The perennial semantic debate of the Hardcore vs Casual descriptors has reared its zombie horse head again, and it amuses me somewhat seeing the Rorschach results. My own take?
Casual and hardcore relate to the seriousness in which an activity is undertaken.
Length of time has nothing to do with it: as is frequently mentioned, top-tier raiders can clear 7/7 heroic Firelands in 2 hours and then not play at all for the rest of the week. Compare that to someone who levels alts or otherwise plays for 50 hours a week.
Of course, “seriousness” is somewhat subjective. Then again, there are a few objective metrics in which I believe can determine (arbitrary) positions on the seriousness scale. For example:
- Read forums or Wiki pages. +1 seriousness
- Posts on forums. +1 seriousness.
- Download mods or external programs. +3 seriousness
- Ignored phone calls in middle of the game. +3 seriousness
- Schedule your real-life around in-game events. +5 seriousness
It is important to note that while raiding (agreeing to log in at 7pm on Thursday) does not automatically make you hardcore, it is certainly more hardcore than someone who does not seriously consider convincing their other friends to move Poker Night to Wednesdays so they can make Thursday raid night.
The design of the games themselves absolutely has an impact on seriousness too. To be sure, human beings are 100% capable of making otherwise casual activities the most hardcore thing imaginable – stamp collecting, Lego models, Chess, and so on. However, the nature of the game can also lend itself to being taken more seriously. The difficulty of raiding, for example, is such that a random group of ten people thrown together is not likely to achieve success.¹ That encourages people to schedule play sessions; the social ties generated thereby encourages structuring your IRL commitments around game time instead of vice versa. I absolutely know people that asked for Tuesdays off from their retail work because, well, raids reset on Tuesdays and you would let the team down if you don’t show up.
Difficulty and social ties aren’t the only game designs that skew people towards hardcore-ness. Sometimes the game makes it hard to reasonably progress without a minimum amount of sunk time. I have been playing The Binding of Isaac recently, for example, and much as other roguelike games you cannot Save and quit, death is permanent, and so on; there is literally no point in playing The Binding of Isaac for 10 minutes, because you cannot beat the game, you cannot unlock anything, you cannot really do anything of value. Games based on Checkpoints such as Far Cry 1 also fall into this mode.
I know I mentioned time spent playing is irrelevant, but here is the nuance: if you know you need at least an hour free to get anywhere in the game, and you chose to continue playing, you are more apt to start rearranging your real life around the game life. I am not saying life rearrangement is bad or ridiculous – I do it all the time – but it does indicate you are more of a hardcore player of said game. Compare that with Angry Birds or Plants Vs Zombies or Red Remover which I play only when I am sitting around in a doctor office or at the DMV or wherever and I immediately turn it off when I am no longer waiting.
In any case, that is my contribution to the field of loaded verbiage.
In regards to the topic at large, i.e. for whom was the leveling game changed, I would suggest that leveling was indeed made faster for the hardcore. However, I would NOT agree that this somehow makes the game less casual-friendly. The boredom of disaffected veterans is not analogous to a brand new player of the game – I cannot imagine someone with zero WoW experience complaining about or even recognizing leveling “too fast” or the game being “too easy.” Indeed, a new player more than likely died several times before level 10 and then spends the remaining 75 levels being overly cautious. Or being skilled enough to recognize the lack of danger, which indicates they would have been bored no matter which way leveling was designed.
And besides: the more quests and zones that are skipped on the way to the level cap, simply means the more replayable content exists, right?
¹ We’ll see how Looking For Raid works out, eh?