I’ve been playing Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMORPGs) for many years, and in all that time, I have been screaming from the rooftops that this whole debate about Casual vs Hardcore gaming is stupid, because only one side of that debate really matters in the long run: The Casuals. And while I have been excoriated time and again for that opinion over the last 15 years or so, it always warms the cockles of my cold, dead heart when I am yet again proven right.
Before we get into the details of this most recent victory, how about I explain my thesis on this issue first?
Let’s put it simply: Very few people play MMOs in a Hardcore manner, by which I mean doing the most challenging content in Raiding and organized PvP, but everyone – everyone single player – plays the Casual content to some degree, e.g. Questing, Leveling, Crafting, and other non-Hardcore content. So game designers should focus on producing Casual content that everyone can enjoy, and which tends to be Evergreen (repeatable or easily added to), rather than focusing on constantly producing new Raids and PvP content, for the 5-10% of the playerbase that enjoys that content.
Anyway, like I said before, I have been laughed at for this opinion for years, but the simple truth is I keep getting proven right, over and over again. Most recently, it was Trion Worlds who proved me right, in their game “Trove”. This voxel-based hybrid of “Minecraft” and a classic MMORPG is extremely casual in its gameplay, with dungeons that are easily soloable and extremely brief, making them perfect for a quick run for busy people who don’t have time for raiding or organized PvP. The game also leans heavily on Housing, Building, Crafting, and informal social play, which makes for a nice way to kill time when you have some to spare in-game. It is colorful and simple enough for children to enjoy – thus making it suitable for family play – but also enjoyable by adults.
But how does “Trove” prove my theory right? Well, look at the popular MMORPGs that focus on more Hardcore play. For example, let’s look at “World of Warcraft”. Last I saw, it was sitting around 10 million players after their most recent expansion, “Battle for Azeroth” launched a few weeks ago. That’s pretty good, right?
“Trove” boasts about 17 million players.
Seventeen. Million. Players.
So, yeah, that’s a bit better than WoW is doing, even with a big boost from their most recent expansion coming out in mid-August. Usually, WoW sits around 5 to 7 million players, and will likely return to those average numbers, once the shine has worn off of BoA. Meanwhile, “Trove” is packed with players all of the time, regardless of whether they have new content or not.
There you have it. A hardcore game – arguably the most popular Western MMORPG which focuses on Hardcore content at endgame – currently has about 2/3rds of the playerbase of perhaps the most Casual MMORPG on the market this side of “Hello Kitty Online, and usually sports less than half the players, on average. Why exactly do you think that is? Do people just prefer voxel-based games? Maybe. Is it perhaps because “Trove” is Free-to-Play? Not likely, because otherwise Trion Worlds would be chasing that same Hardcore content at endgame, right?
No, the simple truth is that games which cater to the Casual player will succeed over those that do not. Period.
So, if that is true, then why aren’t all game developers chasing that sweet, sweet Casual money? Well, they are, actually. But they are also stuck with the mindset that Hardcore players are necessary for a game to succeed, and that Casuals are stupid enough to play damn near anything, even if it is a game that doesn’t work for their playstyle, in the end. And some companies, such as Trion Worlds, are starting to figure out they were incredibly wrong in that opinion, and are trying to focus on Casual play now. This doesn’t mean they are disregarding Hardcore players, nor should they, just that they recognize it is Casual money that pays the bills, and as such, they need to keep Casuals happy all they way through their games.
With a greater focus on Casual play – Questing, Crafting, Housing, Social play, etc – maybe the MMORPG genre will turn things around, in time? We’ll see, but it gives me hope.