Hardcore and casual aren't genres. They're lines drawn in the sand.
And I'd like to suggest that they're arbitrary, based on ideas that don't really hold sway any more.
Casual games are meant to be throwaway things: little slices of gaming fun that you have your way with and then toss aside. Hardcore games are more in-depth, require hours of play to master, and are the preserve of some imagined upper-class of "gamers."
But this just isn't the case any more. Casual games have been adopting and refining characteristics that were once the preserve of the hardcore end of the spectrum And it's making gaming better.
So let's look at some of the mechanics and ideas that have traditionally been considered hardcore, and show how they've been successfully implemented in games that some people turn their noses up at.
Lives, we don't need lives
And one of the approaches they've adopted from that era is the single life. You get one go, to get as far as you can, and when you mess up you have to start back at the beginning.
The modern twist on it all comes in the shape of randomisation. You're not learning patterns to overcome tricky sections - you're relying on the skills you learn to get you through.
That single chance makes your runs matter more, because when you mess up you're either starting again or, if you're a bit of a cheat, watching a video to keep going.
It's an idea so-called hardcore games have always adopted - make it tough, make the player work for everything they earn. And now it's in our pockets too.
Replayability, we definitely need that
And this opens up the second spur of our hardcore / softcore crossover: replayability.
This is the quality found in a game that keeps you coming back for more. That one-more-go addiction that sees you staring bleary eyed at a screen, shocked to find it's 4am and everyone you love has abandoned you.
You can dilute it down into compulsion loops if you like, but once again it harks back to the arcade era, where developers needed to ensure that you didn't just drop a single coin into the slot.
And casual games work this idea into their DNA. There are countless things to collect in Crossy Road, and grabbing them all is a challenge that will take an inordinate amount of time.
There are a number of ways this manifests in hardcore games, from more challenging new modes you unlock when you finish a playthrough, to side quests and collectibles that ask you to explore more of the game world.
But the design intention is the same - getting the player to spend as much time as possible in the game. And that time is the currency of modern gaming.
It's a trick hardcore games have always been good at, keeping you latched into the world with the promise of something new around the corner. A new weapon, a new story revelation, a new piece of armour.
The promises might be a little more specific in the casual sphere - only a few more coins for a new character, just a bit further to beat your best - but they're very much there.
Bragging rights too, let's have some of those
Leaderboards, once the preserve of three-initialled rebels with CRT-stained eyes, are now commonplace in pretty much all mobile games.
There are daily challenges too, like you might find in Spelunky. Reasons to dip in every day, reasons to form a habit that'll see you playing into the wee small hours.
Wait, hang on. Putting hours and hours into a game? Forgetting to pay your bills because you're trying to beat a friend's high score?
These things don't sound very casual do they? They sound, I don't know, sort of like the opposite of that.
Being able to show off that character that no one else has managed to unlock, shoving your acquaintances around like losers because you made it past that boss that they just can't defeat, swaggering around like the cock of the walk because your name is at the top of the leaderboard.
These are all becoming natural responses to apparently casual games.
We don't need new lines and we don't need the old lines
Because lines are boring. Calling certain things one thing and certain things another is a ridiculous thing to do. I spent last night playing Rocket League and Transformers: Devastation, in between games of Max Ammo.
Because fun is fun. Because compulsion loops are compulsion loops. Because saying that you only play one type of game is like saying you only eat cheese. Or you only watch Michael Bay movies. While eating cheese.
The cross pollination we're seeing in mobile right now is a beautiful thing. I can't tell you how happy Shooty Skies makes me, or how much I want to be better at it. That doesn't mean I don't want to play Call of Duty or Bloodborne though.
Seeing new ideas bursting out from old mechanics, watching clever developers introduce millions of players to new styles of play and new ways of experiencing games, these are all really exciting things.
Casual is the new hardcore. And hardcore is the new casual. And midcore is the new topcore. And it's all pretty much meaningless.
Play what you love, love what you play, and forget about labels.
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