamers don’t like Wii, but it’s new territory, and I’m quite impressed what that machine has done to the market in general.

    In general, it’s like we’re in a phase of transition from ‘old to new’. In many ways — and compared to other forms of entertainment — the hole gaming industry is still very young, and resembles a toddler still learning to walk.

  6. Correction to the above post:
    I think it’s actually more like boys and men from about 14-30 years old, since I was thinking more in terms of core target groups. But I’m partly guessing.

  7. Thanks for the post, Jannik.

    I see what you’re trying to say changes to difficulty and controls, but from a non-hardcore point of view it doesn’t come across that way when I can’t complete a game because I keep getting killed on a too-regular basis. No amount of tips and tutorials will help if there are simply too many enemies for me to deal with.

    “What I’m probably trying to say is, I don’t think we need a hole lot more Beweled inspired games or Hidden Object games :)”
    This is a prime example of how hardcore attitudes towards non-hardcore. If the audience wants more Bejewelled games why shouldn’t they be made? To turn it back on the harcore – why do we need more FPS games or war games or RPGs?

    What I’m really getting at is that we have a huge marketplace that caters for all tastes, so we shouldn’t be derisory of others because they don’t fit with our tastes.

  8. “I see what you’re trying to say changes to difficulty and controls, but from a non-hardcore point of view it doesn’t come across that way when I can’t complete a game because I keep getting killed on a too-regular basis. No amount of tips and tutorials will help if there are simply too many enemies for me to deal with.”

    True, and that’s why I suggested, that hardcore games should offer more than 3 difficulty settings.

    “This is a prime example of how hardcore attitudes towards non-hardcore. If the audience wants more Bejewelled games why shouldn’t they be made?”

    I really don’t have a negative attitude towards non-hardcore. Actually I don’t see myself as a hardcore gamer*. But perhaps my post came out a bit wrong, since I don’t speak English fluently, and because I was tired when I wrote the post 🙂

    I actually think that non-hardcore gamers need more attention. So what I really meant was, that the non-hardcore market lacks variation. And that especially women are treated as if they are one organism that only likes Bewelled and Hidden Object Games. Sure, if there’s a market for these games — and there obviously are — developers should by all means make them. But at the same time they should thread new territory, because non-hardcore gamers are as diverse as the more hardcore games.

    But things are fortunately starting to change a bit. For instance more hybrid games are starting to show up on the game portals.

    * I dislike the term hardcore gamer just as much as you dislike casual. Them term hardcore is just plain misleading. Hardcore traditionally means “extreme” (hardcore rock for instance). But today it also means being good at something. And in gaming it has a third meaning, doing something often.

    Maybe ‘core gamer’ is a better term, I think it was a Nintendo boss who used that on once. Personally I’m probably just as much a non-hardcore gamer as a core gamer 🙂

  9. Argh, should proof read more *before* posting — It’s late again 🙂

    “because non-hardcore gamers are as diverse as the more hardcore gameRs.

    …and a couple of less important once.

  10. Thinking a bit more about it, I don’t think core gamer apply as well.

    The term core gamer somehow signals that this segment is more important than the other gaming segments.

    In many ways it just doesn’t makes sense to categorize people in just two groups. I like the use of target audiences better.

  11. Labels and categories are always a problem and in trying to make a point I’m falling into the same trap in many respects. Which is why we need a more general approach to covering games.

    And it’s the covering of the games that’s the real issue. I don'[t necessarily want to compromise the gameplay in the “hardcore” games (as you say, perhaps we need more than 3 difficulty levels), but if I could go to a trusted website that tells me what to expect from a game in terms of ease of use and how much fun I’ll have then it would be much easier to make the game buying decisions.

  12. You may be right, that us game writers should aim our reviews to a broader audience, thereby be more specific about if a “hardcore” game is suitable for “non-hardcore” gamers.

    I think most reviews, at least to some extend, specify whether a game is difficult or not. But as mentioned, times are changing a great deal at the moment, especially due to a broader audience getting interested in gaming. So, júst as developers in some ways need to reevaluate their approach to game design, game reviewers also should reevaluate what makes a review a good buying guide.

    BTW, nice to see that something is happening with Sapphire Claw. It sounds like a interesting game. Good luck.

  13. Yes, we essentially need to provide entertainment and service to our paying customers in a way that they know what they are getting and if they will like it.

    I also wonder if games shouldn’t be reviewed from two standpoints – how good it is as an overall gaming experience for the general player (measured against all other games) and how good it is within its own genre. So a reviewer may feel that a match-three game doesn’t really compare overall to games like Tomb Raider, Halo 3, etc. but as a match-three game it could rate very highly.

    Thanks for the kind words on Sapphire Claw.

  14. In my opinion the overall rating, as well as the article itself, should reflect both. I think it could even be argued, that a good game is a good game, and that the genre is irrelevant. But that’s a different discussion, and I see what you are saying, and I don’t take this approach in my reviews.

    As a guidance it could help the reader if somewhere in the review, perhaps next to the usual ratings box, he or she could find a text box stating how the game is holding up to other games in the genre. Or maybe just a pictogram.

    But, in my opinion, reviews in general need to reflect modern internet habits more. Length, structure etc. Some people enjoy long reviews, but the majority probably don’t have time or patience reading long reviews. Maybe two or even three version of the same review is one of the ways doing it. Yes, it’s extra work, but not a hole lot, and it’s also a possibility to generate a larger user base.

  15. That’s certainly an interesting idea. It would work if all reviewers on a site took the same approach and readers knew what to expect.

    Actually, one of the things I tend to do with long reviews is read the opening couple of paragraphs and the closing couple. More often than not this gives the general impression very well. 🙂