What is a hardcore gamer?

Holy crap the Serious Games Summit looks like fun!

So E3 has come and gone. I missed out on most of the news and hoopla, in favor of catching up after the dust settled. I did, however, read more than a few articles that popped up in the month prior to E3, specifically those that dealt with the marketing aspect of the games industry. I’ve seen articles discussing mobile games, non-roleplaying MMO’s, and a mysterious new thing called “Serious games.”

Most of this meant very little to me in the long run, but one debate that has been brought up as of late has piqued my interest: “Who is a hardcore gamer, how do and why should we cater to them?” This has to be one of the worst questions they could possibly ask, and even worse, they can’t even get the answer right.

The modern game industry has pinpointed the hardcore gamer with a very specific definition. For one, they are a group of people in which gaming is a very serious hobby, which I can certainly agree on. The rest, not so much. Most execs and marketers describe the hardcore as people for which gaming is a lifestyle. They spend the vast majority of their money on games, and most of their time playing games. They are the earliest adopters of new tech, and are the major influence behind what is popular in the market (apparently it was the hardcore that made GTA3 what it is today….right). Examples of what games a typical hardcore gamer might be playing include World of Warcraft and Halo 2.

You got called out, sucka. Oh snap.

Knowing this, I have to ask the business side of the industry one question; are we thinking of the same people? To me, that is not a hardcore gamer, not in the slightest. The above description applies to the guy who walks into EB with a “Know Your Roots” NES shirt on and gets his latest news from the clerk behind the counter. He plays an unhealthy amount of Halo and won’t stop telling you how it is the most balanced shooter in existence. It is the type of person who spends hours on a message board screaming “nerf the shaman!” and then spending a few more hours in complaining during a raid. They’ll be the ones that spend $500 each for two video cards and buy the latest, greatest looking shooter, not because it may be any good, but just so they can see how pretty it looks. This type of gamer is petty, excessive, obsessive, and most importantly, not the type of person one should be trying to market to.

There are several reasons for this. Firstly, I do not consider this type of gamer to define the word “hardcore” in any way shape or form, but I’ll get to that later. For now, let us look at some of the biggest complaints among most gamers of recent. Far too often this week have I heard quotes such as “Every shooter at E3 looked the same,” “How many more MMO’s can they create?,” “What is going to happen with the rising costs of development”, or “How the hell am I going to run this on my current machine?”

We currently have an industry that is hell bent with sharp, hi-def visuals, movie quality production values, and multiplayer everything, while new and original ideas are put to the wayside for fear of risk (unless your name happens to be Will Wright). All of this is in an effort to please the hardcore, and in turn hopefully amaze the masses. Let me tell you something marketers; these people are not as dedicated to the game as you think they are. They are much more worried about having the best, and being the best, and will go to great lengths to boost their egos and their e-penis. Putting more effort into wooing them is only going to make the situation worse, and force us to wade through another dearth of essays and analyses that hope to “fix” the industry.

So hardcore it’s softcore.

But what, then, defines a truly hardcore gamer? For me, it is simply someone who has a true love for games. Someone who doesn’t care how it looks, how old it is or what system it is on. Someone who knows a little of gaming past, present and future, and is constantly looking for something new and original. The hardcore gamer doesn’t have to play constantly; they just have to love to play.

Unfortunately, as great as this type of gamer sounds, I don’t think I would recommend we market towards them either (even if I consider myself one). Jay makes a simple, but excellent point; the truly hardcore gamer can be a lot like the film buff. Sometimes you have the guy who loves any and all films, and will see just about anything as long as it is entertaining. But more often than not you get the elitist, who has very picky tastes and very strong opinions about what is good and what is trash. Just like in film, the latter type seems to be more common in the gaming world.

You know who I’m talking about; the guys who worship a company like SNK or Konami and will buy all of their products regardless of quality. People that spend hours debating the relative quality of Sonic games from the last ten years, or why Eastern RPGs suck (or vice versa). They’ll buy a $200 controller for Steel Batallion and will pay any price for the chance to try out Christmas Nights. They may be better at finding incredible, groundbreaking games (Shadow of the Colossus for instance), they’ll also complain about the lack of news on Megaman Legends. In short, they can be as picky and obsessive as the other “hardcore” demographic, and are often unrealistic in their demands.

If you thoughts Nights was androgynous before, wait till you see him/her at Christmas.

So what, then, is the point of all of this? Truthfully, I’m just ranting and rambling here folks. But if I had to make a suggestion, it would be for the business types to stop targeting and start…. Well, marketing. As much as I hate marketers and advertising, I’ve always been amazed at their ability to take nearly any product and make people believe that they want, nay, need to have it. Go ahead and establish that original IP, or make that crazy idea into reality. Give developers more freedom to do what they want, and let the business folks find a way to entice their audience.

A game like Jet Grind Radio has grafitti, gangs, and ridiculous Japanese style. In an age of GTA and anime, I can see a very large audience of people being intrigued by such a game, but only if someone tells them about it (and gives them a reason to listen). Why is it that almost no developer takes advice and ideas from their fans? Because they know that in the end, gamers don’t know what it is they want. Perhaps they should share this little nugget with the other half of the industry, because they seem to know about it.

And please, stop it with all of the frothing and drooling. You’re all making a mess.

-Christian is loud and cranky after the failure that is 24: The Game.

5 thoughts on “What is a hardcore gamer?”

  1. I’m reading a book on game design now that makes it very clear the marketing team can call whether or not a game will be developed. I agree with you (shock) – let the designers design a game then after that have the marketers actually use their brains and come up with good ways to market it.

    Also, I have Christmas NiGHTS. And you called it Jet Grind Radio instead of Jet Set Radio. You are so not hardcore. Pwned.

  2. I think the best definition of hardcore gamer is one who spends more than 51% of their free time playing video games. Accordingly, anyone who makes video games views a demographic that consumes that many video games as desirable. This is probably why MMO players are always termed hardcore, we spend so much damn time playing. But I’d say we’re a very specific class of “hardcore” gamer.

    I think the challenge is, as you describe Christian, there are so many game choices out there, and the types of gamer that play them are so different (and often hate each other, we’re like a bunch of muslims having inter religeous wars), it’s impossible to lump us all together into one homogeneous category.

    I think something like “time invested gamer” might be more accurate, but there are certainly many subsets and strata of such a person, and like any animal kingdom, some are close, some are far, but there is no “silver bullet” that a marketing department can aim for. Sort of like a “casual gamer” might be someone who spends less than 50% of their time gaming (And supposedly has different tastes, which might be true: your girlfriend might play psychonauts, but she’d never play an FPS. Whereas a hardcore gamer might play both– or not). I guess the key takeaway is gamers are actually people, with different likes and dislikes! Oh no! The business development people of game companies actually have to do research and work! NOOOOO!

  3. I always thought of someone being “hardcore” as a very small group of gamers. These are gamers that even if the game gives no incentives or is out-of-date will continue to play the game to its limits. Someone that, after beating a game, set new challenges for oneself such as getting the highest score, fastest time to beat the game, and setting personal handicaps (not using health potions, can’t use certain abilities, etc).

  4. Golden Jew: some great points on MMO players, and I like the concept of “Time invested gamer”. You’re right in that its too diverse of a hobby to try and lump anyone together. Why they continue to try is beyond me.

    Akai: You’re definition of hardcore is another interesting one. I know a lot of people who challenge themselves like that, and I’m not sure what I think about it. The guy who tries to beat Diablo 2 on Nightmare, or beats devil may cry 3 on hard with all A’s, I have a lot of respect for. On the other hand, with someone who spends hours power leveling through an RPG, or tries to beat a fighting game without jumping, I wonder if it is really worth it. Like all of our definitions of hardcore, this group is another one that is strong, but probably isn’t the best to market to. I’m glad you brought it up though, because I didn’t think about it very much (and I should have).

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