Since I suggested it, I suppose I really do need to get around to writing the article I planned on Casuals, Players and Raiders, the shared topic of the week at Blog Azeroth.
I suppose the first thing to really address is what does any of this mean, and what do I mean, or really the root of the problem. The problem as I see it is that this is meaningless, I have raided 9 times a week, and been a Casual Hardcore player, while we were progressing there was no rush and it was for fun, yet I have raided 3 times a week and considered myself Hardcore, the intent not the time made the difference to me.
I suppose it really needs a graph like Dungeons and Dragons Alignment:
So now I have a picture, what does it mean. Being honest the first thing that springs to mind is a) its a mess, b) its blurred c) Blue, Red and Green... ewwh. Ignoring the former and latter we are left with a blur, there is no true definition of Hardcore or Casual, but rather everything in between. Most people probably fall into the middle, with a distinct upper left trend (most people don't log to sit in Ironforge, or do they?).
So why this graph?, really I think I can characterise hardcore in terms of time (hours spent playing) and effort (attempt to utilise those hours productively). The third dimension to this would be focus going from none (sitting in Ironforge again) to high (eg: Raiding, PvP, etc.). Hardcore in my mind is really about the productivity in your time, you may not have a lot of it but if you apply it well you can be Hardcore but still defined as a Casual player by people more in a direction than you.
The generic "Player" in my mind sits in the middle, they are neither a Hardcore Player (being truly productive with their time) nor are they endowed with a spare 40hrs a week to game with, we make the best of what we have in our own fashion.
So Where Am I?:
Speaking for myself, I probably sit in the top half of the graph, and towards the right, I try and make use of my time and stay focused, I play a lot but it tends to be towards a goal (not always mine, sometimes gearing up others, Badge runs, etc.). I would typically class myself though as Casual Hardcore (top left/right hand quadrant) in that I have enough time to be productive and when I do I am progressing, of course some weeks I am bottom left with way too much time, and no focus.
As I said, I have raided 9 times a week (7 nights in BT/MH, 3 hrs a night, and SSC / TK for another 3hrs each on Sat / Sun afternoons), yet I have also dropped back to < 3 nights a week raiding. Being honest it made little difference to me, as long as the time I was playing I got to Raid (being focused).
While others will try and classify you, the best guide to where you are is probably the guild you are in and its ethos, I will never likely be on par in terms of hardcore with Nihlium or SK-Gaming, yet I probably put in more hours than they do trying to progress. Casuality and Hardcore are really attitudes of the mind as well as the raw things we can measure, so even though I would place myself here, I am sure others would place me elsewhere (likely within the top right quadrant).
We have 2 groups on the graph that could consider themselves Casual Hardcore players, those with the effort, and those with the time. As our play style and times shift we move groups on this graph, we can become more Hardcore or more Casual, and that is the beauty of classifications, we are not one thing. All of us have probably sat in the bottom left hand corner, at least when we started playing, meandering around and having some fun for a few hours a week, most of us have probably had a sudden urge to go do something (Netherwing mount, ZA Bear, pushing to 70), and most of us have probably spent a few hours running in circles in our favourite place, or simply enjoying the view while we chat.
World of Warcraft has a community, it has support and it a fan base. This is the beauty of the game, and probably what Blizzard achieved that so few other games do, there is a fluid movement between the groups, and there is content for everyone to play with and explore, you never have to become fully one group and stay there to actually enjoy the game or to experience parts of it (Higher end raiding is simply a repetition of lower end fights with twists, while its nice to move up you are a raider no matter where you are on that scale).
So Does It Matter:
Yes and no, the key thing is that you can find a position in the graph for you. There are guilds in Sunwell at 3 nights a week, and there are guilds in Karazhan 7 nights a week. World of Warcraft is a microcosm of the world itself, there might not be an amazing guild that suits you on your server, but there is likely one that suits you within your region, people with the same constraints and goals as you.
These terms should in my mind never be used as an insult or a slander, its nice to classify ourselves, in fact most things in life come down to quickly categorising ourselves into groups to make things easier. The way we do it, what we devote and what we do with the title is up to us though and as long as we have fun doing it it doesn't really matter if I am a Casual player killing Kil'jaden, or sitting in Ironforge showing off my Bear.
Its a game, and we like to find categories for ourselves, but we should never put ourselves or others into a box, there is a whole World to explore in Azeroth and Draenor, we should keep an open mind, and be what we need to be to get where we want to go, no one will look back and say it was a waste of time, because we had fun on the path.