What is Mid-core? An Essay on Outgrowing Hardcore

What is mid-core? Defining this buzzword is a hot topic in the games industry. Here’s my favorite definition which I have honed through multiple talks with other developers.

Mid-core is a movement to create games using a balance of meaningful gameplay and broad accessibility.

Mid-core is more than a buzzword — it’s the natural evolution of games! It’s a movement. Hardcore games have some of the most memorable gameplay moments in existence but many contain large barriers of entry that seriously limit their audience. Social and casual games have the opposite problem. They are great at getting players to where the fun is and they do it as smoothly as possible, but keeping players there is difficult because the concepts are overly simplistic or exploitative. There exists something in the middle of these two extremes and this is the place mid-core aims to take us. But where exactly?

Finding the sweet spot

Imagine that we’re trying to find diamonds. Diamonds made of fun. It’s tiring work digging for diamonds. When you find one it’s covered in dirt and debris and trapped in rock. It’s deep underground. It’s only interesting to other miners. These people are game designers. They want to find the source of the fun. It’s hiding out there, waiting to be extracted.

A little bit of fun, fresh from the earth.

A little bit of fun, fresh from the earth.


Before showing the diamond to anyone they will clean the dirt and debris off it. The diamond now shines and can be enjoyed by some people. “What an amazing find!” they’ll say. These diamonds are raw — beautiful, but rough. They are hardcore games.
The fun is cleaned. A hardcore game.

The fun is cleaned. A hardcore game.


The mid-core designer is not satisfied with the respectable audience his nugget commands. It is a niche. The nugget could be enjoyed by more if it were shaped into something. Through deliberate cutting and polishing the fun reaches its final form, a gem.
Mid-core has brought us here.

Mid-core has brought us here.


Finally, our analogy ends with a cautionary tale. Polishing alone does not mean you end up with a breathtaking gem. Diamonds are about refraction; what matters is not only what edges you’ve removed, but also what edges you’ve decided to keep. If you don’t know when to stop you end up with, well, a see-through ball.
It's a facebook game.

It’s a facebook game.

What Mid-core is Not

Like any new word mid-core means many different things to many people. Here are a few things mid-core is not.

  • Mid-core is not a demographic. Mid-core games, like a diamond’s beauty, are for everyone to enjoy.
  • Mid-core is not a statement of depth. Mechanics of strategy are not removed in mid-core games, they are carefully distilled into their finest essence.
  • Mid-core is not a balance of new and old. Novel concepts can be the subject of a mid-core game, but careful attention must be given to the final cut since no blueprint exists.

Speaking more abstractly, mid-core does not describe a game so much as it describes the process and thinking that created the game. We can’t go back through time and start labeling classics like Tetris or Mario as mid-core games because their creators were not trying to make mid-core games. They were not trying to find a balance of art and business because back then the business side of games boiled down to make something fun.

Conclusion

Fun is no longer enough. In a market that has grown ultra competitive due to the waves of new business models, platforms, and form factors we are discovering fun at an incredible pace. The games that continue to rise above have not only found something fun they’ve figured out how to get players interested before they are distracted by something else. The mid-core movement is caring simultaneously about the art and business of video games, and giving neither preferential treatment.

If you were high on art these past few years you’re probably in search of a business plan so that you can keep making games. For the developers who have focused more on the business side of things they are finding that there aren’t enough tricks to keep players around and it’s time to try out some good old-fashioned fun. The important thing is that we’ll all be together again soon, right in the mid-core middle.