Tobold's Blog
Friday, November 04, 2011
Is World of Warcraft a hardcore game?

Counter-question to yesterday's post is provided by Nils, who thinks that World of Warcraft became more hardcore over time. While I would be tempted to niggle over the details if I were to dissect his post line by line, I must say that overall I agree: For me as a player with a more casual than hardcore mindset, World of Warcraft is less interesting now than it was 6 years ago.

Unlike Nils I would argue the point not feature by feature, but rather by looking at the Bartle types. If you were to take the four Bartle types Achiever, Killer, Explorer, and Socializer and you would attribute two of these types each to "hardcore" and "casual" players, I think most people would agree that casual players are more likely to be interested in exploration and socialization. And World of Warcraft over the years has become a less social world in which there is less to explore. People don't get to explore leveling zones any more, because when they enter the zone and swat a fly, they get 1 million xp and a message that they just outleveled this zone. The high-level zones of Cataclysm are admittedly slower, but their extremely linear structure makes exploration unfeasible as well. If you were to try to explore a Cataclysm zone, you would either find empty areas which will be populated by NPCs only once you are at the correct point in the quest series, or you would find NPCs with whom you can't interact unless you reach that point in questing. And while I am not quite as negative about the Dungeon Finder as Nils is, I do agree that it comes to the detriment of socializing and making new friends.

Now obviously part of any MMORPG getting less interesting to explorers over the years is that content to explore is limited. "Been there, done that" is the death of exploration. But to reinterpret what Nils says, many of the features introduced to World of Warcraft over the years are more likely to appeal to Killers and Achievers, than to Explorers and Socializers.

I think it did become more focused on what the hardcore wanted. The mindset of the game starts at max level seems to be the message I got from Cata.
Unfortunately for the casual there isn't much to do at max level - unless you raid. Everything seemed to flow from the raids and was BoP so nothing for those that didn't raid.
The Firelands dailies were a nice present to the casuals that remained but it wasn't enough.
Safe to say I levelled alts instead.
For me casual means time limited, not necessarily unskilled or less invested in the game. There are casual and hardcore in every Bartle types.

And I do think WoW has become far more casual friendly over the years.

Imagine a new player starting a toon back in the days. After 15+ days of leveling to 60, 5-man instances were very tough, not to mention 40-man raiding, which required farming for resistance gear and RNG luck (no JP/VP, no tokens !)

Nowadays, a new player can hit the level cap after a pleasant, simplified (and admittedly too short) leveling experience, then hit the Dungeon Finder and gear up with JP and VP. Even raiding is far more accessible. I cleared T11 normal while playing an average of 6 hours a week in a casual 10-man guild. For the first time in my WoW life, I even got a full set of raiding gear :)

Of course the definition of "success" is personal, but it is far more easy to achieve success in WoW in 2011 than in 2005.

On the other hand, the game has become far more ilvl-based and far less immersive. The next expansion could be the icing on the cake.

Maybe that's why some people call it more hardcore friendly : it is significantly friendler to achievers (especially those like me with not much time to play), but probably less interesting to everyone else.
When you compare WoW to casual game genres such as hidden-object, fitness, or farming sims, you can't help but put WoW into a hardcore category.

If the player needs to move the camera through a 3D space while using 4 keys to move their character, then you've already required far too much from a truly casual player.

Most gamers take for granted that they've been "trained" in games for years and years. Sit someone who has never really played games in front of WoW and I doubt that they would get much farther than character creation without giving up out of frustration and confusion.
The casual/hardcore terminology is a tool that enables us to discuss these matters without writing TL;DR posts.

A better approach, which requires much more text, would be to define different player types, including things like what the player likes to do, how serious he does it, what his backgrouns is, how much time he is willing/able to invest, what he expects to get out of it, etc

And to then determine whether the changes from classic->Cataclysm were to his advantage or not. All the while making assumptions, like that the player type didn't change.

However, for a gut feeling the casual/hardcore approach seems pretty good to me.
Any game were you are considered casual if you only play 40 hours a month is hardcore.
I just simply find it funny that, as much as in reality that WoW has been geared towards hardcore players (i.e. the ever growing focus on raiding and the end-game), hardcore players including myself see the game growing ever more casual.

I think this might speak just how important the game world we play in and its immersiveness/thematic vibes are. Gameplay wise, WoW may have become the most hardcore its ever been, putting off casuals from the game, but the emotional feel of the game has turned it into a casual feeling game. A hardcore game geared towards casuals, if you will. That sounds like a recipe for disaster.
@Nils There have been studies done on this using various psychological models, though for gaming overall, rather than something specific like the transition to Cataclysm (I do point out that Nick Yee's Daedelus Project specifically concerned WoW players ).

In 21st Century Game Design, Bateman and Boon use Myers-Briggs typology to define four player types, which were each broken into hardcore and casual (The DGD1 model, though there has been a DGD2 model and the newer BrainHex model). See also (Chris Bateman's company related to his research).

In Playing Video Games: Motives, Responses, and Consequences (eds. Varderer and Bryant), Sherry, Lucas and Greenberg used the Uses and Gratifications model to show player motivation ("Video game uses and gratifications as predictors of use and game preference").

Kallio, Pauliina, Mayra and Kaipainen looked at why players play games and found three groups (each with three subgroups): social players, casual players and committed players. They found this using surveys and cluster analysis. ("At least nine ways to play: Approaching gamer mentalities." In Games and Culture Volume 6, Issue 4)

So there is work being done, but a *lot* of it is based on the original four Bartle types (and ignoring Bartle's later work), as well as examining how players play existing games (which exclude a lot of personality styles).

I realize this is a bit off topic from the original post, but I would say that, if you're going to use Bartle types, perhaps try taking a peak at other kinds of typing, or Bartle's work after "Hearts, Spades, Diamonds, Clubs: Players Who Suit MUDs" (specifically, Bartle's Designing Virtual Worlds, and his chapter in Bateman's Beyond Game Design). there may be newer, better insight in them.
As I have said before, the problem lies in Blizzard's view of what a "casual" player is. They seem to believe that casual players are simply hardcore players without skill.

So many of the things on Nils' list seem to be a hardcore player's interpretation of "what it must be like to be a casual, even though I've never met one, but once my cousin's friend totally talked with one so I totally know what they're like."

For instance, daily quests. The hardcore thinks "these are so easy, anyone can just log in and do them." In reality, the casual sees them as a boring grind you have to log in every single day to do, and being easy just makes them more boring.

I don't know that Blizzard has made a game better for hardcore players, but Nils is certainly right that the game is substantially worse for casuals.
@Incobalt: Wow, very nice. See, I was going to write a post on my blog about this, but now I'll probably only make it a short stub, quote your post, and spend the rest of the weekend (if time allows) to dig up some of your quoted related work.

One caveat with the Bartle types is that they specifically apply to virtual worlds. This is a narrower definition than many people think. (also see Richard Bartle's talk at Multiplayer'11:

Specifically, I wonder if WoW in specific, or maybe even what people call "themepark MMOs" in general, even _are_ virtual world in that sense.

On the other hand, Kallio et al. have a broader spectrum, targeting computer games in general (or so the abstract says, I'll check the full test later). It will be interesting to see how they relate themselves to more specific works.
If you ask me there is far to much esport in mmorpgs today and far too little role play.

Not role play as in typing wierd or pretending to be an orc or elf but as in playing a part of a "real" fictional world.
I think samus is right.

The problem with direction is that...instead of trying to improve the bartle dimensions, instead of trying to make it casual friendly by trying to offer the best socialization and exploration humanly possible, they just assume that casuals are people who secretly want to be killers or achievers, they just aren't good enough, and so they lower the bar to become a killer and an achiever.

This ends up insulting EVERYONE involved. Hardcore players see their goals become completely trivial. And casual players see the focus of developers focus entirely on the hardcore dimensions at the expense of the casual ones.

The whole issue is that casuals don't WANT to be achievers or killers. They may or may not lack the skill, but that is completely irrelevant. They may have the sheer skill to be the best killer or achiever the world has ever seen, but they simply don't like that stuff.

Hardcore and casual are such misleading words to describe the major divisions in people. Maybe the terms of the discussion is what are misleading the devs.
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thanks, Incobalt. Interesting stuff!
Good question. I don't think your statement "For me as a player with a more casual than hardcore mindset, World of Warcraft is less interesting now than it was 6 years ago." really shows whether the game is hardcore, though, I think it just shows that you've played WoW for 6 years and are tired of the same old. :D

For me, a player with a more hardcore than casual mindset, WoW is ALSO less interesting now than it was 4 years ago (when I started playing). I think the problem is that Blizz have lost direction, ie they no longer know what they want to do with the game - for example, TBC was clearly hardcore-oriented, just like WotLK was made for casuals. With Cata, they tried to make the game hardcore again, but I guess they panicked when people started leaving and are now nerfing everything.

I don't even know what to think about MoP. I guess Blizz isn't really worried about casual vs hardcore at the moment, they just want that which makes the most money. :P
No, of course it's not. Every one of WoW's features is easier than most other MMOs. You can play WoW hardcore, but you can play pogs hardcore too. The game itself is focused entirely around the casual market. The hardest raid in WoW is casual compared to raids in other games.
Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but I don't think the explorer type is a casual gamer type, but rather probably the most hardcore of the four types. "Exploration" has a different meaning than it's colloquial use. Sure, the lowest level of exploration is just wandering around the world and seeing it, but the explorer type is all about finding things out about the game. The explorer is not the person walking around the world looking at the content put in by the game designers, they are the ones who are practicing for hours to figure out exactly what it is about certain glitched walls that allows them to wall-jump so they can stand on top of a building that you shouldn't be able to get on top of.

Example quote from an explorer from Bartle's paper: "Why is it that if you carry the uranium you get radiation sickness, and if you put it in a bag you still get it, but if you put it in a bag and drop it then wait 20 seconds and pick it up again, you don't?"

Also: 'Unfortunately, not many people have the type of personality which finds single-minded exploring a riveting subject, so numbers are notoriously difficult to increase. If you have explorers in a game, hold on to them!"

I think far more casual players are achievers. Zynga games are built entirely on achievement.
I generaluyy see "casual" and "hardcore" in these discussions as often quite useless, often their meanin g is more based on what the person taking thinks about themselves than the actual players involved. If i were to use these terms, I would simply use them in the sense of "people who play more" and "people who play less". Given the fact that, depending on who is talking or writing, lots of different and contradictory assumptions are made about any playstyle differences, casual and hardcore are probably pretty pointless to describe in this framework.

In that sense, it sounds like WoW is perhaps focusing more towards a middle point (I would not say "casual", since as a typical MMO it requires a lot of time to do anything, but perhaps not as much as it used to.), but is also getting more focused in the playstyles it caters to. It is hard to tell without playing the game, though.
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