Where do you draw the line? The number of hours spent in-game? Is a player 'casual' because he only spends twelve to fifteen hours online, spread unevenly across the week, while his room mate is 'hardcore' because she spends sixteen hours online, in solid four hour blocks, four days out of the week? While labels are an attractive thing, and indeed a necessary thing for most of us – they allow us to put people and ideas into neat, regimented places in our subconscious. But taking those labels and applying them to large swathes of gamers, and then attributing them all with the same hopes, desires and goals is not only foolish, it's stereotyping.
I'm not a loot whore, I never have been and I never will be. Gear, to me, is a means unto an end – it allows me to progress through the game faster and easier than would otherwise have been possible. The social side of gaming is more important to me than loot, and before you think, "lol casual", let me point out that the social side of gaming has never been of huge interest until recently. Social gaming is fine in theory, but is dependent on the one thing that so few of us have managed to find in our lifetime – pleasant, like-minded individuals on the Internet. Clearly I'm not the only person who worries about the Internet being a breeding ground for the lowest common denominator.
In my experience there seems to be an attitude prevalent among the vocal minority in the MMO community that raiding guilds, in particular raiding guilds who measure their success by the amount and quality of loot they have obtained – are by their nature better players and more deserving of attention from developers than 'casual' players who only dabble in raids, or simple choose not to raid at all. This is fallacy, and the kind of false logic that should not be entertained.
Note that I'm not saying all 'hardcore' raiders think this way, or believe that they are better people, I'm just pointing out what I've seen of the community in general – a slavish adoration of those who chalk up world-firsts, and players who brandish their Armoury profiles around like some kind of battle standard.
Sadly, you can't please all of the people all of the time, and that's certainly true with World of Warcraft– I love the game dearly, but at its heart the game doesn't offer any more than the continual upgrade of gear, one piece after another. That's not to say you can't have fun in WoW without concentrating on gear, it's certainly possible, but the game wasn't designed with the tools that non-raiding players may want to use. A fully-featured, well-integrated set of RP tools? Fat chance. A completely separate, but self-sustaining PvP environment? You must be joking. A free-market economy tied to a detailed, well-designed crafting system where 'crafter' is a valid player archetype? Look elsewhere.
As things stand, the devs in WoW appear to be taking steps to reduce the difference in gear available to 'casual' and 'hardcore' players, a move that is only to be applauded in my book. High-end loot should of course be of substantial quality, but the argument that the 'hardcore' raiding scene should be the only option for those wishing to obtain such loot doesn't hold any water with me. An argument like that feels like the epitome of players crying out simply for what they want to see and have, rather than what will make the game better all-round.
The implication in arguments like this is that raiders raid for gear and that the acquisition of that gear and the ownership of it – because it sets them apart from those without it – is the be all and end all of their gaming. This is stereotyping again, and there are no doubt plenty of players out there who raid simply for the fun of it – the challenge of coordinating a large group of people, the excitement of seeing new content, the honour of defeating new bosses first – players who raid to raid.
Non-raiders, in my experience, typically come together with much the same goal – to have fun, except they go about it in a different way, which is the heart of the problem – how do you keep all of your players happy, when you can pick ten of them, and get twenty different answers when you ask them what they want from the game?
Sadly, I don't have the answer to that question, but then again, I don't have to – it's not my job. It probably isn't your job either, but hit the Comments below and let us know if you do have any ideas.