increasing popularity of interactive entertainment and its acceptance
as a form of popular culture, the average gamer is no longer a stereotypical
geek and obsessive hobbyist. If the game industry is to further broaden
gaming's appeal to mass-market audiences, it must learn to fulfil its
customers' desires, but there is still a great deal of uncertainty about
who they are and what they want. Unfortunately, the industry does little
formal market research. Publishers tend to rely on focus groups, warranty-card
returns, and Internet gossip to understand the state of the market.
These mechanisms have the advantage of being inexpensive, but all are
compromised by the fact that their participants are self-selected and
almost certainly atypical consumers. Focus groups and Internet messages
also represent extremely small samples on which to base important decisions,
and much of their content consists of unquantified observations. In his
eight years of employment at Electronic Arts, Ernest Adams never saw a
single document offering a quantitative statistical analysis, backed up
by a properly-conducted poll, of the state of the market.
highlighted by Ernest Adams' Designers
Notebook entry "Casual vs. Core" and Scott Kim's GDC 2001
presentation "Designing Web Games that Make Business Sense",
professionals in the game industry tend to think of gamers as falling
into one of two categories -- the hardcore and the casual. The characteristics
that define these categories are usually vague and based on intuition
and personal experience. We often hear the terms hardcore (also referred
to as core, or traditional, gamers) and casual (mainstream, mass-market,
and occasional gamers) being used freely by journalists, reviewers, and
various gaming-related media, while failing to define precisely what it
means to be one or the other. In this article, using a combination of
relevant discussions and certain principles of consumer classification
from academia, we shall propose a method for statistically distinguishing
between different categories of gamer according to quantifiable criteria.
Studies of consumer behaviour widely acknowledge the concept of consumer
segmentation, and the importance of accurately targeting different types
of customer. Consequently, knowing the preferences and idiosyncrasies
of the most important entity in the industry -- the gamer -- takes us
halfway towards the goal of total customer satisfaction.
be described by a nearly infinite number of characteristics. Following
the suggestions of Adams and Kim, we propose 15 variables that we believe
are key to distinguishing between the hardcore and the casual gamer, and
ways of measuring each for a given player. Once these data are gathered,
they may be weighted to obtain a single numeric score, which determines
the extent to which the player is a "core" or a "casual"
gamer -- a value that we call gamer dedication.
The 15 Factors
Hardcore gamers are clearly different from casual gamers, and the characteristics
of hardcore and casual gamers will also be different from those who are
generally uninterested in interactive entertainment. Therefore, understanding
the opposing ends of the spectrum, and the space in-between, with regard
to consumer preference, opinion, knowledge and behaviour, is critical
for the purpose of establishing any sort of gamer classification. Taking
the characteristics mentioned by Adams (2000) and Kim (2001), as well
as introducing a few of our own, the following discussion of The 15 Factors
of Classification takes into account the most pertinent factors associated
with the distinction between the different types of gamer.
gamers are: (taken from Kim)
Have the latest high-end computers/consoles
Willingness to pay (also supported by Adams)
Prefer violent/action games
Prefer games that have depth and complexity
Play games over many long sessions (also supported by Adams)
gamers: (taken from Adams)
Hunger for gaming-related information
Discuss games with friends/bulletin boards
Play for the exhilaration of defeating (or completing) the game
Much more tolerant of frustration
Engaged in competition with himself, the game, and other players
Age at which first started playing games
Comparative knowledge of the industry
Indications of early adoption behaviour
Desire to modify or extend games in a creative way.
1: The 15 Factors (not in any particular order)
In each case we suggest a method for measuring these characteristics quantitatively.
savvy More or less self-explanatory, we expect hardcore gamers to
be more familiar with the latest releases and developments, and to show
greater interest with regard to new gaming-related technologies as compared
to casual gamers. This characteristic can be measured by presenting
survey subjects with a large number of computer-game technology terms
and acronyms, and asking them to match the term with its correct definition.
This will provide a numeric score for the subject's degree of "technology
the latest high-end computers/consoles
Hardcore gamers will acquire the latest console platforms and/or PC
hardware in order to keep up-to-date with the most recent trends. Furthermore,
they are more likely to own, or have owned, a wide variety of older
games platforms. Subjects may simply be asked which console platforms
they own; in the case of PC gamers, what the performance characteristics
of their machines are.
- A factor acknowledged by both Adams and Kim, hardcore enthusiasts
are more inclined to spend money on games and games-related products.
Conversely, casual gamers are more inclined to wait for price discounts
and special offers before committing to a purchase. Kim further emphasises
this point with the characterisation of casual gamers as "wanting
games for free". This can easily be measured by asking survey subjects
about their spending patterns.
Kim suggested that hardcore gamers prefer games that show comparatively
violent and action-intensive content. However, should a more generalised
terminology be required, we could re-phrase this to obtain a measure
for a gamers' comparative preference for certain types of game, rather
than solely for action/violent games. Because the definitions of "violence"
and "action" are subjective, controls could be established
by asking subjects about their preference for specific games, with the
games divided into categories based on their Entertainment Software
Rating Board descriptors.
games that have depth and complexity
Complementary to factor 4 above, hardcore gamers prefer games that deliver
greater complexity, and which require a longer time to master, regardless
of their themes. This can be objectively measured by asking subjects
whether they prefer a game that takes more or less than a given amount
of time to play through.
games over many long sessions
A factor supported by both Adams and Kim. Being the hardcore gamers'
favourite hobby, they are likely to devote considerably more time playing
games as compared to casual gamers. Subjects can be asked about their
for gaming-related information
Devouring everything from the latest news, previews and reviews, to
interviews with industry experts, the hardcore gamer actively seeks
gaming-related information through the Internet, games-magazines and
books, etc. Subjects may be asked how much time they spend per week
on these activities.
games with friends/bulletin boards In addition to hunger for information
(factor 7), hardcore gamers like to discuss gaming with others, and
to regularly visit game-related Internet forums or chat rooms. Subjects
may be asked how much time they spend per week on these activities.
for the exhilaration of defeating (or completing) the game
Hardcore gamers will play persistently for the enjoyment and exhilaration
of defeating the game, and are likely to be more forgiving of aesthetic
flaws such as poor acting or a trivial plot. This can be measured by
asking subjects to rate the relative importance to them of a number
of factors in their motivation for continuing to play a given game (not
for choosing to purchase the game). If "I want to beat/finish it"
is considered highly important, the subject is more likely to be a hardcore
more tolerant of frustration
Hardcore gamers are much more tolerant of difficult games, or games
that might frustrate them in some way. Casual gamers are more likely
to abandon such games. The best way of measuring this quality objectively
would be to present all the subjects with the same, moderately frustrating
or difficult game, and measuring the length of time they play before
in competition with himself, the game, and other players
Hardcore gamers want to feel the satisfaction and reward of competing
and improving his skill against other players and/or computer-controlled
opponents. Casual gamers would not, for example, be inclined to play
endlessly to their reduce lap-times in Gran Turismo by a fraction of
a second, or have the patience to learn every combination attack in
Street Fighter, or even to achieve a higher score. Subjects can be asked
to rank a number of factors in their decision to continue to play a
game. If improving her skills, competing with others, or achieving the
highest score (whether above those of other players or her own previous
efforts), are ranked as important, this would tend to suggest that the
subject is a hardcore player.
at which first started playing games
Evidence from respectable sources such as the IDSA and ELSPA indicates
that the gaming audience is growing older. One of the reasons for this
is that those who started playing at a young age have gradually matured
alongside the development of the industry. Taking this into consideration,
this factor takes into account the extent to which they are familiar
and experienced with playing games. This can be quantified by asking
subjects at what age they started playing games as a hobby. If they
started at a young age, and have since been regular gamers, then this
would indicate those who are more experienced and knowledgeable.
knowledge of the industry
Complementary to factors 7 and 12 above, hardcore gamers are likely
to posses a much greater level of knowledge and experience with regard
to the various facets of gaming (of ranging from knowledge about the
latest releases, to design issues and developments within the industry).
However, the hunger for information (factor 7) does not directly translate
into a good knowledge base. For example, a casual gamer may consider
himself hungry for information, but only towards certain things (such
as latest releases, reviews and prices). The hardcore gamer, on the
other hand, is likely to show broader knowledge and awareness of industry
activities and trends, new technologies, and game development methods.
Subjects can be asked to classify a number of statements about games
and the game industry as true or false. Those who classify a large number
correctly can be said to be comparatively more knowledgeable and aware.
of early adoption behaviour
Early adoption behaviour (EAB) as defined in consumer-marketing literature,
is an undeniable and salient characteristic that defines the behaviour
of consumers. EAB describes consumers or individuals who are first to
adopt the latest in trends or fashions. Current theory suggests consumers
who exhibit EAB do so in order to establish themselves as part of an
innovative and desirable social hierarchy (see, for example, Fisher
and Price, (1992)). In terms of the games industry, this describes the
behaviour of hardcore gamers, who are willing to spend exponentially
more on new hardware and software that are yet to be released officially
(through grey-market imports) in order to satisfy their hobby. In addition,
for hardcore gamers (particularly those in the UK), the detrimental
effect of localizing games from the NTSC broadcasting standard (US and
Japanese markets) into PAL (UK) further strengthens the demand and reason
for importing NTSC games directly. (Localized games converted from NTSC
to PAL typically exhibit slower game speeds, unsightly screen borders,
and less attractive packaging.) Furthermore, hardcore gamers would not
necessarily acquire imports or gaming-related items solely for the purpose
of overcoming the delay of official releases, but also to possess items
that have a rare or intrinsic value. Consequently, this factor attempts
to obtain a measure of EAB from the various categories of gamer. Subjects
can be asked a number of questions about EAB, such as whether they have
ever waited in line before a software store opened to buy a new game
on its first day of release, and if they regularly acquire imports.
Those who answer a number of these questions affirmatively can be said
to be "early adopters" and therefore probably hardcore gamers.
to modify or extend games in a creative way
Hardcore gamers frequently modify commercial games in a variety of ways.
These can range from simple changes such as giving characters new "skins"
to cause their appearance in the game to be different, to programming
"aim-bots", separate pieces of software that work in concert
with an existing game to give the player an unfair advantage over others.
Casual gamers seldom take the time to make these kinds of modifications;
they tend to play the game "as-is" out of the box. Subjects
can be asked whether they have ever engaged in some of these activities.
The more that they have, the more likely they are to be hardcore gamers.