"Hardcore gamers need to chill out," said Payton. "I don't know how long I will stay in this industry, but I do hope that I can see a day when hardcore gamers lose this 'us versus them' mentality." The success of casual gaming on consoles is a blessing in disguise for gamers, he said, as it's opened the door for smaller independent games - like Super Stardust HD, Geometry Wars and even Penny Arcade Adventures - that might never have made it onto consoles years ago.
Jaffe agrees, saying that "there's a rise in both casual games and… smaller hardcore games, and a lot of times there's a tendency to lump both of them in together." He added that there are plenty of "casual" games that get so intense as to be considered hardcore; "I think the difference is just that the entry level and the thematic for those games are clearly aimed at people who don't consider themselves gamers."
Above: Without the push toward casual games, titles like Super Stardust HD might never have seen the light of day
Whatever the case, hardcore gamers don't seem to have much to fear - yet. "Hardcore is exactly that," said Shuhei Yoshida, SCEA's vice president of product development, "the industry's core. They are the early adopters and the ones who drive developers to innovate... They will always be hugely important.
"I think you will see a rush by a handful of publishers to develop more casual games," Yoshida continued, "but the industry stalwarts will also make sure to keep a foot firmly planted in other categories."
Even Greg Canessa, vice president of video game platforms at casual-game juggernaut PopCap, agrees that hardcore is still going strong. "I don't really see the core gamer market as shrinking at all - just the opposite," Canessa said. "I just think that it's growing at a slower rate than the casual gamer right now. ... Today, the hard core gamer is smaller by numbers, but they spend far more per year on games," he said, although he added that casual-game sales will likely outstrip other genres in the eventual future.
Trussel put it more bluntly: "Casual games will not replace hardcore games," he said. "High quality, creative, deep games will always have a large, loyal audience and be very profitable."
In fact, Yoshida said, NPD sales data reveals that action titles still account for a quarter of all videogame sales - meaning they remain the industry's best-selling titles, regardless of what some casual-games evangelists might be telling you. And year after year, the biggest videogame megahits are anything but casual - we're talking massive time-sinks like Madden, Grand Theft Auto, The Sims and Pokémon (yes, Pokémon - try talking to a fan sometime if you want to see what "hardcore" really is). If casual is really the quickest way to the mass market, why are these games - each of which appeals to a fairly hardcore fanbase that tends to get deeply involved in them - such huge successes?