In general, the casual player is unable to regularly schedule play time because of a variety of real life obligations. No matter how good at managing time a single mother may be, for example, she doesn't have the support of a big family to allow her to schedule her leisure time. People who have to travel for their business or do a lot of overtime have to squeeze in playtime whenever their schedules permit. Some casuals have plenty of leisure time but choose to spread a variety of activities over that time and WoW is not necessarily the highest priority. But just because a casual player does not devote as much of a time commitment to playing WoW as a raider, does not mean that the casual does not know how to play his character.
There are casual players who are mostly into the journey and rarely get their many alts to max level. And there are casuals who spend all of their time doing RP or PvP only. It's all about fun and no one's fun is better than anyone else's (unless their fun infringes on other people's fun -- they are Funsuckers and come in all kinds of flavors: both casual and raider). But there are a lot of casual players who play their characters to 70 and participate in what end game content they can. Many of these are skilled casuals.
The skilled casuals read up on their classes and tweak their specs -- during breaks in "real life" activities. They solo quite a bit, but also group with their casual guildies -- when there are enough on and willing to group. They play a lot of battlegrounds because they are fun to just log on and join without having to do the LFG dance. And they join in their guild's raids when possible and trudge through the unfortunately disorganized attempts, doing their jobs well and learning the encounters over and over and over. They know their class, their spec and their role in groups and raids, but are feared by raiders (and fellow casuals) realm-wide because they are not well known and unknown is assumed bad. A good reputation is important in WoW if you want to get in good groups or in more organized guilds.
Why do unknown players (often casuals) have the reputation for being bad players? Because PUGS suck. And they do. They really, really do. But the fault of the PUG and the bad reputation actually falls on raiders at least as much as the less experienced, but skilled casual. Let us dissect the PUG:
The PUG Start Delay
Everyone -- raiders, casuals, whoever -- signs up for LFG before they are ready to play. You do it too. Sometimes you're just seeing if anything good is available. Sometimes you're not sure if a raid is going to happen, so you shop for a backup plan. Sometimes you are seeing what's good on WoW at the same time as you are flipping TV channels. All of this adds up to a bunch of PUGers who are not ready to jump right in when the group forms. And it also means that the PUG membership is in flux before anyone makes it to the instance. The Start Delay gives all members of the PUG the perception that they are each disorganized and not really committed. This is not a good foundation to begin any team endeavor.
The PUG Class Lottery
Finding the perfect combination of classes for your PUG in a timely fashion is not very likely. There's the perceived tank shortage and the absolute necessity for a talented healer. You need DPS but you also want as much crowd control as possible. And then there are the prejudices: can warriors who are not protection speced still tank? Can a hybrid Balance/Resto Druid still be a good healer? Raiders and casuals alike distrust strangers with odd specs -- often without reason. A properly speced tank who doesn't know how to hold aggro is going to be much worse in a group than a DPS warrior who knows how to tank. Regardless, getting the right combination can be very time consuming, perpetuating the bad perception that PUGs get before they even begin.
The first two PUG issues are really the fault of everyone and no one. But the lack of experience that casuals bring to a PUG because of their lack of playtime can slow everyone else down -- no matter how skilled the casual player is. If the experienced players in the group are patient and communicative, however, this problem can be nullified.
Lack of Communication
Raiders are more than happy to type away, complaining about the noobs in their PUG to guildies, but often don't use their experience wisely to educate the ignorant but skilled casual. You've done the instance a jillion times and know the tricks to each encounter. So why not quickly summarize them before each boss? I'm not talking about a detailed battle plan that takes 5 minutes to explain. I mean just saying the one important detail that can mean the difference between a kill and a wipe. For example, you are getting your alt keyed for KZ and are PUGing Black Morass. You've got a druid as your main healer and someone else as your backup. Now time me as I say, "Hey Drood! This guy has a nasty healing debuff. When the tank gets it, just go bear and take over tanking." How long was that? Just a few seconds, right? And how long does it take to wipe and start the whole instance over again? It's not the casual's fault for not knowing about the healing debuff, it's the experienced player's fault for not arranging for this key tactic to be implemented before the battle.
Lack of Patience
The fact that raiders do the content so much that it bores them translates to trying to rush PUGs through instances. But the Instance Noobs need time to acclimate to their surroundings. Practice makes perfect, and if this is their first or second time through they are going to make mistakes if they have to blindly rush instead of being able to take the time to truly absorb what is happening. Any skilled player, when confronted with new content, can analyze the situation and do a good job the first time through. But they do need that extra time to take in all of this new information. I'm not talking about a buff wasting exploration of every corner of the dungeon. Pausing a minute after a fight and another minute before may save several minutes of unnecessary run back time. You could even provide a guided tour for the Instance Noobs, making it a little more fun and less stressful for everyone. Also, clean up all pockets of trash, rather than leaving the "optional" groups to save time. Less trash around means reducing the potential damage a mistake can do.
Raiders are bad players too
In these days of paid server transfers, unknowns are not necessarily casuals and new guilds of raiders and wannabe raiders are popping up all the time. A lot of people play WoW like a full time job, but still can't play their characters in groups if their lives depended on it. There are the not necessarily casual, solo players who get to 70 by themselves and suddenly want to start grouping, but don't have any group skills: the hunters with butt-aggro issues and the rogues who pull before the healer is ready and the mages who want to AoE everything... the list goes on. There are also a lot of hardcore raiders who bring up alts to fill gaps in their guilds. They twink them out from the beginning and level up quickly without really learning how to play their classes. Then they come to PUGs with an elitist attitude and blame their mistakes on everyone else.
Can't we all just get along?
Regardless of time commitment, we're all humans playing this fun and time consuming game together. Both sides are being very judgmental. "I'm better than you because I don't schedule my life around a game." is no more of a true statement than "I'm better than you because I earned my Purples." Both sides are also extremely jealous of any development time spent on the other. There really is plenty of game to go around and no one's fun is more important or better than anyone else's (again excepting funsuckers). Wasting your time stressing about how "the other side" spends their time is not healthy either in-game or out. Nor is it fun. And it's all about fun.
Robin Torres juggles one level 70 Tauren Druid, multiple alts across multiple servers, two cats, one toddler, one loot-addicted husband and a yarn dependency. After years of attempting to balance MMOs with real life, Robin lightheartedly shares the wisdom gleaned from her experiences. If you would like to ask Robin's advice or if you have a story you wish to share, please email Robin.Torres AT weblogsinc DOT com for a possible future column.