Comparing how Spore and League appeal to casual and hardcore players. "Having something for everybody" can be an overarching design goal. One approach is by compounding multiple games into one.
You can still read this if you haven't played either game. If I use any "Words Only Players Understand", I'll explain it first.
I talked about variety in the last post by exploring more obstacles or tracks to drive around in a vehicle.
That’s not the only way to achieve variety. You can just put “multiple games” into a single game. Game Freak’s Pocket Card Jockey combines raising horses with playing the solitaire card game. Mario Party is a board game, plus ~70 minigames baked in.
Let’s say that again in our heads. You are raising horses, playing solitaire, rolling dice to move on a board, and mashing the A button for coins (one of many minigames).
That really sounds like totally different games being packaged together.
Although they’re totally different, the results of a one game can then give you rewards in another game. Playing solitare… boosts your horse mid-race in Pocket Card Jockey. And winning Mario Party minigames gives you coins and items that help win the board game.
The games packed into Spore and League of Legends however, are more connected than that. Lets take a look.
a shallow introduction
If you’ve played both games… you can skip this section.
First, Spore, which is The Sims meets Civilization and and Flow. Slowly eat microscopic creatures, grow and spread until you reach sizes similar to Real-World-Humans, where you go from tribal conqueror to space-faring diplomat/tyrant.
You start off with a single cellular life form, it grows and becomes intelligent, then you conquer your planet and build an empire.
Then there’s League of Legends, which was inspired by Dota, which was inspired by Aeon of Strife. These are now simply called MOBAs. [wikipedia link]
You control just one character for the entirety of a (typically) 30-50 minute game.
You play a 5v5 multiplayer game on a somewhat symmetrical map. Minions spawn from both team’s bases, moving across 3 pathways (“lanes”) that link the two bases.
You win if you break the enemy “base”, which is the really big building next to each team’s spawning area. They have always been at the bottom-left and top-right corner of the map for each team, in both League or Dota.
If you and your enemy are tied in strength, you wont break each other’s base. Teams race each other to become powerful, and leverage their differences in strategy, combat ability, and powerups in order to take down fortifications.
5 games in 1!
Each game officially defines 5 ways the gameplay can split.
Spore has 5 classified stages with different gameplay, which you must play in order when you start a new game.
- [Cell] Eat and grow in the primordial soup. Choose what type of food you eat. Arcade style game where you swim around and eat.
- [Creature] Develop your DNA. Choose how you deal with other creatures. If anything, similar to The Sims (Will Wright designed Sims and Spore)
- [Tribal] Control your species, deal with others. Choose diplomacy or aggression. If anything, similar to an RTS (Starcraft, Command and Conquer)
- [Civilization] Cities, industries and war. Focus on either fighting/religion/economy. If anything, similar to Sid Meier's Civilization... shouldn't come as a surprise.
- [Space] Your galactic empire. Battle/Colonize/Ally across space, the final frontier.
The creature and race you grow in Spore has “consequences”, where depending on your actions in previous stages grants you certain extra abilities.
League of Legends instead has 5 distinct roles for each team. Each role is played simultaneously by a team member during each match.
- [Top Lane] Typically some close range, sturdy and strong character.
- [Mid Lane] Typically some high damage character with key abilities.
- [Bot ADC] "Attack Damage Carry". Delivers super-high damage after buying items.
- [Bot Support] Supports the ADC at bottom lane, letting them have the gold for items.
- [Jungler] Gets gold from monsters between the lanes. Causes chaos in the 3 lanes.
There are different classes of characters designed to fill those 5 roles. The general control scheme is always the same no matter who or what you play.
In addition however, League subtly has these 5 stages of gameplay.
- [Early Laning] Fight only minions to level up and get abilities. Also, you get gold.
- [Laning] Abilities either help fight minions, or damage opponents in the same lane.
- [Roaming] Sneaking or rushing through areas to force teamfights.
- [Teamfighting] Some or all of your team collapses onto some or all of the enemy.
- [Winning] Destroy the final enemy building... by whatever method works.
Like Spore, what you do in earlier phases of the game affect your abilities and potential to win as the game progresses, except your opponent is trying to do the same!
The controls in League do not change, but how you get gold and experience, and who or what you fight changes entirely by the end of a game.
Those 5 roles I outlined are important for the discussion ahead, so don’t worry. I’d never try to waste your time.
Anyway, why are we having various outlets for gameplay? We should be getting some benefit from this.
Well, there is one famous split in the gaming demographic. Perhaps, you want to entice people on either side of this split to buy your game?
the casual and hardcore split
Look, there are many different ways of talking about this. We can revisit this, don’t worry. But for now, we need some definition of what makes a casual or hardcore player.
It’s about how seriously you take games. So to appeal to both sides, you need gameplay that both player types are interested in.
The amount of TIME and ENERGY put into playing games is how serious you are.
Casual play is simply doing what you felt like doing. Casual players can take their own pace, and pursue the interesting parts of the game. You don’t have to play all of a game or invest a huge amount of time or energy. And that’s great. Some people have jobs to do, or issues outside videogames that drain most of their time and energy.
I try to not define games as casual/hardcore. Only players as casual/hardcore.
For example, take Bejeweled: You could research optimal clear patterns and memorise the scores that you level up on. But you can also just enjoy matching 3 of the same color.
So what did Spore and League do?
To cater to casual play, simply make a variety of interesting content. The different stages, roles, or game tasks we mentioned earlier take care of this.
But players won’t immediately know what they enjoy. So we have to help them.
In League, that means implementing a team builder so people who only enjoy one role can play it most of the time. It means designing character abilities that might be easier to pick up (like targeted right-click-the-enemy abilities vs skill shots that require aiming).
If you hate having to land the killing blow on minions to get gold, you can play Support. If you hate being in lane altogether, you play Jungler. You can skip certain aspects of the game that way.
But the Jungler role could be scary since the Jungle map has low visibility and the enemy Jungler can sneak up and kill you. Perhaps for that reason you’d enjoy playing Mid/Top lane or Bot lane ADC and focus on farming minions.
Now, for Spore, appealing to casual play means letting players play the stage they like the most. Some players enjoy the early fish-feeding arcade and creature-building customisation stages. Some people think the game “opens up” and becomes interesting when you reach the space age and start to become a god.
If you beat the game and decided you didn’t like the space age, you are not forced to play it. If you hated the early cellular stage, You can skip that too, because after a single playthrough, you can start off at any preferred stage of the game, and also with any species you’ve raised previously.
It’s all about choice. If a player only likes part of a game, don’t force them to play the rest. Of course, make sure there’s something they like in the first place.
With that in mind lets move onto hardcore play.
Hardcore play is about setting goals, and desiring the satisfaction of accomplishing those goals. The hardcore player’s desire is to accomplish the goal as thoroughly or as quickly as possible. These days the games set goals to accomplish rather blatantly: there are achievements or ranking systems.
Is it hardcore to try and 100% clear a game? Is it hardcore to rush through a story mode? I think as long as you are putting in a high amount of time or mental energy then yes.
For Spore: You optimise your progression and strength going into the space age.
- I want to try the all consequences from each stage (requires multiple new games)
- I want to design the best creature, better than anyone else's
- I want to increase my civilization's economy as soon as possible
- I want to claim the whole planet/galaxy via ONLY diplomacy/war/manipulation
- I want to go from cell to center of the galaxy in the fastest time possible
For League: You learn and execute the best way your role makes the team win.
- I want the killing blow on every possible minion to maximise my gold
- I want to build the best items to improve my offensive and defensive powers
- I want to use my abilities effectively on key targets to win teamfights/skirmishes
- I want to destroy any enemy building that is not being defended
- I want to win and increase my rank or become professional
There are way more goals than this. But hopefully you get the idea.
A hardcore player does not need to succeed at any/all goals. But it is what they (potentially subconsciously) desire.
Failure to achieve a goal can be upsetting. Hardcore players sometimes look down on casual players with the idea that they avoid achieving any goal to avoid upset. This is not always the case, so err… try not to be quick to judge.
If casual players need choices, hardcore players need purpose: A meaningful challenge where the player risks failure. The reward for victory? Growth of a player’s character, or progression of rank leading to new gameplay or harder opponents.
Hardcore players might see the game differently, not that they like or hate eating microscopic creatures or killing enemy minions, but instead that they are good or bad at doing those tasks.
Just remember, you can still reach some hardcore rewards as a casual player. When this happens, this is the moment where the player might choose to become more hardcore. Perhaps there’s some design related to this we can talk about some other time.
I don’t expect casual and hardcore players to understand each other, but it’s never good to look down on people you don’t understand. Keep this in mind, and give each player room to breathe the air they prefer.
Also players can approach one game casually, and another game as hardcore as they like. Don’t expect to be able to force players to play in any particular style.
Even after saying all this, Spore and League are totally different games. This means there are other ways you can define splits in the gaming demographic. But save yourself the time: just use the easiest one to think about, and make sure you cater your audience(s).
Have fun out there, won’t you?
[4. Spore and League of Legends]