"Casual" and "hardcore" gamers were once thought to be two distinct groups, eyeing each other warily from across the wide chasm of the Internet. But a new study conducted by NPD Group on behalf of Big Fish Games has found that there is actually more overlap between the two groups than one might think.

The study, which surveyed nearly 3,000 U.S. gamers, identified 14 specific types of gamer within 39 different game genres. Casual gamers were divided into 10 classifications including the "Nancy Drews" (older females who enjoy match-three games, brainteasers, mah jong, word games, hidden object games, jigsaws, trivia and puzzle games); "Tycoons" (fans of casual sim and tycoon games like Virtual Villagers or Fairy Godmother Tycoon); "Clickers" (those who play time management games, marble poppers and brick busters); "Frenetics" (platform jumping games) and "Dancers" (music games).

Core gamers were divided into four groups including "Heavy Action" (young males that prefer shooters, racing, fighting and sports games, and in-depth role-playing games); "Slow Strategists" (fans of in-depth turn-based role-playing games); and "Fantasy Worlds" (those who play online massively-multipayer online games [MMORPGs] like World of Warcraft).

Crossover gaming

While the commonly held belief is that casual and core gamers rarely play outside of their favorite style, the study revealed data that suggested otherwise. Specifically, the "Heavy Action" segment of core gamers were also the most likely to play games in the "Nancy Drew" segment, meaning that a great deal of crossover is actually taking place across genres and market segments.

"These results imply that continuing to categorize a gamer as only a core or casual player is limiting in its ability to fully describe the gamer," said Paul Thelen, founder and chief strategy officer of Big Fish Games, during his keynote speech this morning at the Casual Connect gaming conference in Seattle. "Saying ‘We are in the casual games business,’ could mean up to a dozen things and without additional specificity it is not much more useful
than simply saying, ‘We are in the games business.’"

Time and money

The study also offered data that would seem to dispel the myth that casual gamers don’t invest as much time playing games as core gamers do. While fans of turn-based role-playing games and MMORPGs were found to spend the most hours per week gaming, some casual segments such as the tycoon game fans and "Clickers" spent more hours gaming per week than the largest demographic of core gamers, the "Heavy Action"segment.

Furthermore, while gamers in the largest casual segment, the "Nancy Drews," were found to spend less per year than the "Heavy Action" segment, there are almost 40% more customers in the "Nancy Drew" segment – in other words, causal games still have the potential to be lucrative for publishers owing to the sheer number of people who play them. Gamers in the "Frenetics" and "Dancers" categories were even found to spend more per year than the "Heavy Action" gamers.

Capitalizing on diversity

"The gaming industry is far too large and too diverse to be all things to all people on all platforms in all areas of the world," said Thelen. "For companies to be truly successful, they need to focus on an audience, a business model and a platform."

Thelen continued: "Going after the casual or core audience lacks the specificity to have any real meaning and will not help define your vision enough to be successful."