The other day, I read Gareth’s blog on the matter of accessibility as it relates to the “casual” gamer. He pointed out that veteran gamers have a tremendous advantage, simply by reason of being veterans.

He came to this realization while attempting to hook his lady friend Denbeigh on gaming. First they tried Worms3D. That was a bust. Then came The Incredibles, likewise a turkey.

From the descriptions, I gather that both those games had poorly-implemented interfaces, and I would have been frustrated by them, too.

Then Gareth put on Diablo II. That’s a straightforward fantasy shooter (or action/RPG if you insist), and really easy to get into – at least for us veterans. After picking a character and starting up, Gareth found himself spending ten minutes trying to explain D2 to her. I suspect he may have been trying to explain too much at once, but no matter. Diablo II went the way of the others.

Fortunately, Gareth achieved success at last with (ahem) The Sims. That’s when he started thinking seriously about accessibility and the “casual” gamers.

We who have been gaming for years have a large pool of experience on which to draw. We readily understand the interface, the mechanics, the numbers. While there may be differences from game to game, enough is similar that we can adjust easily to what is new.

The casual gamer has no such background. Thus, someone whose playing experience doesn’t go much beyond Bejeweled can find the typical RPG, with its mechanics, numbers, skills, combat features, etc., a bewildering and frustrating experience.

So Gareth isn’t too upset over the current industry emphasis on making games more “accessible” to others than the “hardcore” crowd. He expects that in time, the “casual” gamers will want more complexity from their games, and move up into more hardcore products.

I thought that might be a little over-optimistic. If people are satisfied with what they play now, why change? There’s such a variety of “casual” games today, with more coming all the time, along with the big companies getting into the act, too, that casuals will soon be swimming in a flood of products.

Then I read Coyote’s blog this morning.

Big Fish and NPD conducted a survey of 3,000 gamers of all types. The results were not what might be expected. The “hardcore” and “casual” gamers are closer than anyone thought. Indeed, the line between the two is blurred. I especially found the following quote rather startling:

The study showed that the “Heavy Action” gamer segment (young males that had a preference for shooters, racing, driving mayhem, fighting, realistic sports, and heavy role playing games) were also most likely to play games in the “Nancy Drew” segment (games typically preferred by older females such as match 3, brain teaser, mahjong, word, hidden object, jigsaw, trivia and puzzle adventure games).

Not only is that mindboggling to consider; it turns out that “casual” gamers spend as much or more time playing as hardcores do. And yes, that “casual” segment has been known to dabble in the hardcore area, too.

It seems that as time goes on, these two groups, supposedly disparate, draw closer together. That’s if they ever really were disparate to begin with. As the report mentions, it’s nonsensical to draw a line between those two.

Gareth feels that eventually we’ll all be “just gamers”; that moment may be much closer than many suspect. It may even be here now. I’d like that; we could, at the very least, dispense with those “hardcore” and “casual” descriptions. After all, if those guys playing GTA IV are also into mahjong, are they hardcore or casual? Neither, they’re just gamers.

Accessibility on Gareth’s blog

Big Fish/NPD Research report on casualgaming