Before we start, let’s get one thing straight: Don’t blame Casual Gamers for wanting to have fun. You don’t blame an invasive species for flourishing, and consequently ruining an ecosystem, you blame the vector by which it invaded. In this case, the vector is super publishers throwing Gamers under the bus to chase the casual dollar.
“Casual Gamers are not real Gamers!” is something you’re likely to hear around the internet. Some brush it off as elitism, others trolling, and more still fully believe it. Well I’m here to tell you that it’s true: Casual Gamers and Gamers are different species entirely, similar to how Red Pandas are not related to Giant Pandas. There are two primary, irreconcilable difference that separate Casual Gamers and Gamers:
1) Reasons for investing in hardware/software.
2) Source of fun.
Casual Gamers, on average, do not (directly) spend as much money on their hardware or software. The vast, vast majority of Casual Gamers are playing mobile games, and free to play ones at that. They don’t want to invest $460 + tax to play one game, but they have a smartphone already and just want something to kill time or talk to their friends about.
However, since Casual Gamers have been revealed as such a powerful market force, there has been a large movement to pull them into the traditional gaming sphere, starting with the 7th gen of console gaming. The Wii was most successful at doing so, but most modern HD consoles now advertise themselves as multi-purpose entertainment platforms to some extent. Look at the Xbox One, the Complete All-in-One Games and Entertainment System. Sure it was a misfire, but the idea rings true: Casuals won’t pay $400 for a game console, but an entertainment centerpiece that plays Blu-rays, Music, YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Crunchy Roll, etc. plus games on their TV is a different story.
Software has skewed towards attracting Casual Gamers as well, with the largest franchises and new IPs reflecting this change. They’ve become “streamlined,” and/or heavily feature social elements. Compare your annual CoD releases to older military FPS games, or CS:GO, and they sacrifice depth for pick up and play Rambo funsies. Cinematic set pieces that look cool and require virtually no effort from players other than holding the joystick in a certain direction and performing a very forgiving QTE, or “pressing the murder button” as I like to call it, have become the norm in the ever more Casual-focused AAA gaming scene. Look at 7th gen Tomb Raider and The Last of Us, as opposed to Devil May Cry 4 or Ninja Gaiden, to see what I mean.
That’s not to say streamlining or cinematic experiences are bad, but it does result in games losing the mastery aspect, and by extension an aspect of competition, that many Gamers enjoyed. Players used to have to get good at a game to be rewarded with awesome looking scenes, but that same flair can now be achieved by pushing X when prompted to do so. This brings us to the more important of the aforementioned distinctions between these classes of gamers: The source of fun.
Back in my day, video games were all about having the “Skillz for the Billz” and bragging rights. Most games were made challenging on purpose, and had a major focus on acquiring skills or knowledge of how to manipulate game systems. If you acquired the skills and succeeded in winning, you felt a tremendous sense of pride. On the flip side, if you failed to acquire said skills, like how to handle a Hammer Bro or Metal Man’s attack pattern, then “F%*k you, start from scratch!”
It was a school of hard knocks upbringing for Gamers of old, and it instilled a focus on skill acquisition that I personally feel to this very day: When a new character action game, which I consider to be the height of single-player skill based games, comes out, I head straight to “the lab” and spend up to 20 hours learning how to rock enemies in style before I make a serious attempt at the game. While I readily admit that I’m on the extreme end of the spectrum, most traditional Gamers want to improve their skills to some extent. That’s why games like Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Nioh have made such a splash in recent years: In today’s market, they’re some of the few large scale games with an old school focus on skills and punishments.
Casual Gamers on the other hand, become discouraged easily. They just want to have fun with their friends and don’t want to “waste” time learning inputs or dealing with the hassle of not being good enough to succeed or contribute. This isn’t a bad thing inherently. With today’s technology we’re more connected and feel busier than ever, so no one should be blamed for wanting to enjoy their time with friends, especially now that we have less “me-time.”
However, this trait of Casual Gamers is being manipulated for gain by AAA publishers, and it’s killing the gaming industry for Gamers.
Since Casual Gamers derive more fun from just interacting with their friends or enjoying stories than actually building new skills, they have no problem dropping some money on pay-to-win perks to remain competitive. While Gamers almost universally complain about pay-to-win aspects, Casual Gamers greatly outnumber them and are more than willing to drop money on micro-transactions, which also exposes them to the risk of gambling addiction in the form of Lootboxes. AAA publishers now see Casual Gamers as their target audience, not Gamers. That’s why they’re even forcing micro-transactions into singleplayer games, because the complaints of Gamers don’t matter, and they want to establish micro-transactions as the new universal standard.
Soon, all AAA games will be visual spectacles with less unique gameplay than ever before. Just pretty facades covering toxic, micro-transaction-laden products, designed to milk money from Casual Gamers that want to feel powerful without having to put the work in. Simply drop $5-$100 into the electronic Skinner box to get an exotic weapon or unit that can lead you to victory! It’s much more preferable than spending unjustifiably long hours (that the developers made that way on purpose) trying to grind the funds up via gameplay. It’s a lot more profitable than meeting the demands of picky Gamers, and the front-loaded cost of appealing, high-end eye candy prevents smaller developers from getting in on the action.
Gamers will be forced to either accept micro-transactions or the fact AAA games are no longer designed for them. While some may cave, the majority will subsist on smaller AA budget games like Nier Automata, Persona 5, and Mario Odyssey (Mario games are AAA in quality not budget, because Nintendo is great with limited resources), or indie darlings like Cuphead, A Hat in Time, and Shovel Knight. Regardless, a time will come where the current AAA publishers will split from Gamers entirely.
When that day comes, new studios will rise from the AA and indie ranks to meet a demand that is no longer being filled by the likes of EA, WB, or Activision. Until then, Gamers will have to endure shitty micro-transaction practices diluting the games they love.
11 thoughts on “How casual gamers are indirectly and objectively ruining gaming for gamers”
I’ve no doubt that it’s a tough call for developers. I mean, on the one hand you have a massive payout for AAA title games that real, hard core gamers wait for and purchase, then your income stream goes on the down low until your next AAA title is done vs. a slow and steady stream of income from casual gamers who are willing to pay in bits and pieces at a time. The problem I see is that they are mixing the two options together, which is causing a lot of grief with their hardcore player base. You have real gamers that would buy a AAA title but never buy something like a Candy Crush, but you have casual gamers who will buy Candy Crush, but would never buy a AAA title for the challenge, but more for the social aspect of it.
My mom plays Farmville. I don’t ever expect her to play something like Gears of War, but there are plenty of young kids out there who are willing to buy GoW and spend 2-5$ every so often for perks. Those 2-5$ start to add up real quick when your talking a multi-million seller, which means more income for developers.
Now, no one is forcing anyone to buy any of this extra content, and I tend to avoid it since its never anything that disrupts gameplay, but once it starts becoming something that DOES disrupt gameplay then it becomes a huge problem for real gamers! I play FF14 and we started seeing some of this when they offered the purchase of ‘jump potions’ that instantly give a player a single job at level 60. Now you have a bunch of high level players trying to do fairly new content with no idea on how mechanics and things work. Its not a pay to play or pay to win, but it is disruptive to the players that want to complete content and know mechanics and now have to put up with newbs who don’t know how to play. Its a quick way to kill your base! Again, casual gamers are given a quick fix for putting in time and effort in the quest for the almighty dollar!
Probably my bigger issue is with the image you show above, with the multiple game “editions”. I don’t have an issue with Collectors Editions, but having 3, 4, 5 different “editions” with varying rewards sucks and leaves people feeling like they are missing out on something.
This is literally every complaint I have about the casual hijacking of gaming and how hardcore gamers who have been here since the very beginning have become unwilling hostages in one clear concise article. So glad to know I’m not the only old school gamer who feels this way.
I hate to sound like a casual gamer, but I actually really enjoy the story experience of games. (That said, I hate pay-to-play. When I say story, I’m talking about Journey, Shadow of the Colossus, Bioshock, Soma, etc.) I’d hate to think I’m hijacking gaming though. And honestly, I don’t know how to fix this on my end.
If you just wanted the story, you could simply watch the game’s scenes on YouTube. Instead, you actually want to experience the journey, and that requires you to learn new things, acquire new skills, and generally improve over the course of the experience. All of those games you listed are great. Loving games for their story only is a negative when it results in games being downgraded to movies that require you to hold the play button, or a culture of “gamers” that would rather pay their way through instead of earn their way.
You aren’t hijacking gaming, Amanda, you’re a gamer, and I thank you for not supporting micro-transactions.
The whole skill thing is meaningless, that’s why difficulty settings exist. Letting more people play a game, in principle, is a good thing.
My issue with ‘casual’ or uninformed gamers is how they indirectly contribute to the watering down of genres. For example RPGs are having so many core tenants, such as complex character progression and stats, massively reduced or even removed, to please a new audience that doesn’t seem to like the genre for what it truly is.
I just think there’s a certain degree of decency in respecting a medium for what it is, and the audience it caters to.
Developers share much of the blame, as instead of having optional streamlining (say auto-levelling) they instead strip out all the complexity.
So if I like and therefore buy an RPG that had complex character progression removed, is that an example of indirectly contributing to the watering down of genres?
Wrong. It’s the player’s fault 100%. It’s called supply and demand, if there is no demand they wouldn’t supply it. So it’s the mindless casual idiot’s fault for paying for it. Yes, lots of people paying for some shit makes them all have bad taste. It doesn’t make the company supplying the shit wrong, they are actually correct seeing as how that many people want shit. This is also why art is dead. High end art is relegated to billionaires and money laundering while everyone else doesn’t know anything about art because everyone has shit taste.
Get rid of the intellectual property scam that keeps most of these tech firms in business and most of this would disappeare. Without their beloved copyrights and other government-directed crony capitalism these low-IQ normie scum who run game companies would have to get real jobs, like shining shoes.
I would also argue that immersive gaming suffers as well. Some of us play games constantly and have been playing since we were children, but the main draw for us is not a game’s difficulty but its depth of systems and it’s ability to immerse.
I thrive on games like Dwarf Fortress, Subnautica, Breath of the Wild, and Stardew Valley, not because they are hard, but because they have very heavy immersion value. Not even dwarf fortress is hard, it’s just tedious to learn the UI and functionality. I also love hard games like XCOM, Baldur’s Gate, and Crypt of the Necrodancer. Again, not because they are hard, and all three are very hard, but because they are easy to get lost in. I play difficult games, and not difficult games but the challenge has little effect on my enjoyment.
I personally think character action games like Devil May Cry are boring, they are 100% mechanics driven and I just don’t value that enough to play a game solely for it’s mechanical precision and challenge. I play challenging games that offer other things I do value, but I never judge a game on how hard or easy it is, that stuff just has zero influence in my fun factor. So saying that people who don’t value challenge for challenge’s sake are casual, or that any game is that isn’t hard is casual, is woefully ignorant. It simply isn’t the only reason people play games.
Casual gaming hurts gamers like myself just as much as it does gamers like you. Dumbing down of systems, removing agency, and homogenizing genres until everything plays the same is also a symptom of the “Pick up and Play” mentality. It kills the immersion for hardcore gamers who value escape above anything else.
The problem isn’t casuals/simpletons, the problem is capitalism kind of prevents anything from staying in its ‘golden era’ for long. In the early 2000s, statistics show 2/5 (roughly) people played video games regularly and it was overwhelmingly male dominated. Recent statistics show that figure is more like 8/10 and interestingly over 50% female base. Look at any brand, industry or consumer product that grew in popularity this quickly and compare before and after the boom. You’ll see anti-consumer design, watered down functionality, massive drops in reliability, complexity, creativity, you name it, nothing gets better when it becomes mainstream or popular. It’s too alluring to those making bank to not cut corners by recycling or copy pasting or removing features when the market is that healthy. It’s their get rich quick moment and they’re going to take it just as you would. Gaming died long ago, sadly. Personally I peg 2006-2012 as the window in which the industry became doomed. People just can’t help themselves. Irresponsible consumers pre-ordering games when there hasn’t been a valid reason to since 2006. That one, simple choice, could have prevented a lot of the downfall and overall dumbing down of every game in every genre. People tried to warn others to stop pre-ordering predicting this exact reality and nobody listened. It was futile of course, because as I said, nothing lasts forever. There will always be a higher number of stupid people steering a popular market. G friggen’ g. RIP.
Capitalism is not the issue, human greed and cronyism is. Capitalism has lead to diverse platforms and a thriving indie and now resurgent B or AA game market. More people than ever can now make video games and reach an audience large enough to support the making of such games without having to compete with the bloated corpse that is the AAA market. Even big publishers are getting in on it. Nintendo is actually thriving in that niche too, with smaller games like Kirby, ARMs, and Metroid, games that don’t have mass appeal but appeal to actual gamers and sell more than enough to justify their existence. Devolver Digital has risen into that niche from picking good indies, and THQ Nordic specializes in it.
Also, the 50% of gamers are women thing is based off of Mobile gaming and gambling. It also counts women that don’t game but make the purchases for their children.
The AAA gaming market will crash by the end of the decade, much like Hollywood is now, but publishers that still put out games in that B-AA niche will thrive.