Hybrid Gamer

Marshall Honorof wrote an article on the Escapist about the concept of a hybrid gamer: one who plays “hardcore” games in a “casual” manner.  According to him, the key element of “casual” vs. “hardcore” play is an investment of the player’s time. A casual game does not demand much of the player’s time to experience its narrative or gameplay mechanics, while a hardcore game does.

First a causal game as an example: the Sims (any version will do). In the span of a few hours, you will see every basic mechanic the Sims has to offer. It doesn’t take long to get a job, make friends, build and expand a house, start a family, or any of the other features. It takes a long time to see everything in the game, but all this content is nearly completely open from the beginning.

On the opposite end is the hardcore game. In this case, we’ll take a look at Mass Effect, an action RPG. The center storyline takes around twenty hours to play through and see the entire thing. There is also a strong progression through the game, with new powers being unlocked over time as your character levels up. Gaining access to the full spectrum of Mass Effect’s experience requires investing a significant amount of time.

There is a difference in the long term experience of hardcore games and casual ones. You also find a difference between single play sessions as well. In an hour span of the Sims, you can experience some of everything the game has to offer. You can go to work, build skills, buy new furniture, enjoy social interactions, all in that short play session. In Mass Effect, it is easily possibly to go an hour with just combat or just conversation. Even more so, it is not predictable what mix you will get when you sit down to play.

A hybrid gamer takes the play experience of casual games and applies that to more hardcore ones. When my wife played through Assassin’s Creed, she did it in short, bit-sized pieces. Because of the open-world gameplay, it was really conductive to this.

Problems still occurred when the game had long, extensive single missions. Once a session extended beyond the “casual” threshold, frustration set in. On top of that, not every game is conductive to this approach. The game has to be setup in smaller, more discrete chunks.

This kind of design is happening more and more in modern games, creating situations that appeal to the hybrid gamer. While the first Mass Effect had long mission and complex ability unlocks, its sequel has much smaller missions while unlocking the majority of powers at the onset. While it is not know the true reasons why Bioware made this shift, it does help the hybrid gamer. If this kind of play is an actual growing trend, we will see more of this kind of shift done intentionally, in order to better enable gamers to enjoy the full experience their games have to offer.

And the more people who can play games, the better it is for all gamers.

-That is all.

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