Ryan Shwayder over at the nerfbat has begun a discussion on the definitions of Hardcore and Casual.
I think, especially if you delve into the comments, he is pretty near the target. Essentially, I think its impossible to define a player simply as hardcore or casual for their entire entity. Instead, you have to break it down into many factors.
For instance, game play time. Someone who is casual with their time in games wants something they can pick up and play with in ten minutes, or two hours, or whenever they happen to want to play. Often this is referred to as “time-starved” but I feel adding the usage of “starved” there just gives it a desperate and needy connotation… also, it implies that if the person had more time they’d spend it gaming, but that really isn’t true at all. Someone who is hardcore with their time is going to schedule blocks, often large blocks, of time to play… three hours, five hours, Saturday. The time hardcore player is the kind of player who spends all their free time gaming.
Further down you can get into distinctions like “knowledge commitment” which would be how willing is the player to remember bits of information or lore of the game. I know when it comes to this, I’m very hardcore… not by choice really, it just sort of happens. If EverQuest (the original) were to have a free weekend starting today, I bet I could log in and get around fairly well. Even though I have not played it in a few years, I still know where stuff is (as long as the zone hasn’t been revamped). The wife on the other hand, well, we play World of Warcraft about once a week, and lots of times she just doesn’t remember where anything is. Its not because she has a bad memory, but because its simply not important to her to remember it. Plus, she has me, and I remember everything, so…
You can literally take any aspect of any game, show a hardcore and a casual approach to it, and show how its not really dependent on any other aspect. To use the example above, the wife and I both love to explore and are fairly hardcore about going new places. She just happens to think that almost everywhere is a new place since she doesn’t commit to memory having gone there.
So… what’s the answer? What is the definition of hardcore and casual? I think the answer is, “It depends.” Even Ryan’s attempt to narrow it down to 4 points isn’t going to cover everything. Is it enough to design a game by? Sure, and as long as you accept that no matter how few or how many boxes you draw there will always be players who live outside them, you’ll be just fine.