There are two “formal” playstyles in MMO gaming, the casuals and the hardcores, and there has been a label war since the terms became overly mainstream during vanilla World of Warcraft. We can define casuals players as players with little interest in playing a specific game and/or having a limited amount of playtime. Hardcore players are defined as either having a large amount of interest in playing a specific game and/or have extended periods of playtime.
Labeling players isn’t the best way to generalize the community because everyone’s situation is different. However, these labels are necessary to categorize the two prevalent forms of playstyle – those who don’t care about the game or don’t have much time to play and those who care a lot or can spend tons of time into the game. A player who can play 10 hours a day five days a week will be much more capable than someone who gets a few hours in on the weekend. Likewise, time doesn’t necessarily define skill, and players with a lot of interest in the game can make the most of their limited time and become very capable at the game as well.
This comes into play whenever prestige items or player vs. player combat comes up. For the most part, a single player’s actions have little effect on another, but “hardcore” players can utilize their interest or time to gain a leg up in competition and are the ones who usually receive the best loot in the game first. Casuals players, strapped for time or care, generally want the game normalized while hardcore players want the difficulty ramped up.
Star Wars: The Old Republic has done a great job of keeping everyone on one level playing field. Warzones do not suffer from “twinking,” where higher level players feed gear to lower level players in order to have an unfair advantage when fighting newer players. Flashpoints are easily accessible by everyone and reward loot evenly throughout a party and group sizes are small, making it easier to gather the required group mates to progress through content.
Of course, players are not satisfied with this. They want harder content and a larger line drawn between the casual and the hardcore players. They want more prestige gear and cosmetic items. They want a visible difference between someone who plays a lot or is more “skilled” vs. a player who doesn’t play much or doesn’t care much for the game.
Min / Maxing is a good example of a hardcore player, someone who has a high enough interest in a game to go through the effort of breaking down their skills for the most optimal priority list / rotation.
Yet, should this truly be the way to go? Can you even satisfy the “casuals” and the “hardcores” no matter what you do? Should we start punishing players because they’re not “hardcore” enough for certain content? I feel the answer is yes, to a degree. See, harder content creates a “carrot on the stick,” a goal that is difficult to obtain is one that takes longer to reach. This makes the game more satisfying by making players feel as if they haven’t done everything in the game yet.
On the other hand, there is no good way to go about it. World of Warcraft is still iterating the formula after years of changing major game mechanics trying to appease the playerbase. You can create difficult content that requires true dedication to the game, but make players feel alienated whenever there is no possibility that they can do it. You can make all of the content accessible, but then players feel as if there is nothing in the game to do once they’ve conquered it.
SWTOR has taken a very interesting approach to the formulation. First, the leveling grind is extremely accessible and as mentioned previously, warzones do not allow for twinking. Second, flashpoints and operations contain different difficulties that range from a story mode to, eventually, a very challenging experience that will require players to put their best foot forward.
They’ve also drawn a distinct line between PvP and PvE, with PvP gear being only for PvP and PvE gear being only for PvE, preventing players who can grind dungeons week after week from dominating the PvP landscape. There is still a challenge in grinding all of the necessary commendations and it’s not as if you hit level 50 and you can walk in and do everything there is to offer.
As the game grows, so will the lines in the sand be drawn. Right now, we sit on the precipice of what SWTOR will become. As each content patch comes in, the game becomes more and more defined. Patch 1.2, a quality of life patch, has taken the game from “good” to “awesome” for many players and the future content patches seem more and more promising.
Yet, how will the landscape of the game change? Will SWTOR be one of the most accessible MMOs out there or will we see a shift to a more structured traditional style of gameplay where prestige items are the entire point of the game and the rest is pet grinding, credit farming, and making alts.
Why does any of this matter? Well, the accessibility of prestige items and PvP stats matter to many players and you usually will see a roundtable argument about how it's not fair that stuff isn't available to casuals and, on the other side, how it shouldn't be accessible to anyone but the most "elite."
I feel like there isn’t a very solid definition of what the end goal of the game is right now. The content is all accessible to most players, it has all been completed, and items from operations don’t necessarily increase your viability in PvP and most PvP gear can be grinded while leveling from 1 to 50. The actual endgame, especially with the legacy system, is to reiterate your character through the game and wait for each content patch to add in oodles of excitement and fun.
If that’s what the game becomes, then it will be a refreshing take on the MMO experience, but will it make the game fun? With great accessibility comes great boredom, as players chew through content and begin to beg for more. After all, as gamers we are greedy. We want more. We scream at developers who charge us for DLC that’s already included in a game, downrate great games because they weren’t long enough, and continue to pester developers to make sequels to franchises we love.
We are also consumers. We swallow content until our stomachs become bloated and continue to shove it down our throats as fast as possible. Developers, who want us to take small bites and chew thoroughly, will often gate content by adding artificial time sinks. This allows them to get more out content they’ve created. Sometimes it works, and players are satisfied, other times it can agitate them. A great example is World of Warcraft’s Icecrown Citadel, where each section was cordoned off until a set period of time. After waiting years after the release of Warcraft III to take on Arthas, players found that various doors stood in their way and they want to wait weeks for their unlocking.
In all of my rambling, I do try to make one point. Right now there is no such thing as a SWTOR “casual” and a SWTOR “hardcore.” The game is fully accessible and no matter how much or how little time you have, you can do pretty much everything the game has to offer. Will this change? Maybe. If it does, is it a good thing? No one would know, until the additional difficulties are added. Until then, we can wait and see.
So how do you feel? Should SWTOR be accessible to everyone and remain as difficult as it is now or should we see the implementation of prestige items and the accompanying difficulty increase, driving a line between the “casuals” and the “hardcores”? Let us know in the comments section below.