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Is core gaming still important?

Is core gaming still important?
Want to get into the head of the ‘hardcore’ gamer? Then simply head for any online games forum on a Tuesday morning and look for the thread about the current UK Charts.

The response is always the same. “Who buys this mini-game shit?”, “F**king destroying the games industry!”, “Infinite Undiscovery’s only in 28th place? WTF!!!!???…”

Anger. Proper EMO anger. These people feel that it’s down to them that gaming has got where it is today. It was those who paid £70 for a copy of Super Street Fighter II on the SNES duing the ‘90s games slump, and it was them who continued to stick by the GameCube even when GAME had reduced its shelf space down to one rack at the back of the shop, right between the PC budget titles and the plush Donkey Kong dolls.

It’s all fanboy nonsense, of course. The confusion lies in the misconception that because hardcore gaming is no longer the centre of the gaming universe, it’s no longer relevant. One fact is true – that it’s now a secondary focus for the industry, but one is incorrect – hardcore gaming is still very important.

A CASUAL ATTITUDE
For instance, what have been the big games to date in 2008? Wii Fit, certainly, is one of them. With over five million sales to date Nintendo’s title has been a massive success. But in unit terms it’s dwarfed by Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto IV, which is approaching the 6.5 million sales barrier. The number of firms willing to plough millions into a hardcore title is less than once was, for sure, but those who do so often reap huge rewards.

A look at Gfk ChartTrack’s 2007 UK sales data does reveal, without doubt, that casual gaming was the defining market last year. Though it’s tough to draw a clear distinction between casual and hardcore titles, a rough tally shows that 34 of the year’s top 50 were casual games, but 16 were still hardcore titles (though do consider some titles are tough to define – FIFA 08 was classed as casual owing to its wider market appeal, whereas Tomb Raider: Anniversary was classed as hardcore, owing mainly to its console heritage).

Break the stats down to platform-by-platform and it then becomes clear that whilst Nintendo relishes the casual, both the Xbox 360 and PS3 top tens were dominated by core titles (with eight and six core titles in the list respectively). A spokesperson for Sony explaines to MCV why core gamers are hugely important to its brand:

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“So called ‘hardcore’ gaming will always be important as sterotypically this type of gamer is the person who buys the products and evangelises them to their core and non-core friends. I think the core will continue to be our heartland, but as commercial entities I think publishers will go where the biggest viable group is.”

Nintendo felt the wrath of the hardcore like no other following this year’s E3 presentation. A little harsh, in reality, considering some of its biggest successes this year, such as Super Mario Galaxy and Twilight Princess. And has there ever been a more fanboy-centric game than Super Smash Bros Brawl?

A Nintendo spokesperson tells MCV: “We have never neglected our core gamers nor has Nintendo ever lost its passion for core gamers. We still have developers working on popular core gaming franchises but we need longer to complete these games – approximately two to three years. These games are not ready to launch in early 2009 but are being worked on by all development teams. Wario Land Shake Dimension, a true return to the classic 2D platform adventure, will be available for Wii in September of this year.”

It’s also fair to argue that the distinctions between hardcore and casual are no longer as clear as they once were. Our Sony friend adds: “I think we have seen over the years that the ‘core’ and ‘casual’ gamer groups are not mutually exclusive.

There will be people who enjoy playing core gaming experiences with a certain set of friends, who will also enjoy social gaming in a different setting. I think further, that standout products like Little Big Planet are the type of game that have the power to broach both groupings.”

And those quick to complain about the industry’s evolution should also note that the success of casual has opened many more hardcore doors that it has closed.

Nintendo’s DS is inundated with top quality Japanense RPGs, such as Square Enix’s recently released Dragon Quest: Chapters of the Chosen, that until now have never been released in Europe. And who’d have thought that classic and unforgivingly hardcore titles such as Rez, Ikaruga and Every Extend Extra would be topping Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade bill?

Neither of these facts would today be true had the casual revolution not paved the way to the larger market we enjoy today. So chin up, people – there’s enough room at the party for everyone.

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