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The Rise of the Casual MMO


It's always a little odd to hear someone talk about gaming as 'hardcore' or 'casual' because it is, after all, still just game. When we log out of the game and turn off our computers, we've come to the same place no matter if we spent our time clearing Karazhan at record speed, or spent it in a tavern discussing the finer points of blood elf hair-styling over tankards of ale. When someone announces they are making a casual MMO, what do they mean by that? World of Warcraft was at one point described as a casual MMO, and perhaps compared to EverQuest or Dark Age of Camelot, it was. It set up a milestone for casual gaming, but gaming has moved on and now even WoW is considered too hardcore for many. How is it possible to define what a casual MMO is, when the definition keeps changing?

At IMGDC, RebelMonkey co-founder Nick Fortugno tried to answer exactly that question. He starts with the premise that casual games are those playable by everyone -- from children below ten to their grandparents and all points between. Club Penguin is a casual MMO. Webkinz, Parking Wars and Kart Rider -- all are MMOs to the casual gamer. They spend just as much time as so-called 'hardcore' gamers playing. The main difference between casual players and hardcore ones in his mind is one of the learning curve. Casual games are the ones where you can jump right in and need know virtually nothing about playing. Choosing a class, doing quests, finding their way in the world, grinding xp -- to a casual gamer, these are insurmountable obstacles.The multi-player aspect of MMOs, though, is easy to understand. Prior to about a hundred years ago, the only single-player game was Solitaire. People are social animals, and we like doing something ten times more if we are doing them with other people.

Spurred by WoW's success, game developers are rushing to embrace casual MMOs. By being even easier than WoW, they hope to duplicate and surpass its success. What will the MMO landscape look like in five years, when the first 100 million player MMO takes center stage? Nick Fortugno has given us a possibly alarming glimpse into a future of games with no challenges at all.

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