I think it's safe to agree that there are casual gamers and hard core gamers. The casual gamers hop onto WoW, play for an hour or two, level up once, maybe twice on the weekend, do some questing, sell some crap, then happily go on their way. The hard-core gamers go on 24 hour binges, knowing all of the secrets of power leveling and using them to their fullest just so they can run a massive raid the next day.
What I take issue with is the definition of "casual game". I really don't believe there is such a thing. Let's take a look at a so-called casual game: Diner Dash.
I'm sure you've all seen the ads, some of you, like me, have probably played it. It starts off slow and simple. Teaches you the basics of feeding your customers, bussing tables, etc. But as the game continues on, it gets faster and harder and more twitch intensive. By the time you have four or five restaraunts the game is ANYTHING but casual. It requires the same level of speed and hand/eye coordination that Gears of War does... yet the casual gamers aren't attracted to that game... why not?
"Because it's a HARDCORE game, of course!"
Well, see, here's where I start taking issue with those terms. From talking to friends who are casual gamers, I've found that they actually ARE interested in games like Gears of War and Call of Duty, but they don't feel that they know how to play it well enough. I think the reason for that is the lack of a good teaching method in games.
I've seen debates in magazines and on forums on how to seamlessly integrate a learning level into a game without losing your pacing or your immersion factor. Let's face it "OMG! YOU'RE THE BEST SOLDIER EVER... and you're going through basic training again for some overly contrite reason..." is a weak story point. It does the job and it teaches your player how the game works, but it kills pacing to have someone walking you through and it's just an odd story point.
I think we're over complicating it (as game designers, we often do!). Let's look at a classic game, one that we've all played: Super Mario Bros. for the NES. First level you had three basic actions: Jump, Run, Shoot Fireballs. Next level we introduce flying enemies, so now you've got Jump, Run, Duck, Shoot Fireballs. Next level we introduce moving platforms, so now we've got Jump, Run, Duck, Shoot Fireballs, Timed Jump. This continues on until the end of the game is all about hand/eye and timing. Mario has been enjoyed for years by both casual and hardcore gamers alike. And I think it's because of the way that it's approached that both types of gamers can enjoy it.
So let's stop and think about the games being made now adays. All to often there is this preconcieved and usually sobconscious notion that "Everyone knows how to play a shooter!" so rather than starting slow, in an effort to have more action packed and dynamic stories, our player often gets tossed headlong into the action. That right there is a disconnect from the casual gamer.
Another thing is the controls. Remember the old NES controller? D-pad, A, B, Start Select. Now let's think about the XBox 360 controller. A,B,X,Y, D-pad, Right Bumper, Left Bumper, Right Trigger, Left Trigger, Two joysticks, L-Joystick Button, R-Joystick Button, Start, and Select. Wow o_O Now let's be honest, most of our games don't use ALL of those buttons, and to truly work in a 3D environment, you need more control, however I think there's a lot of streamlining that could be done with our controls to make things better. Control schema is far to often left under done in game dev.
We're missing a market. By taking a little more time to teach the player to play and making our hardcore games more accessible for the casual gamers, we're getting ourselves into an additional market, which means more success for our games. The mentality of making games for gamers is fun, but we have to remember that there are many different types of gamers and try to make them good for all.