If the words 'casual' and 'hardcore' ever had a useful role in determining the differences between players in World of Warcraft, and I am not convinced they ever did, they no longer do. A player who wants to have an alt of every single class at max level and makes that happen is not playing the game casually even if she never raids. A player who collects several hundred pets and levels many of them through pet battles, or has a similarly high number of mounts, or determines to go out and get every cooking recipe in the game (including Dirge's Kickin' Chimeraok Chops which you can't even get anymore but somehow he finds a way) is playing the game very seriously indeed.
Quite frankly, despite the fact that I raid a set schedule, I often feel like I'm significantly more 'casual' than many players who never raid at all. I know I play a lot less - I definitely do not log on every day, I don't run LFR unless I missed a boss in normal (because I want a shot at my Secrets of the Empire off of that boss) and I don't do pet battles, farm, or even do daily quests anymore. So with my roughly fifteen hours of WoW a week, 12 of it spent inside a raid and the other three futzing about older raids for transmog gear, am I casual or hardcore? And does it matter?
Ordinarily I'd explore the answer in the paragraphs to come. But frankly, the answer is no. It doesn't matter. It is so far from mattering that the light from it mattering won't reach us for fifty thousand years. What matters is finding out what players want to do with their time and letting them do it.
I mention this because I was thinking about some observations I've made over the past few months and some of them were counterintuitive to me, since they did not match my own play experience or interests. But they seem fairly crucial to some players.
- Players with alts want to be able to progress these alts. All my alts are warriors, and once I get them to max level I tend to let them coast since I have that one warrior who raids and is usually very well geared in comparison to others. But people who put a lot of time and effort into getting alts to max level don't like feeling like that effort was wasted. It's not trivial to get several alts to max level. Players will accept some restriction in this area - they don't expect to be as well geared on their alts as a raiding main, for instance - but putting a repetitive rep grind that locks them out of being able to pick up gear as they hit max level irks them.
- Players with alts don't necessarily want to do the same rep grinds again. I admit, this one I got without much confusion. No one wants to do the same rep grind twice.
- Players want dungeons. Daily quests and scenarios are great content to give players a lot of options in terms of how to accumulate valor points and introduce story elements, but five man dungeons are the meat of the game for a lot of players. They want more of them, not less of them. If I had to list any error that was made in the development of Mists of Pandaria this would be my pick. I would go so far as to say no expansion should go without a second wave of five man dungeons, as it is plain that players absolutely enjoy getting a new forgotten bastion of antiquity on a regular basis.
- Raiding encounters have gotten too cluttered. This one is a personal observation. But when I feel like I'm studying for a test just to prepare for an encounter, and some of them are ludicrous even on raid finder difficulty (Hi, Durumu) then it's gotten out of hand. It's not that the fights are too hard, it's that explaining them to a player who has never seen them before is actually irritating. When my wife asked me to explain Durumu to her, I actually refused to do it because not only does the fight have a ridiculous amount of moving parts, but there are significant differences in how those moving parts work on LFR and I couldn't remember which mechanics changed.
- It's an aside to some, but the whole point of the game to others. There are players who play World of Warcraft mainly as a commerce simulator. Some players max out their gold, some players just like to control the supply of a certain product be it glyphs, flasks, potions or enchants. Still others use their legion of alts to supply themselves for raids and then dump the excess on the AH for a quick profit. This part of WoW is totally opaque to me, but it's real gameplay to them and they take it very seriously.
Whatever that means.
In the end, the distinction is worse than meaningless, it actually detracts from contemplating what's important to us as players. The raiding game is a small part of World of Warcraft. It's the part I happen to enjoy, so I'm willing to argue for its importance, but it has long since stopped being the arbiter of worthiness. In fact, it never was. The game's diversity of play options means that the player's devotion is all that matters.