Back in 2008, Jeff wrote a story named "I Am A Midcore Gamer" and I followed-it-up with a story named "The Midcore Gamer Manifesto". Both stories travelled the interbaun far and wide and caused a bit of a stir for a couple weeks. Many people wrote us about the idea of "midcore" and we felt we had started a bit of sub-genre of gamer. For a while it seemed like it would become something significant. However, since we don't do this full-time, we really had no way to keep the momentum going. and within a couple months it all died down and went away.
We've revisited the idea couple times in the past few years, but for the most part, we have left it alone. A couple people tried to get the word "midcore" added to Wikipedia, but the rules there made it very difficult for them to succeed. We did not persue it ourselves because the idea of it felt disingenuous. Every once in a while, someone will say to us "hey, 8bitrocket, the Midcore guys!", but other than that, the whole idea has simply disappeared.
A couple weeks ago, it occurred to us that the game industry has changed so much in the past few years, it might be time to take a look at that manifetso again and see how things relate today. What we found was very interesting: Instead of a living idea, the "Midcore Manifesto" was really more like a set of predictions from some guys in their late 30's who had played video games all their lives, and needed to find a way to make that work with their family and work lives. A set of predictions that, more or less, came true. Below is the manifesto again, annotated with our present day comments.
First off, the whole idea of "Midcore" did not have any roots beyond 15 seconds of internet fame. The game industry ignored it, (plus all similar ideas to add to the word "core" like 'hardcore casual') and just settled on buckets of "Core" and "Casual" gamer. While we still don't think those names work, but it pretty much shut us up. Some days I think we were naive and stupid for even trying to make these ideas known. Other days I think it is kind of cool that our little blog got so much play for when it was popular. Personally, we never use the word in conversation unless we are trying to be ironic, i.e. "Yeah, that idea will be as successful and long lasting as 'Midcore!" Now, here is a rundown of the specific "mid-core" manifesto points, and there we think they fit in today's game market.
1. Save Anywhere/Autosave/Respect Our Time:
We only have time to play games in roughly 5-60 minute increments. We need the ability to save our game at a moment's notice. If a game's difficulty is designed around the fact that is cannot be saved anywhere, it is too hardcore for us. Not only do we need to save anywhere, but we don't want to waste the time we have invested in the game if we can't save any where. An alternative or addition to "Save Anywhere" is an intelligently used 'autosave' feature.We would like something significant to happen in a game during the time period we have allotted to play. A plot point, new item, finished race, completed mission or task should take roughly 30 minutes (give or take 15 minutes) to achieve. This allows us to see progress in a game, and keeps us interested in continuing. Games with long cut scenes (i.e Final Fantasy X 30 minute intro) are rendered unplayable because we never have enough time to get past the exposition and into the game. Our free time is precious, and it needs to be respected.
This is still true, we only get to play games for 5-60 minutes at a time, and we still need to save. In the past couple years, many Web based games are now offering "save game" through services like Mochi and Gamersafe. PopCap games such as Bookworm Adventures and Plants v Zombies have always had save anywhere / anytime functionality. A lot of social games and MMOs don't even offer a "save" anymore, they just do it often and automatically. Console games still lag far behind on this one though, still offering limited save areas, checkpoint saves, or after-level saves only. What gives? How about consoles makers simply giving us a "save state" so we can save the current memory snap-snot and come back later. Would that work?
2. Games Should be Affordable
We are not suggesting that new games should cost $.99 nor are we suggesting that state-of-the-art releases should only cost $29.99. But we are saying this: We can't justify spending $59.99 on games each month unless they can also be played with the rest of our families (read: Wii). For games targeted to us, $19.99 is a perfect price, but $9.99 is nicer while $29.99 is our upper limit. $.99 is great price for downloadable classic games. Also, we Mid-Core Gamers can be very patient. When Elder Scroll Oblivion was released, it fit perfectly into our demographic (see below), but the price was far too high. Now, after nearly two years, the price has come-down to $29.99. Bingo. We can bide our time for a good game.
This has already happened. More games are available now at better prices than ever before. Web games are mostly free with in-game ads these days. Most iPhone games cost $.99. Many new computer games retail at $19.99 or "29.99" and are downloadable. Xbox live game are $5-$15. Really, only the "core" platforms have games that come out for $69.99 or $59.99. We have to say, we think we nailed this one. Companies still charge for new technology (i.e Kinect Games for $49.99), but for the most part the price of "midcore" gaming has fallen, just like like we knew it would (and should).
3. Reasonable Graphic Choices
We don't buy computer hardware like we used to. We don't upgrade for the sake of upgrading, we don't care too much about getting top FPS scores. In fact, many of our games are played on laptops with good (but not the latest) graphics cards. Games do not need to employ the latest 3D graphic technology just for the sake of having it, or require the latest OS. Games can have nice graphics (2D or 3D), but the most important aspect of the graphics is that they fit the game and serve it well.
People say the current consoles (save for the Wii) still have a couple years of life or more left in them, so their graphics won't be updated well into this decade. Web and iPhone games are still mostly in 2D. Xbox Live Arcade and Wii Virtual console games are mostly in 2D. The Wii and DS are successful, even though the graphics they produce are no where near the PC/PSP/PS3/360. It seems to us that this message has been broadcast and received loud and clear. The current crop of hyper-successful social games are unabashedly 2D, and their legions of paying fans don't seem to care one bit. However, when we play a game with an amazing narrative and graphics to match (i.e. Gears Of War 2) it’s hard not to be sucked-in and get behind the idea of playing games with graphics that “blow you away”, it just doesn’t have to be every single game.
4. We Love Single Player Games
Single-player games are our bread-and-butter. We understand that the gaming world is filled with amazing hard-core and multi-player gaming experiences. We also realize that those games usually take more time and resources than we have available. For this reason, we eat-up single-player games. Even single-player games that appear to be "hard core" would fit the Mid-Core mold if they adhere to the other parts of this manifesto. A great example of a single-player game that fits the Mid-Core is Elder Scrolls Oblivion. It is an expansive, yet "light" RPG that fits many of the aspects of this manifesto: (engrossing depth, $29.99 price point, works on a good laptop, can save anywhere, etc).
In the past few years, multi-player has become expensive to support for game developers, and a premium has been placed on it. You need Xbox Gold to play multi-player on a 360, and many times your copy of the game has to be brand-new to get access to multi-player features. At the same time, some very popular games like Angry Birds, Plants Vs. Zombies, Bejeweled Blitz and Farmville are essentially, single player games. In fact, most of the the top social games might have co-op or spectator mode, and players might help each other asynchronously. However, but as far as classic multi-player games with 2 or more players on the screen simultaneously, those games don't feel the need to support that feature. and the games are still immensely profitable,
5. Cooperative Games On One Screen Are Gold
Cooperative two-player games are gold. If they are deep enough to appeal the hard-core portion of our gamer-personality, but easy enough so we can get the wife/husband/significant other and/or the kids involved, we can probably play them beyond the 60 minute barrier. A very good example of this type of game is Lego Star Wars. It's appeals to our inner geek, has long and interesting levels, but allows two people to play on the screen at once. Of course, Lego Star Wars did not allow the game to be "saved any where", but it fit many of the other aspects of this manifesto.
See the games New Super Mario Wii plus Lego Star Wars, Batman, and Indiana Jones and even Gears Of War 2. Many new games use this technique. Our kids and we thank the game gods for it, as it makes playing together easy, fun, and rewarding.
6. Multi-player Games: Play Anytime, Find Friends Easily, No Fees, Voice Chat Not Necessary
We do enjoy playing multi-player games online with friends and sometimes, even strangers. However, there is a limit to what we can handle. First off, an "instant and anonymous multi-player mode" similar to the Wii version of Guitar Hero can work very well because it means we can compete quickly, but each game only takes a few minutes. However, if we do want to play against friends, you need to make it very easy. We need to be able to tell very quickly if someone we know is online, and if so, connect with and challenge them instantly. The Wii is terrible for this purpose, XBox Live is better, but it requires a monthly fee (see below). If Playstation Home remains free, it might be the perfect model. Also, one more thing. We don't want to hear 13 year old kids curse at us for not moving quickly enough. If your multi-player games requires us to participate in voice-chat, we are probably not interested.
See all the most popular Facebook Social Games. Bingo.
7. "Casual" Games Don't Have To Be Simple Games
We Mid-Core Gamers love all types of games. To some extent, Mid-Core gamers are "casual" gamers in that we do enjoy many of the types of games that are geared towards the "casual" demographic. However, we tend towards "casual" style games with a bit more depth. For instance, Bejeweled is a passable diversion, but Puzzle Quest is an obsession. Bookworm Deluxe is nice way to kill some minutes, but Bookworm Adventures is an unshakable addiction. Where there is depth, but with the aforementioned save anywhere feature, we will be there.
There are many people who think the current hot "Social Games" are simple "cow-clicking" contests, but really, that is not the case for most of them. While they don't have the sophisticated enemy AI of the latest Call Of Duty, nor the complex strategic ramifications of tech tree of a game like Civilzation V, they are certainly not "simple" arcade games or "mouse clickers" either. Farmville, for example, takes a very addictive cycle of tending to crops, and layers all sorts of quests, achievements and activities on top of it, while at the same time, blending in social interaction for players that thirst for it. A game like Empires And Allies takes that even further, adding a a strategic layer on top of it. Furthermore, here at 8bitrocket.com towers, our motto has always been "the fewer rules the better". Games don't need to have complex set of rules to be deep and interesting. Board games like Risk, Blokus, Scrabble, Boggle, Apples To Apples and Settlers Of Cataan have proven it, and computer games should be no different.
8. Size Does Not Matter
The last two commercial games I have installed on my computer have been just about 5.5 GB in size each. 5.5 Gigabytes! I believe just about every single game ever made before 1994, could fit in 5.5 GB with room for 1000's more. Graphically those games could never compare with the modern 5.5 GB behemoth, but game-play and depth wise? A lot of those pre 1994 games had much more than in some modern games. The point here is not that "retro games are better" but that the size of the game on the hard drive is not necessarily proportional to its quality as piece of entertainment. Most good Flash games download in less than 1 megabyte. Good, downloadable PC games can be had that are under 20 megabytes (i.e.: New Star Soccer). Mid-Core Gamers do not need bloat, they need well designed games with solid game-play. If a game is worth the 5.5 GB required, that is fine, but if not, it eill probably be removed fairly quickly and never played again.
OK, so we may have been wrong about this one. Does it really matter? We are not so sure. Hard drives are so large these days, space really doesn't seem like a concern. Dragon Age Origins is 20GB! However, if you only have , say. a 100GB Hard Drive on a laptop, freeing up 20MB to play Dragon Age could take days of intensive (and sometimes heartbreaking) file management. Still, we're willing to let this one go.
9. No need to be "mature" for the sake of being "mature"
Mid-Core Gamers are mostly adults. Mid-Core Gamers were also once 13 years old, and also once laughed about the name Lake Titticaca" in Social Science class. However, that does not mean we need resort to only consuming "mature" material, or that our in-game humor has to be at the scatological level. Yes we do play games, but we don't want to have to hide them, their boxes, or the game magazines we read from our families simply because they might have a cover featuring, for example, an artist' rendition of scantily-clad female robot tearing the intestines out of space marine. Mature content is not necessarily taboo, it just needs to be used to serve the story, not in place of it.
You know, it's funny. In the past couple years the game industry has seemed to mature about being "mature". Look at Duke Nukem Forever. The content is mature but childish at the same time, and the game industry (and the buying public) have responded by not buying it. Bravo.
10. Yes To One-Time Fees, Rarely To Monthly Fees,
Mid-Core Gamers are not fond of monthly fees. We can not always subscribe to your game, live service, player matching server, etc. if it means we have to pay for it month after month. We can't afford it, and we don't want to have to explain this fee to our husband/wife/significant other. For the rare game, a monthly fee might be workable, but we won't last very long. However, if there is a compelling reason, we will pay one-time fees. One-time fees for updates, new chapters, sequels, power boosts (i.e. Adventure Quest), add-on modules etc. are acceptable. However, the one-time fees must be reasonable, and offer a significant benefit. A One-time fee that allows us to buy things that should have been included in the game in the first place (i.e. Horse Armor) is not acceptable.
Again, the micropayment and social game revolution has proved this one correct too.
All in all, we think the game industry has moved towards the ideas of MidCore, even if they never adopted the term in any serious way. It had nothing to do with us proclaiming it or defining it in a manifesto, but it was just the natural progression of an industry that is constantly re-defining to stay relevant to the game playing public. This industry is 40 years old now and while it might have made some mis-steps along the way, as a whole it has evolved and will continue to evolve itself Even though the "MidCore" name has all but disappeared (we certainly didn’t do much to keep the idea going) we see signs of "Midcore"ness all over the place just without the name attached. This might be because MidCore became mainstream, and there was no need for the idea any longer.