Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What is a good game for the casual gamer?

This posting is both a follow up to a rant I posted on Dailyrush.dk (sorry it is in Danish) and a question Mike asked of me on his blog.

The easy answer is of course: whatever you think is fun playing. But that answer is just too easy. I won't go into details about many different type of games, because I think it is obvious that some games are story driven and you pick them up to play for a while and that is it. But other games are games you pick up to play for years. I am not into first person shooters myself and I am also confused by the enthusiasm for the grind offered by MMORPGs today. So this is about strategy games.

When I was a small child no one had computers at home and I played board games. I even played chess in a club during my high school years (and no, you don't pick up girls there). For me strategy games with no real time part of it, was the start. Over the years I've played and liked Dune2, Warcraft 1,2 & 3, Dark Reign 1 & 2, Total Annihilation, Total Annihilation: Kingdoms, Age of Empires, Command and Conquer (In different versions, Tiberian Sun stank), Dawn of War, Red Alert and of course Starcraft.

I must admit that there are newer strategy games out that I probably should have tried, but some of them require quite modern hardware and I don't update my rig as often as I used too. Finally I realized that Blizzard knew how to do good strategy games and that mastering one game was more interesting, than sucking at a new one.

So what makes a good real time strategy game? A fine balance between arcade style action, economy and map control. And most importantly a community of enthusiastic players around your own skill level.

Starcraft has all the first aspects and only due to its age is lacking the last. The game it self has big bright units that are easily identifiable and reasonably easy to click on. Realism is sacrificed in favor of units of clearly defined roles. The game has a timeline, that changes the game as you tech up from basic units to more advanced ones and so on. Other games has of course had a similar system, but few others have had quite the board game like simplicity that Starcraft have, combined with the endless possibilities that the different special skills and upgrades that Starcraft offers.

You can study game openings like in chess and have to balance your time between different aspects of the game at the same time. If you suck, like I do, this might be a bit too much and maybe the game would benefit some if it was slower, but over all Starcraft balances these aspects better than any games in the above list.

But games are hard to learn, and if you are older than 15, your reflexes might not quite be up to the level required to play. There are techniques to help you improve, but maybe you don't want to invest your time in that? I can understand that and then maybe it is better for you to play one of the newer games where - at least the first 3 months after release - everyone sucks and you can get the thrill of winning. I don't deny the attraction of that, but I don't think it offers the same level of satisfaction as learning something at a deeper level.

I look forward to Starcraft II because it will give me that cheap satisfaction and hopefully an infusion of newer players. I actually like Blizzard's plan to release 2 sequels as I think it will keep the casual gamers online for a longer stretch of time and bring innovation to the game after it is released. But at the same time I hope my Starcraft: Brood War skills will carry over and that I can get to that next level of understanding in Starcraft II.


  1. I'm not sure that we agree on the definition of the term "casual player".

    You seem to include yourself in this group, but in my understanding, a casual gamer isn't someone who reads up on strategy or even care about her/his continued progression of skills. In my understanding, the casual gamer is anyone who at odd intervals picks up a game and plays for a while just to have fun (and winning is fun - casual gamers will of course play to win as most other people!)

    Where SC (and to some extend WC3) is most lacking, is that the game is just not as fun playing without extensive knowledge of the more intricate elements like counter, building-orders etc. And this is regardless of the opponent you're playing against - even a perfectly matched game between 'noobs' is not as fun as between even mediocre players - simply because the elements that makes SC et. al. great, is the multitude of stategies you can apply when moderately skilled. And this is just not something you pick up on when just playing a single game every couple of weeks.

    Chess is another game that's just not for the casual gamer: it is really no fun until you really practise.

    So all in all, it is my belief that any game that require any kind of immersion to really bloom, is just not for teh truly casual gamer.

  2. Am I a casual gamer? Sometimes I suppose, but I do have that non-casual part of me as well. I like games as a challenge and not just as entertainment.

    SC and WC3 are very complex games, but I am not so sure that beginners playing each others will ever be as fun as better players. Regardless of the game. I distinctly remember playing various racing games, where I and someone else decided the game by who fell off-track the least. Not fun at all.

    So I suppose all games require some kind of immersion to bloom.

  3. I don't think SC is really a game for people who wish to game "casually."

    The Wii is a much more compatible game system.

    Players that like games like SC and chess and even Risk prefer to strategize, study, and learn from games they play and tell themselves that they'll play much better the next game. They don't have to be hardcore gamers, but they do need to have an interest in playing well.