But just what do we mean to mean when we say 'casual' gamers? Know thy audience and all that.
To take the term from Day9's storytime daily on MTG, I have to imagine that there are (or could be) a lot of 'casual-tryhards' playing SC2.
This kind of gamer is interested in winning (not just having a blast with friends, like the casual-social gamer might). But they also aren't so 'hardcore' as to dedicate dozens of hours out of their week into refining, mastering and optimizing builds and technique in order to demonstrate their mastery of the game.
In a variety of places, I think it has been correctly said that the minority of potential SC2 players are of the class of gamer for which 1v1, ranked ladder matches is the preferred option. This highly competitive, skill-rewarding, mistake-punishing gameplay mode simply isn't for everyone, even if it is the kind of play that constitutes things like the GSL or IPL.
On one hand, people might like to point out the shiny new Arcade section designed to promote UMS custom games that are not really RTS games at all that should appeal to the 'casual gamer.'
True, to a casual-social gamer, things like Storm of the Imperial Sanctum, Battle for Sky Fortress, Runling Run, etc, etc, are all the kind of game in which the skill -> success formula isn't quite as tight. The many elements of 'chaos' and places in which to deflect blame for losing take the sting out of 'losing (if the map even has such a condition)'
This is probably one of the reasons that MOBA genre games have been on such an upswing as of late. It's also the reason why most people probably won't play the resource-intensive, $60 SC2 client just to play MOBAs that are free-to-play elsewhere.
The existence of these kinds of games - MOBAs, ship battles, hero arenas, survival challenges, tower defences and so on - in some ways, are 'icing on the cake' that can provide an interesting and fun diversion from core-gameplay, but ultimately may not result in lasting playership.
These kinds of games do nothing for the 'casual-tryhard.'
The casual-tryhard wants to play SC2.
This means that they don't want to play BGH with its infinite resources, nor Fastest Maps with instant build times. They also might not want to play modded melee maps with their new units and balance (even though I personally think they're awesome).
To this end, the proposed introduction of unranked 'find match' modes by Blizzard would indeed be an obvious solution to the ladder anxiety that allegedly disuades many from playing SC2 and make the experience more easily enjoyable by more players.
But still, many may not want to face the pressure of going it solo. Indeed, many people have been commenting on the insane fun that went on in 4v4s in BW when you played with friends or strangers in a non-ranked kind of way. Being able to play Starcraft, without really having to worry so much about optimization and being able to rely on teammates and do team tactics and such is a social dimension to a melee game after all. And those kinds of experiences can be rather enjoyable and help retain players as players.
In playing some kind of Starcraft - rather than DotA in SC2-client - there can even be peripheral interest generated in the ultra-refined 1v1 prowess of the pro scene. The casual-tryhard can become at least somewhat familiar with melee and gain a better appreciation for the things that pros can do that casual players cannot.
So, the question is, "Will unranked 4v4 mode be enough to retain the casual-tryhard players?"
This brings me to the part where I actually suggest a possible change, rather than simply list my opinions and possible insights into things:
With the current maps that are available for 2v2, 3v3 and 4v4 gameplay, it might not be possible to have fun games in SC2. At least, not fun for the casual-tryhard.
I'll freely admit that I don't have a superb understanding of map design, nor of high-level 1v1 tactics and strategies.
But I feel as though I know enough to say that if you try to go 3 hatch before pool on any map in the non-1v1 (hereafter, multiplayer) map pool, you will die with almost 100% certainty. Or, you might end up putting your third in your opponent's natural.
I suspect, though may be wrong, that there is consensus that Blizzard's multiplayer map pool is awful and produces terrible games. They tend to involve impossible-to-hold rushes and extremely-low-econ games.
In the past, there have been a few discussions on attempting to create viable multiplayer maps that are able to support economic or tech focused openers that do not simply die to concerted rush builds from the opposing teams.
So much of the 1v1 metagame has evolved around taking expansions in order to grow one's economy while defending with minimal, but efficient defences. On the current multiplayer maps, it is almost impossible to grow your economy safely, and you cannot get by on minimal defences due to the possibility of getting 4v1 busted as well as the undefendable nature of many of the maps.
Starcraft 2 is a very econ-heavy game. More than in some other games - like Warcraft 3, or maybe even BW - you really need a strong economy to be able to do most of the things that you would want to do in 1v1 games.
For this reason, the casual-tryhard may not enjoy multiplayer games either. It's all 'rush or be rushed (and die)' and not very strategic. It would not well approximate the core gameplay mechanics of a strategy game.
- if anyone has stories about 4v4 being other than I describe it, I invite you to share them; the few I've played were fairly terrible in my view.
I won't pretend to have a solution about how to fix the terrain such that a zerg can hatch first safely, or that FFE will be viable, or that CC first won't be crushed by double 7rr. I actually don't really think it's possible to balance multiplayer purely through terrain.
Perhaps this is going about the problem the wrong way.
Multiplayer will never be a good place to practice 1v1 strats. This seems reasonably uncontentious. But the casual-tryhard doesn't want to go as far as having infinite resources available - he/she still wants to be limited and constrained by some amount of strategic considerations.
Somewhere in the middle between 1v1 constraints and BGH is where the casual-tryhard wants his/her experience.
Instead of trying to create terrain suitable for transposing 1v1 strats into multiplayer, perhaps the issue can be circumvented by having More Resources per Base (MRB).
Having more resources in your main might accomplish many things:
- it allows you to tech faster, meaning rushes may be less effective
- it means that there is a less dire need to expand to other bases, meaning that the map terrain can be less constrained insofar as there is no strong need for defensible nats and thirds
- non-infinite resources means that eventually you would have to expand, just not necessarily within the first 5 minutes of the game or risk falling behind.
- it doesn't require changing unit build times or costs; it only means redesigning the mineral and gas lines.
- using high tech units make it a more enjoyable experience for the player
Balance is already almost impossible due to the very nature of multiplayer. That MRB would cause massive upheaval in 1v1 strats is irrelevant since 1v1 maps would have the regular amount of resources in base.
It wouldn't require Blizzard to do anything except make their bases different. They could even keep the maps where some players have no logical natural expansion . . . . maybe. As we have seen in the past, Blizzard is reluctant to even do something like put neutral depots on maps. But can an extra geyser or some gold patches in your main really 'confuse' people?
I actually have no idea whether MRB is a viable idea, or a completely terrible idea. I also don't know whether or not multiplayer needs fixing, or if MRB fixes anything. For all I know, it might make all-in-ing absurdly powerful and even more unstoppable (although, perhaps terrain could alleviate that concern?). I also don't know if my casual-player distinction holds water, or if these speculations square with reality in anyway.
But suggesting fixes and possible solutions seems to be the new in-thing this month. And so, I humbly submit my ideas for the consideration of the community.