Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Don't let hardcore gamers develop games

Via Scott Jennings, I stumbled upon an interesting blog post on how hardcore war games are nearly unplayable these days. I read it, and pretty much agreed with it. I'd like to play hex-grid based war games, but the games actually available aren't playable for beginner or casual players. They are made by grognards for grognards. (Feel free to suggest a hex-grid war game for casual players to me if you know one.)

In an interesting coincidence I have a recent e-mail from Hagu in my to-do inbox, asking me to talk about a theory of his that we need developers who are worse gamers. Quote:
"the problem with sandbox games is they need developers who are worse gamers"

Kind of like the Peter Principle q.v.

You take motivated, talented gamers who get promoted and eventually are developing a game. These are much more likely to get sucked into the Darkfall rabbit hole (a "good" game for a niche market) than if you took an executive who wants to produce a profitable, high quality, popular game and then decides it should be a sandbox MMO. My guess is you would be better served if the majority of tactical implementers/developers were good gamers but not the strategic designers/executives. Almost all of the suggestions I read on the EVE forums were for things that would restrict the target market of EVE and reduce CCP's profitability;
I think there is some truth in that. While Hagu uses EVE as example, the same thing did happen to WoW: For years the huge majority of players was excluded by design from raiding, and the guy who designed it that way was Jeff "Tigole" Kaplan, a guy hired because of his experience as hardcore raider in Everquest. When he left for the "Titan" project, the people designing raids went for making them popular instead of hardcore, and that added quite a bit to the longevity of WoW.

Left to their own devices, developers simply make the kind of game they would want to play. If they are hardcore, they'll design hardcore games or features. That is great for them and people like them, but hardcore is by definition niche, built to keep out the mass-market rabble. That just leads to a death spiral: Company with hardcore gamer developers makes hardcore games, sells few of them, makes little money, has little budget for the next game. So they cut features, don't bother with a tutorial, have quality control issues, and the next game is appealing to an even smaller number of hardcore players. If they are lucky they stabilize at some level where they can keep making games and paying their developers. But they'll never make that blockbuster hit game.

An average gamer as developer would be more likely to make a game that appeals to average gamers. Unsurprisingly there are a lot more of those around. Game sells well, and there is enough money around to make a better game, with more content, better graphics, better polished, and higher quality.

So how about that theory that a less hardcore player could develop a more popular and better sandbox game? Markus Persson, the guy who single-handedly created Minecraft, worked 4 years making casual games for Minecraft sold a million copies. That seems to be working nicely.
Agreed. The flip side to this is (grab your pitchforks) PVP is also a hardcore niche. Sure, lots of folks jump into a Tol Barad or Wintergrasp just to have fun, but I would say that anyone who more than dabbles in the arena is a niche player.

The problem is that Blizzard currently tunes too many things (read: dragging out the nerfbat) to try to keep that part of the game somewhat balanced. I think that if Blizz worked on tuning the PvE game to be balanced at the average level (and left the hardcore Royalty raiders and the non-casual PvPers out of the equation) then the game would be a lot more fun for the vast majority of the player base.
I actually came to the same conclusion about PvP. Before I got into the Rift beta I was in a slump, I was tired of all the games on the market so I started thinking about what features I really wanted in an MMO. To my surprise (surprise because I spend quite a bit of time PvPing) I realized that PvP really didn't add much enjoyment to a game for me it was just something I did. I would much rather have a game with player housing, good crafting system, and classes balanced toward PvE content without all the hate and complaining PvP brings.
That is very silly, because if anything Blizzard is made up of hardcore gamers. You are pretty much contradicting yourself by promoting their game.

Either way, the complexity of an answer would just be too much to just state, "Don't let hardcore gamers make games"... there are so many other things to consider that it isn't even funny. Seems like you are making a blanket statement based on one example.
Simple hex based war game? Try Battle for Wesnoth
Popular does not equal GOOD by any stretch of the imagination.
Players rarely make great coaches. and players almost never make good owners or administrators.

Despite Liore's comment (spoken like a true player), popular must be in the equation. Games exist to make money, and development is funded to make more money.

A developer needs a more global view of not only the playable aspects of a game, but the mass appeal, ease of learning and overall polish. In short, doing simple things well and avoiding over-reaching.

A developer must also SELL an idea to non-gamer funding sources.
We've already got numbnuts pushing out games, look at any game EA has direct influence over. It's called shovelware, its popular and sells.
The game industry has a reputation for being a very bad job, with very long hours, low pay and almost no job security. If you have only a casual interest in games, you would get a much better job somewhere else and simply play games in your spare time.

Which, you now have ample spare time to play games thanks to not working in the gaming industry.

The result is, you get nearly all hardcore gamers working on games. They suffer and grind through boring and repetitive activities to achieve their goals, I am not really surprised they do this to their players.
I designed and built a prototype of a war game that is really very accessible for casual gamers. I have played it against my friends who are really hardcore and found it has plenty deep enough strategy for them, and I also played it against my family who are total non gamers and they enjoyed it. It isn't purchasable, but if anyone wants to see it, you can check out

the various posts in that list have pictures of the game and

is the documents including the rules and pictures which can be printed out.

It is possible to build a war game that is casual friendly, but it isn't usually done. I built it precisely because I agree with you that war games are usually brutally hard to learn (500 page rulebooks) and honestly not much fun.
Simple Hex-based War Games:

Memoir '44 (

Nexus Ops (

I can personally attest to them being outstanding games.
Neuroshima Hex. It's fun and quick as a quick board-based wargame, and also has an iPhone app version.
Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic (or any of the earlier games in the series)

Hex-based, turn-based strategy game with a fantasy theme, and not a ton more complex than the Age of Empires series. Definitely not tuned for the hardcore, at any rate.
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Here's an easy Hex-Wargame.

Its even WWII!!

Panzer General.

Unfortunately, you still need a DOS machine to run it!
Interesting post. Personally, I don't really know about the hardcore/casual distinction. I simply lack meaningful criteria for the classification. At the end of the day, it seems to me that a "hardcore game" is one with fewer players and with a slightly less cheerful colour palette.

Having said that, I trust people with a personal interest in the subject-matter they choose to work with more than I do people who simply work for the paycheck.

As for easily accessible hex-based strategy, I recommended Greed Corp about a year ago when you asked last time. I don't know if you tried it then. It has the added advantage of having quite short game times. It came out on PS3, but I think it exists on Steam too now. And it's Dutch (although I'm not sure that's a good thing or a bad thing :)).
I think I would include a few hard core gamers on my team but (and this is the critical point) I wouldn't put them in charge.

I think the hard core element can provide passion and enthusiasm and inject a bit of depth into the game as long as the person in charge makes sure that nothing gets out the door that doesn't have sufficient polish and mass appeal.

You referred to Minecraft but I think it is a game which re-enforces my point. Undoubtedly Mine-craft benefited from Persson's experience of making casual games. You can learn to play in minutes. Nevertheless Minecraft itself is a pretty hardcore game. Just try surviving your first night of survival mode without referring to a guide or what about the humongous efforts of people who build working CPUS or full scale models of the Starship Enterprise in Minecraft?

I strongly suspect that Markus Persson has a hardcore gamer's soul constrained by a mind which has been trained through work on casual games and that has turned out to be a perfect formula for making a successful game.
Apologies for the double post but I just found Persson's bio and apparently he was one of the founders of Wurm Online. I think that pretty much proves my point about him having the soul of a hardcore gamer.
I agree with Samus, who says "That is very silly." :)

Anyone who knows how to make a good, deep game is pretty much by definition a hardcore gamer. Dedicating your career to something is pretty hardcore.

I do feel that game developers have a tendency to be too arrogant about what they produce, but the answer to that isn't another hardcore/casual war. It's being less arrogant, and listening to the signals your players (or playtesters) are giving you.

My take here:
Check out Matrix Games, in particular, Gary Grisby's World at War, for entry-level and yet fun and challenging war games. Big variety, downloadable, some are online capable. But yeah, small market.
"When he left for the "Titan" project, the people designing raids went for making them popular instead of hardcore, and that added quite a bit to the longevity of WoW".

In the post below this one you comment how Blizzard has reverted the changes brought by WotLK, and now made even heroics more 'hardcore'. You view it as a good change.

I'd also point to that UI you love in WoW, 90% of which is made by the hardcore.

MBP already pointed out the Wurm/MC connection.

'Casual' gamers turned devs make Tetris and Blackjack knockoffs. Very popular, and they sell so well that they allow more 'casual' games to be made.

Until some hardcore devs make a game, it shifts the industry, and the casuals emulate it a few years later with a watered down product.

Casuals follow the hardcore in any genre, always have, always will.
Am I dreaming or did someone call Battle for Wesnoth a "hex-based wargame"?

Its a goddamn Tactical Turn-Based RPG!

Anyway, when Tobold says wargame he clearly doesn't mean a game like this, or a board game (was that a joke?).
There is some truth to that.

But I wouldn't draw the line between hardcore and casual. I'd draw the line between gamers and game designers.

Most gamers are terrible game designers. To design a good game you need to love designing games, not playing them.
Well its true to an extent. If you are betting on mass market -dont let hardcore come near by

But if you developing for a niche it actually might be the right approach. Of course there problems of being too niche - I do not susbscribe to Darkfall , nor EvE because both have features which I dont like (insane grind in darkfall, uninspired combat and long travel/wait time EvE)

Neither I do play WoW , LoTRo or anything (too mass market to me with focus on diku treadmill even though they are AAA games with very high production values and polish)

So ironically I play most casual games (like those on kongregate) or f2p (like world of tanks ,league of legends and such)

At some point (I would argue that point already arrived) the mass market is already split between major players and one of revenue options would be to monetize niche players like me .

F2p imho is perfect model for it as it allows games to work with smaller player base ( niceh subscription games go into vicious circle of players leaving and even more players leaving due to low pop, with f2p there is constant influx of new players)
I remember reading an article that said that many of the casual games being developed these days are created by hardcore gamers.
"I remember reading an article that said that many of the casual games being developed these days are created by hardcore gamers."

The devs that made Shadowbane later made Wizard101, just for another example.
i completely agree, i remember renting a war game (not being a REALLY EXPERIENCED game player in terms of that type of genre) and i couldnt figure out anything, i returned it the next day because it was too confusing. by the way youve got a really nice blog, very informative. if you get the chance id appreciate it if youd stop by my blog: geekspeak
"SynCaine said...

"I remember reading an article that said that many of the casual games being developed these days are created by hardcore gamers."

The devs that made Shadowbane later made Wizard101, just for another example."

That explains a lot. W101 is, in some ways, one of the most hardcore MMOs I've played. It got so hardcore in Dragonspire that I gave up. Thirty minute battles with "trash mobs" every ten yards to progress along a corridor is in no way casual play.
Define Hardcore.

I'm by far not a hardcore player but I tell you I'm sick and tired of all the global simplification of gaming happening around. If HardCore means the games require creativity, thinking, team work, slower combat (which means more tactical decision) then I want HardCore people to develope my game.

But I think the question is not whether they are hardcore or not. The question is what type of gamers they are. Some people prefer twitchy game play and call it "hardcore" while others like tactical gameplay and call it hardcore. It's just a matter of taste, those passionate developers should develope the game they would play and have fun. Variety is necessary, and I believe there's nothing called HardCore or Not unless there's a definition I can refer to.
I define hardcore as a system that requires a more than significant amount of time developing skills specific to that particular game or time in "prep" to play the major part of the game.

By this definition, WoW is hardcore (and I think it is) but is moving away from that direction over time. By it's setup, it will never get away from it, but it can and will be much less hardcore.

I define PVP in WoW as a hardcore niche because it is all about learning specific counters in muscle memory (which does not translate to other games) more than general tactical or strategic skills.
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