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What's happened
to the
Hardcore Gamer?

was a dark,
bone-chilling day at Ten Ton Hammer Investigations; the
kind of day that makes
you want to call off the dev interviews,
procrastinate a little longer on that review deadline, and crawl back
under the sheets. And that’s when she walked in. Framed in
the wan light, she was eerily attractive, like some sort of 8-bit ghost
of computer gaming past.

When she spoke, I half expected a syrupy female computron voice to
complete her cold, clammy tapdance down my spine. “Looking
for a case?” she said, and I looked down at the scattered
browser-based games on my desktop. “Lady,” says I,
“if you’ve got something more interesting than
World of Ersatz Manga Online, I’m your man. I’m
sure I can’t make it any easier than that.”

But, just my luck… she’s attached. Attached to one
Hardcore Gamer. Not surprisingly, she hadn’t seen him in some
time. More surprisingly, she thinks he’s gone missing.
She’d been hanging around the dev studio lunchrooms, official
forums, vent servers, even in-game voice chat channels. Nothing turned

Her man’s business was online gaming, and business had been
good for some time. Lately, however, some shady characters had been
popping up, stealing the limelight and, she suspects, the almighty
development dollar. Once, he was the king of the MMOG jungle, but now
he no longer seems to rule. She suspected some of his…
associates had rubbed him out. I took the case, and without so much as
a good day, she despawned.

Victim: Hardcore Gamer

I dug out the dossier on one Hardcore
Gamer. I needed to see what made
him tick. Hardcore Gamer had been a part of the MMOG scene since it
began. He was definitely the old school style of player. He
didn’t log into a game for a few hours to blow off some steam
or chat with some friends. No, he logged in to not only play, but to
beat the game every way to Sunday. He learned the best possible way to
play his class and he demanded nothing less of compatriots. A game had
to be challenging to be worthy of his time and effort. Seeing your
character die with little to no penalty to advancement - where was the
risk in that?

He lived for epic gear won in massive raids. He lived to take down that
raid boss, pushing though 4 to 8 hours of dungeon crawling to get to
the supreme badass, and said badass only dropped said epic 5% of the
time is the stuff of legend.

According to Hardcore Gamer, crafting should be more than gathering a
few resources, hitting a button, and walking away. Good crafting
resources should be rare, require travel to dangerous places, and force
the player to face dangerous foes in order to acquire them. To sift out
the wannabes, make crafting and research gathering occur in real time.
Make it hurt.

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Hardcore Gamer - "This is what
crafting should feel like!"

Likewise, advancement should be a challenge as well. Getting ten levels
in a single night? Zooming through to the end-game content in a matter
of days? B.S. Why play the game if there’s no challenge? The
difficulty, the challenge, the struggle of it all was the reason to

As I completed my dossier on Hardcore Gamer, I realized that, to him,
the challenge and difficulty of the game was fun. He didn’t
want blind, repetitive grinding, he wanted the recognition that comes
from getting to the top of the MMORPG mountain and knowing required a
lot of patience and effort.

But times change, and online gaming was become increasingly easier.
Aside from a few games, few devs made more than token concessions to
Hardcore Gamer. Rewards were handed out not for winning, not for
completing, but just for participating. Quests had become tasks on a
checklist complete with step-by-step instructions and locations, raids
dropped from welcome-all-comer affairs, to 40-mans, to 25 mans, to 10
mans, death had become an excuse to call your girlfriend on the runback
rather than a experience draining, level dropping catastrophe.


As I dug deeper into the case, I saw that Hardcore Gamer’s
views had some merit. Especially noticeable was his many posts on
official forums bemoaning the state of the games today and how they
should return to their former glory. After a great deal of research, I
realized that his influence has been on the wane and I recognized some
patterns of that diminishment and saw the fingerprints of the suspects
that his lady had given me.

#1: The Gaming Dollar

The primary suspect was The Gaming Dollar. Hardcore Gamer and this
turncoat had been buddies for a long time. In the beginning, it was
Hardcore Gamer who brought The Gaming Dollar to MMORPGs in droves. Then
a funny thing happened… success.

As MMORPGs became increasingly popular, The Gaming Dollar shifted
allegiance towards Hardcore Gamer’s slacker brother: Casual
Gamer. As Casual Gamer got more involved in MMOGs, The Gaming Dollar
grew rapidly: href="">from
half a billion to $1.4 billion from 2005-2008.

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It's all about the benjamins.

#2: Casual Gamer

That’s when Casual Gamer arrives on the scene. At first, he
is in total awe of Hardcore Gamer’s epicness. He too wants
the coolest weapons, armors, spells, and end-game dungeon accesss. But
Casual Gamer wants all the shinies with a fraction of the work.

Casual Gamer doesn’t want an all-consuming challenge or a
steep learning curve. He logs into the game to have some diversion and
fun for a few hours. He doesn’t want to spend his time
traveling to some distant zone to farm some mats. He wants to kill a
few things, get some cool rewards, trade some banter with his friends,
and then log off. In essence, he wants the game to be easier. He wants
the cash prizes and major endorsements for an easy jog on the treadmill
while Hardcore Gamer chugs through the marathon.

While the Casual Gamer isn’t as knowledgeable about the game
as Hardcore Gamer, nor as committed to spend as much time or effort
into learning every facet of the game, he does have one advantage over
Mr. Hardcore – there are a lot more of him. So much so that
games cater to the Casual Gamer. The money that the Casual Gamer spends
is just as good as that of the Hardcore Gamer, but since Casual Gamer
spends some time in public, he has lots of friends. Soon all of Casual
Gamer’s friends are playing because, well, all of Casual
Gamer’s friends are playing. And every game wants the kind of
breakout success embodied by style="font-style: italic;">World of Warcraft with
its href="">12
million subscribers. While
Hardcore Gamer has a presence in Azeroth, he’s outnumbered.
Case in point: for the original Naxxramas, only href="">2%
of players actually entered the

#3: Lifestyle, a.k.a. Facebook

The way that people interact online has changed dramatically over the
last decade or two. The number of people going online has increased
from href="">16
million worldwide in 1995 to over 1.9 billion in 2010. 
As more and more people go online to communicate and interact, online
gaming is reaching more and more of Casual Gamer’s friends
every year. Their online Lifestyle, however, is build around connecting
and socializing. Accumulating items and achievements and exploring new
worlds are sidelines at best, not the defining reason for online

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Only sights such as this can
make Hardcore Gamer cry.

Facebook has had a major impact upon online gaming and will continue to
do so. Facebook games are, according to Hardcore Gamer, very simplistic
and have an extremely mild learning curve. Their biggest impact is in
that the games act as another layer of chatting between friends.
Players play the game to have fun and chat with their friends. They can
get items to give to their friends and have friends join them to help
them in their game. The most popular game, style="font-style: italic;">Farmville,
has over href="">81
million subscribers and 29.7 million active daily users.
Casual Gamer has lots and lots of friends, it seems.


After investigating the suspects (and getting some online gaming in as
well), I came to the conclusion that Hardcore Gamer hadn’t
disappeared. He’d just been lost in the crowd.

We couldn’t find any evidence of malicious behavior among our
suspects. Everything played out naturally. In the early days of MMOGs,
it was the Hardcore Gamer who had to search out the online games to
play and support them. As more and more people became connected, they
began to flood into the MMOGs beloved by the Hardcore Gamer. This new
breed of gamer, the Casual Gamer, had a different outlook on gaming and
their numerical advantage led to game companies tailoring their games
to their greater monetary influence.

However, Hardcore Gamer still makes his presence known in the
out-of-the way places around the MMOG market. His prowess still shines
in world firsts and the best gear, and you’ll find him in
abundance in alphas and closed betas. Game designers still
haven’t figure out how to break out of Hardcore
Gamer’s endgame mold - Hardcore Gamer’s achiever
ethic still influences the social and PvP aspects of advanced or
level-capped play. Even better, a sub-category of niche games have
arisen that cater to his style of gameplay. Games like style="font-style: italic;">EVE Online
(and href="">their
350,000+ and growing subscribers)
and Darkfall
proudly carry the hardcore mantel.

We brought out the usual suspects, but there are many, many more. Maybe
a certain developer or publisher contributed to the seeming demise of
Hardcore Gamer. Maybe Hardcore Gamer himself should be implicated in
his own downfall. What do you think? Tell us in the Ten Ton Hammer

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Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016