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The death of hardcore gaming?

According to our panel of experts, the secret lies in their ability to draw in everyone - hardcore, casual and all points in between. "GTA, I think, is a very casual game," said Jaffe. "GTA is kind of brilliant in that they were able to appease both audiences... You could be as casual or as hardcore as you wanted to be."

"Games like GTA and Pokémon 'get it' because they hook gamers with simple goals… and then ease them into the next layers of depth," said Payton, adding, "that's beautiful game design. To make that megaton hit, you must not only build the game that casuals can jump right into, but you also need to install layers of gameplay depth for more seasoned gamers to explore. That's no easy task, but something we're aiming to do with [Metal Gear Solid 4]."

Canessa agreed. "A good game can be very accessible - meaning that someone can just walk up to it and start playing, it's intuitive and easy to use - while still having good play depth for dedicated users," he said. The problem with many of the games aimed mainly at hardcore audiences, meanwhile, is that they're "over-engineered for what they are, in a quest to add value to justify a price point," he said.

Above: Is this the true face of casual gaming? It all depends on how you decide to play

For Yoshida, however, it's all down to everyone liking great design: "Just driving a car in Gran Turismo or cruising around the city in GTA hitting whatever objects in the game you can find is a compelling experience for some casual users, but at the end of the day it is the overall gameplay experience that is universal. If it is good... it is good."

Of course, concerns about the gradual encroachment of casual games on the hardcore market aren't floating around because of Sony, David Jaffe or even EA and its casual-games initiative. They're floating around because Nintendo has allowed the Wii and DS to become repositories for casual retail games, while more "traditional" experiences that might appeal to hardcore gamers seem to be getting rarer. As Jaffe put it, "there's nothing on [Wii] that I want to play, and I like casual games.

"[It's] not because I don't want to, not because I don't believe in what they're doing with it - I'm so happy that they have managed to sort of reach a huge audience with this," Jaffe continued. "I do wonder: all these Wiis that are getting sold, what are people playing? Are they really playing Mario Party 8, are they really playing Wii Play and such? They must be, but I don't know. I haven't found myself coming back to it nearly as much as my 360 or my PlayStation 3. Or my PlayStation 2."

After graduating from college in 2000 with a BA in journalism, I worked for five years as a copy editor, page designer and videogame-review columnist at a couple of mid-sized newspapers you've never heard of. My column eventually got me a freelancing gig with GMR magazine, which folded a few months later. I was hired on full-time by GamesRadar in late 2005, and have since been paid actual money to write silly articles about lovable blobs.