Directory of All Essays

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Circle of Life: An Analysis of the Game Product Lifecycle

My article introducing folks to the genre life cycle is up on Gamasutra.com. Woot. Gamasutra is a site that I respect quite highly, so I'm honored to see them taking an interest in these esoteric writings of mine. :-)

Let me know what you think:
http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20070515/cook_01.shtml

take care
Danc.

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Nintendo Genre Innovation Strategy: Comments and Follow up

Well, that was an exciting moment in the history of this website. In the spirit of my old demo days, greetz go out to all the readers from Penny Arcade, Slashdot, Kotaku, 4ColorRebellion, Joystiq, GameGirlAdvance, Dvorak(?), and more. I apologize for any disruption of service for folks who were visiting the site. Everything should be back to normal, comments are back on, and I'm on a new server with 10x the bandwidth. Post away. :-)

I want to thank everyone for keeping their comments civil and insightful. It is a strange thing, but your intelligent commentary seems to spark more intelligent commentary. Shocking.

There are a couple questions about the previous article that I thought I'd take a brief amount of time to highlight here.

Source of "genre king" and "genre life cycle"
The terms "Genre king" and "genre life cycle" come about from several essays that I've written over the past couple of years. If you are interested in the theoretical background, I recommend you check them out.
  • Evolutionary Design: This was the source of many of the concepts behind my current definition of genre. Unfortunately the same title as a rather popular essay by Chris Crawford that I didn't know about until after this was published.
    http://www.gamedev.net/reference/design/features/evolution/default.asp

  • Genre Addiction: This is where 'king of the genre' was used that I subsequently shortened to 'genre king'. Some folks get turned off the use of the word 'addiction', but really I'm talking about basic market segment creation activities.
    http://www.gamedev.net/reference/design/features/genreaddict/
  • Genre Life Cycle: There are 4 short essays here where I explored the genre life cycle in more detail. Though honestly, I think the topic was so obscure and rambling that very few folks made it through all of them. :-) They also talk about genre death in more detail and clarify some of the wild-assed statements made in the genre addiction article.http://lostgarden.com/2005/05/game-genre-lifecycle-part-i.html
Where are the numbers on title costs coming from?
I do need to report my sources a bit more clearly. That tidbit comes from the Japanese Computer Entertainment Suppliers Association. Here's a link to one report on it. http://www.theinquirer.net/?article=25441

There have been reports that the study was flawed because it only relied on self reported information. However, the numbers are inline with my personal experiences talking to game companies on a daily basis, so I am inclined to believe them. Note of course, that these are averages. There will be Gamecube titles that cost more than certain Xbox titles. The basic concepts still stand.

Nintendo still makes hardcore games
You'll notice Nintendo walking a line in their PR where they say 'games for everyone.' The fact of the matter is that genre king titles remain very profitable for them if a company can get a lock on the genre. And for several genres, Nintendo has that lock.
  • Action RPG: Zelda
  • Multiplayer Casual Racing: Mario Kart
  • Creature trading RPG: Pokemon
  • Party games: Mario Party
The games in these categories are nearly synonymous with the genre and it is unlikely that Nintendo will simply stop making them. So what you'll find is that Nintendo will likely continue to promote hardcore gaming within the genres that they dominate. This is still in keeping with an innovation strategy.

There is also a strong platform component to the console industry that I didn't explore fully in the essay due to already packed space constraints. Each console is what is known as a 'walled garden'. Consumers experience the delightful content rich experience that is available on that console, but unless they make expensive additional investments (like buying a new console) they are locked out from using other company's content. Each console creates micro market segments. For example, Metroid Prime 2 sold less than Halo 2. However, it still managed to be the market leader within the FPS Gamecube market segment.

So you'll also find Nintendo creating genre kings within the protected marketplace created by their ownership of a walled off hardware platform. Again, competition is lower and profits are higher. Typically they'll leverage an existing brand to give their offering even more competitive punch.

What is the rational behind Nintendo leaving some customers behind?
If you like genres where Nintendo does not dominate, then you'll likely have to go to another platform. It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to profitably be all things to all people in the business world. Every company makes a strategic choice on what customers they want to serve. Often that means 'firing' fringe customers that do not fit what is best for the company. Banks do it. Stores do it. Enterprise organizations do it. The benefit is employee focus, increased profits, and superior ability to provide value to your target market. It also takes a lot of balls to give up a paying customers.

Typically firing a customer takes a very simple form "Hey, we appreciate you wanting to work with us, but we think it is in your best interest to go to our competitor X." So the worst customer happily trots along to competitor X and starts demanding bigger production values, additional sequels, etc. The competitor sells more, but they lose money doing it. Who is the winner here?

1st party vs 3rd party
This topic is an entire essay on its own. Historically, Nintendo has reaped the vast majority of its profits from first title releases. They make a small amount from each game sold on their platform, but by being a publisher they a much higher percentage of the revenue on a title.

In this viewpoint, it makes sense to promote a large 1st and 2nd party developer network that are published through Nintendo and focus on innovative titles and genre kings in low competition areas. The result is a smaller number of highly profitable titles.

However, this profitable and logical strategy alienates the 3rd party developers. They naturally take their innovations to other publishers. In the worst case scenario, other platforms become the home of new highly profitable genres that lure potential Nintendo customers over to the competing platforms.

There are lots of ways for Nintendo to get out of this situation. They've tried using character licensing, but they risk tiring out their brand. I'd like to see them start up a new Nintendo second party network that supports smaller companies. They would reap the following benefits:
  • A bigger chunk of the revenue by being the publisher instead of merely being the platform owner.
  • A steady stream of new titles that help guarantee leadership in attaching new genres to their platform.
  • A stage gate style development pipeline where they can then convert into successful second party titles into larger scale 1st party genre kings.
Enough rambling. I'll be back to my regularly scheduled essays soon. :-)

take care
Danc.

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Friday, September 16, 2005

Nintendo's Genre Innovation Strategy: Thoughts on the Revolution's new controller

I’m still jet lagged from my recent trip overseas, but I managed to stay awake for the new Nintendo controller announcement. I must say that I’m feeling like an excited Japanese school boy waiting in line for the latest Dragon Quest.

I’m not going to tackle whether or not this innovative device will be a market success for Nintendo. There will be so much riding on the 1st party titles, the 3rd party support and the actual technical implementation of the controller that any comments at this point are at best opinions and at worst propaganda.

What we can however discuss in some detail are the two central philosophies behind the Revolution controller and their market implications.
  • The increasingly hardcore nature of the game industry is causing a contraction of the industry.
  • New intuitive controller options will result in innovative game play that will bring new gamers into the fold.
Is Iwata-san spouting nonsense or is Nintendo actually onto something?

Genre maturity leads to market consolidation
In past articles I’ve discussed two key concepts. The first is genre addiction and the second is the genre life cycle. These both have major market implications for both individual game developers, but also for the market as a whole.

To briefly recap, genre addiction is the process by which:
  • Players become addicted to a specific set of game mechanics.
  • This group of players has a strong homogenous preference for this genre of games, creating a well defined, easily serviceable market segment.
  • Game developers who release games within a genre with a standardized set of play mechanics are most likely to capture the largest percentage of the pre-existing market.
  • Over time, the game mechanics defining the genre becomes rigidly defined, the tastes of the genre addicts become highly sophisticated and innovation within the genre is generally punished by the market place.
Genre life cycle is the concept that game genres go through distinct stages of market status as they mature:
  • Introduction: A new and addictive set of game mechanics are created.
  • Growth: The game mechanics are experimented with and genre addiction begins to spread.
  • Maturity: The game mechanics are standardized and genre addiction forms a strong market force. Product differentiation occurs primarily through higher layer design elements like plot, license, etc.
  • Decline: The market consolidates around the winners of the king-of-the-genre battles that occurred during the Maturity phase. New games genres begin stealing away the customer base. With less financial reward, less games are released.
  • Niche: A population of hardcore genre addicts provides both the development resources and audience for the continued development of games in the genre. Quality decreases.
What we see here is the consolidation of game designs over the life cycle of the genre. Early examples within a genre tend to have a wildly diverse spectrum of game mechanics that appeal to a broader spectrum of players. As the genre matures, the game mechanics become more standardized and the needs of the genre addicts more homogenized. As the market segment consolidates and standardizes, the majority of the players are well served. They get more polished games that have greater depth. Who could argue that a tightly polished game like Warcraft is a bad thing?

How maturity reduces the number of total game players
Goodbye people on the fringes: The people on the fringes, however, are left out. In the evolution of the RTS genre, there was an interesting offshoot in the form of the Ground Control games. These sported an interesting 3D perspective that was never truly adopted by the mainstream RTS producers. Most players within the identifiable RTS market segment did not enjoy these games and so it was not in the best interest of the game developers to include the innovative features in their designs.

However, some players enjoyed these titles quite a lot. As the mechanics for RTS games become highly standardized, these fringe players were alienated by games in the mature genre. A 2D Warcraft title just didn’t provide the same rewards that this fringe group was looking for.

Some of those gamers left gaming. It may take being alienated from several genres, but eventually a few decided that there were better activities to spend their time on. The market was simply not serving their needs. This shrinks the market.

Goodbye semi-hardcore: The mainstream group, however, fares only a little better. When you recycle the same standardized game mechanics, you put players at severe risk of burnout on a genre. There are only so many FPS many people can play before they don’t want to play them any more. This is less of a problem for the super hardcore players. However, it is a substantial problem for the less hardcore players.

As the less hardcore players burn out on the game mechanics of their favorite genres, they too are at risk of leaving the game market. The result is a steady erosion of the genre’s population.

What is left is a very peculiar group of highly purified hardcore players. They demand rigorous standardization of game mechanics and have highly refined criteria for judging the quality of their titles. With each generation of titles in the genre, they weed out a few more of the weaker players.

This is a completely self-supporting process with strong social forces at work. Players form communities around their hardcore nature. They happily eject those who do not fit the ideal player mold. They defend the validity of their lifestyle with a primitive tribal passion.

There is no internal force within a genre lifecycle that can break this cycle. Only external forces can do the trick. The question is, who would want to break this cycle and who wants to maintain it?

Who genre maturation is good for
Genre maturation is great for the very small minority of AAA developers that can serve the hardcore market. They release titles known as genre kings that are able to address the needs of a large percentage of an existing, well defined segment of genre addicts. Genre kings dominate a particular genre with impressive financial results. The amount of money genre kings such as Halo 2, Half Life, Warcraft, Grand Turismo and other rake in is an inspiration to both developers, gamers and publishers everywhere.

Hardcore genre addicts easily pay for themselves. On average they are willing to spend substantially more on games than the casual or the fringe gamer. When a genre becomes standardized, there is literally an explosion of revenue that comes from successfully tapping into a uniform set of needs. This scalability is a basic attribute of software and is a major mechanic behind hit making in the game industry.

As long as new genres are being created and money gained from better capturing homogenous segments genre addicts is high, the industry as a whole grows with a few fat king of the genre companies taking in the majority of the money.

Who consolidation is bad for
However, when the majority of money and effort is spent on capturing existing markets and not enough is spent on seeding new genres, the natural erosion of less hardcore players begins to decrease the overall market size.

It is easy to ignore this trend. Overall player numbers may decrease in certain genres, but remember that hardcore players spend more and flock to specific games in great numbers. So total revenues keep going up, and the revenues of hit titles keep going up. It seems silly to shout that the sky is falling when there are so many examples of over-the-top success. This is the current state of the American game market.

Only after the trend has been going on for some time does the erosion become too much to ignore. The substantial decreases in the overall revenue of the Japanese market place over the last five years provided a major warning signal. You could easily argue that similar erosion has occurred in the PC market.

People who are less likely to care:
  • Sony and Microsoft have built strong brands around servicing the hardcore players of existing genres. To say that the sky is falling shows a lack of faith in the hardcore market - that could be very damaging.
  • Major genre king developers like Blizzard, Valve, Epic and Square. Their bread is buttered. They own the mature genres and will milk them for many years to come.
People who are more likely to care
  • Companies that serve a diverse user bases: Oddly enough, both EA and Nintendo are in this group. They are broadly diversified such that major trends in industry directly affect their bottom line. Sony is in a bit of a pickle since they fit this definition as well. (Hence they’ll release the Eye Toy, but keep their main controller for the PS/3 as standard as humanly possible)
  • Companies that value brands over genres: People often look at Nintendo’s releases of a half dozen Mario games a year and assume that they are all clones. In fact, they are typically radically different games across a wide variety of genres. Nintendo gains their value from the Mario brand, not ownership of a specific genre. Brand-based companies rely on the creation of new genres since they can take that brand into the genre for a low risk profit opportunity.
Nintendo needs new genres
That last point about the strategies of brand-based publishers is an important one. Nintendo needs new genres to make money.

Nintendo makes the majority of their money by leveraging their brand recognition during the early to mid-stages of a genre’s life cycle. The power of the Mario character can establish a Nintendo game as an early genre king and help tap into a new market segment for great profit. However, as they get later into the life cycle, the standardization of the genre mechanics and the intense demands of the hardcore population reduces the power of the brand.

A few major games will dominate the mature genre and it is unlikely that Nintendo’s will be one of them. Nintendo’s fixation on new genres and their unwillingness to pander completely and utterly to the existing hardcore audiences has made their name mud with many of the most vocal elite in the game industry.

Product innovation leads to increased profitability
C’est la vie. You can’t have it all. Focusing on product innovation at the expense of commodity markets is a classic business strategy that is used successfully in non-game companies around the world. Companies like 3M are required as part of their strategic plan to have 30% of their revenue come from new products. They are constantly exiting markets when strong competition emerges and constantly competing with themselves by offering new products that outdate their existing products. Nintendo releases new genres where other companies release new products, but the basics are the same.

The non-business person looks at this strategy with horror. Nintendo invented the 3D platformer, yet they have no major product in that niche at the moment. Surely this is the most obvious sort of stupidity. However, consider the following portfolio management issues:
  • The likelihood of getting a genre king early on in a genre life cycle if you invented the genre is quite high. Competition is limited.
  • The cost of creating a genre king early in the genre life cycle is low. You can rely on things like simplified graphics and limited amounts of content. The neo-retro graphics of most Nintendo games has a lower cost of production than the realistic look of many of its competitors.
  • The cost of creating a genre king late in the genre life cycle is high. Customers demand realistic graphics, voiceovers, cut scenes, loads of extra content, etc.
  • The risk of having your game not becoming king of the genre goes up. The competition is simply greatly increased. Mario is a great game, but would it own the entire genre if it were forced to compete against Jax and Daxter, Sly Cooper, Prince of Persia and others?
What you find is that selling innovative products early on can be dramatically more profitable and less risky than selling commodity products. The early market might not be as large, but the money is much better. You see this over and over again. Nintendo sells less but makes more money. Sony and Microsoft sell more, but make less profit.

Consider this tidbit. The Xbox, which focuses on highly mature genres catering to hardcore gamers has production costs of $1.82 million a title. The Gamecube costs half as much at $822,000 a title. The real kicker is that the Nintendo DS only costs $338, 286 a title to develop for, even less than the Gameboy. Some of these costs have to do with the hardware and development kits, but for the most part they are derived from the scope of the projects. Being able to develop successful titles at 1/5th the cost of your competitors is a major boost to your bottom line.

Thus, Nintendo’s profitability and need to innovate go hand in hand. They need those new genres because the old ones quickly become too competitive and too expensive.

New controller features as a source of Innovation
The new controller is best seen in light of this larger corporate strategy.

One of the easiest ways of creating a new genre is to invent a new series of verbs (or risk mechanics as I called them in my Genre Life Cycle articles). One of the easiest ways of inventing new verbs is to create new input opportunities. Nintendo controls their hardware and they leverage this control to suit their particular business model.

And this is exactly what Nintendo has done historically. The original Dpad, the analog stick, the shoulder buttons, the C-stick, the DS touch pad, link capabilities, the tilt controller, the bongo drums…the list goes on and on.

Each time, they also bundle the controller innovation with a series of attempts at creating new dominant genres. Not all attempts are successful, but a few of them are highly successful. The 2D platformer, the 3D platformer, the Pokemon-style RPG, and the virtual pet game all come to mind as successes. By seeding a genre and by owning the key hardware platform that the new genre lives on, Nintendo achieves a position of financial stability and security that is unheard of in the game industry.

As a side note, folks who argue Nintendo should just make games for other platforms are completely missing the point. Nintendo needs to control their hardware platform in order to force innovation to occur in the control mechanisms. Other console manufacturers who rely on the hardcore audiences and standardized genres don’t see this need. They would happily standardize the console platform and make it into a commodity. Microsoft has historically made major comments about having one universal development platform.

The moment Nintendo loses control over their hardware, they lose a major competitive advantage in terms of creating new genres.

The new controller
The new controller is yet another logical step along a path that Nintendo has been pursuing for many years. We are likely to see some very obvious patterns repeated.
  • It allows for a wide variety of new verbs that are unique to Nintendo’s hardware platform
  • There will be a number of genre-seeding attempts that take advantage of the new verbs that are available. With luck and a lot of skill, one or more of these will become a major new genre. New genres bring in new gamers who are loyal to Nintendo.
  • Nintendo will leverage their powerful brand to encourage early adoption and dominance of this genre. I’ll make a bet that Mario, Pokemon or other major Nintendo brands will be a major element of their new genre attempts.
  • As the years pass and the genre becomes mature, hard core gamers will consolidate within it and begin demanding more polished experiences. Craftsman-oriented companies will wrest control of the genre away from Nintendo.
  • Nintendo will innovate once again in order to maintain higher profit margins.
Some predictions about the games
There are also some obvious predictions that we can make about the game designs based off the standard genre lifecycles.
  • Early titles will be essentially technology demos that showcase a specific core mechanic. There will be one or two major titles such as Mario 64 of yore that are highly evolved, but these will be few and far between due to the cost associated with evolving an entirely new genre over the span of a single game.
  • Most early titles will sell small numbers, but will end up being decently profitable due to their low cost. The example given of Brain Training on the DS, which was created in a mere 4 months comes to mind. Even though it isn’t selling what are typically considered ‘blockbuster’ numbers, it is an unqualified financial success. During this period a large number of new genre attempts will be successfully vetted.
  • Only after a year or so will 2nd generation ‘polished’ games start to emerge. The cream of the core game mechanics tested in the first generation will be layered with all the traditional trappings of a modern video game.
  • One or two ‘major new genres’ will emerge. These will be highly profitable and Nintendo will attempt to turn some of them into exclusive franchises. Mario Kart and Mario Party are good examples of this from previous generations.
So when games come out slowly and only appear to be technology demos, I wouldn’t worry too much. A ‘gimmicky game’ is really just another name for a new core game mechanic that hasn’t been polished. Donkey Kong is considered shallow and gimmicky by children playing it for the first time in this modern age. Yet it sported the same core game mechanics that eventually blossomed into an entire genre of highly polished 2D platformers.

In the past, Nintendo built these new genre attempts internally. They got to own the IP and enjoyed the resulting success that comes from being one of the few to understand the benefits of innovation. The result has been a focus on a small number of 1st party development efforts and a trickle of titles. Unfortunately for them there are other innovative people in the world. New genre successes such as GTA on other consoles provided substantial and painful competition.

I see this changing somewhat with the DS. We are starting to get some wacky ideas from smaller companies and Nintendo seems to be a bit more welcoming of others. Nintendo needs to pursue this path further by allowing new companies to join the experimentation stage.

Conclusions
Nintendo’s strategy of pursuing innovation benefits the entire industry. It brings in new audiences and creates new genres that provide innovative and exciting experiences. The radical new controller is a great example of this strategy in action.

Surprisingly, this also benefits Microsoft and it benefits Sony. As the years pass, the hard core publishers that serve mature genres will adopt previously innovative genres and commoditize them. Their profits will be less, but they’ll keep a lot of genre addicts very happy. Everybody wins when a game company successfully innovates.

I see both of these strategies as a necessary and expected part of a vibrant and growing industry. Industries need balance and Nintendo is a major force of much needed innovation that prevents industry erosion and decline.

On a slightly less analytic note, I for one can’t wait to play the new games on the Nintendo Revolution. With all the new game ideas that will be demonstrated, it is certainly a great time to be a game designer. A couple years down the road, I suspect that this will also be a great time to be a gamer. :-)

Take care
Danc.

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Saturday, May 07, 2005

Game Genre Lifecycle: Part IV

Profiting from the Genre Lifecycle
Let us revisit the genre life cycle and summarize what we have learned. I'll also discuss basic design strategies for succeeding during each phase of the genre lifecycle. I apologize ahead of time if some of these comments are a bit tongue-in-cheek.

Introduction
"A new and addictive set of game mechanics are created."

During the introduction phase, there is lots of risk and not a lot of profit. You don't have genre addicts to boost your new game sales. The good news is that there isn't a lot of competition either.

  • Focus on innovative risk mechanics: The only way you'll create a new genre is by creating new risk mechanics. If you are able to think about game rules abstractly, attack the problem directly. If you are more focused on reward systems, pick a unique and powerful reward mechanism and then iterate on innovative risk mechanics that can package the reward more effectively. The Simon-style boss fights in God of War are a good example of this in a modern game.
  • Use Design Testing: This will reduce the risk of creating an non-addictive game and increase your chance of creating a massively addictive game.
  • Use an existing brand or theme : From a marketing stand point, game mechanics don't sell during the introduction phase. Remember, people can't get addicted to your title until they play it. So hoodwink customers into playing the title by using a brand or them that they already identify with.
  • Create a small diverse team: Interesting people from interesting backgrounds make for great creativity. Heck, hire folks who may not even be gamers. The original Sims development team or the team for Katamari Damacy are good examples of this tactic.
  • Avoid heavy plots, cut scenes, non-algorithmic animations, etc: These are expensive and inhibit your ability to rapidly iterate on the game's core addictive qualities. You'll need them when you enter into a hard core king-of-the-genre competition, but you don't need them now.
  • Focus on the learning curve: The initial few seconds of the game are critical. No one will know how to play your game and you'll lose most people the moment they pick up the controls. Tutorials and streamlined control systems are your friends. Tweaks to the control system for expert users can come later.
  • Focus on replay value: Word of mouth is important and the more someone plays they more likely they are to tell their friends about 'this exciting new game' on the top of their mind.
  • Aim for the future : Your goal during the introduction phase is to create a modest success by doing something different. Ideally, this lets you build a unique brand and fan base that can dominate your new genre in the future. Developers who followed this path include id (FPS), Peter Molyneux (god games), Will Wright (Sim games), and Westwood Studios (RTS).
Growth
"The game mechanics are experimented with and genre addiction begins to spread."

The growth phase is the primary period to set up a strong brand in a genre you have not invented. This is the perfect time for an opportunistic team to be heralded as an innovator without all the risks that comes from creating a new genre from the ground up.

  • Track new titles to spot innovation early: Has a new title emerged that has solid reviews, but poor sales? This is often a sign of innovation since good review indicate addictive game play is at work and the lack of sales may be the result of genre addicts ignoring the title because it is too different.
  • Watch for new game mechanics: Does the title differentiate itself with game mechanics or is it considered unique because of setting, plot, etc? Ignore the dressing. You'll likely want to replace that anyway. But new successful game mechanics can be like a pot of gold.
  • Spread your net far: Sometimes the most interesting game mechanics come from smaller companies. This is good, because these companies don't have the resources to build a strong competitive brand. If you just focus on high profile innovative titles (like the Sims) you'll have to compete with their brand and the comparison can hurt you.
  • Focus on a rich setting: If you know you have addictive game play that has no major competition, you can put substantial energy into creating an appealing mass market setting. This is an investment in a unique asset that cannot be stolen or copied. You can use this setting as part of a strong brand in the future to enhance your games. The KingsQuest setting is a good example of this tactic in adventure games. The Warcraft setting accomplished the same goal in the RTS genre.
  • Grab a setting niche: This is related to the above point. By being the first in a genre to release a solid fantasy, historical, or science fiction setting, you establish your title as the king-of-the-hill for players who prefer that setting. Often, you can maintain your leadership position for multiple months (perhaps even a year) which in turn gives you enhanced sales as the genre grows in popularity.
  • Focus on polish: No original game is perfect. There are typically usability flaws, a lack of length, etc. Play test the game substantially and fix the major issues. By 'bringing the game up to standards', in terms of graphics, cut scenes, etc you increase your chances of creating a break out hit.
  • Don't be too innovative: Be wary of reinventing the core game mechanics dramatically. This can pay off, but it introduces additional risk. Someone has already went through the work of validating the main game mechanics and now you just need to commercialize their efforts. 'Z' is a great example of a bright team that went too far in the RTS growth phase.
Maturity
"The game mechanics are standardized and genre addiction forms a strong market force."
Unless you have a strong brand or legacy from early lifecycle phases, competing in the maturity phase can be difficult. You are in the middle of a vicious battle for king-of-the-genre status.

  • Standardize your interface: Genre addicts are out in force and you want to make it as easy as possible for them to adopt your title. Look at other popular games and copy their interfaces down to the smallest detail.
  • Focus on the higher layer design: Your mature title is all about elements like graphics, plot, license, etc. You are trying to squeeze out the last bit of addiction from game mechanics that are locked in stone by the demanding genre addicts. This means fluffy plot and lots of it. Why not add a half-naked alternate character? Script writers, Hollywood directors, voice actors...these are your bread and butter.
  • Craft finely tuned game mechanics: Your designer should be someone who has made at least three or four major titles in this genre and everyone on the team should be completely and absolutely addicted to the genre. Are they hardcore? Keep them. Are they innovative or different? Kick them off the team. The goal is not innovation. The goal is perfection.
  • Focus on movie-like pacing: Treat the title like a block buster with each minute of the game play massaged for the optimal (and identical) player experience. It is okay of the game has no replay value. You don't need to worry about word of mouth and you want to sell sequels.
  • Spend lots of money: The maturity phase is one of the few times you can buy your way to the top. Better graphics, more content, etc can sway players wallets as they search for their next big fix.
  • If you can't do the above, leave the genre: If you aren't a big player, don't play the game. You generally aren't going to out-KingsQuest a genre leader like Sierra. Why spend millions of dollars on a highly competitive genre and ultimately fail in the market place? Drop out and try to innovate. The rewards are likely much higher than almost certain financial failure.
Decline
"The market consolidates around the winners of the king-of-the-genre battles"

Big brands rule the roost with only a few smaller 'appetizer' titles making money. The number of titles is dropping, but the consolidation that comes from genre addiction still means there are a few big hits left.
  • Be a big boy: If you have won a genre battle or two during the maturity phase, you are a fat cat. Your games may sink in quality, but you'll still release one or two more sequels that do reasonably well financially. The big teams of hardcore craftsmen and bloated budgets left over from your glory days are slow to change. Either bankruptcy or other publishers will cull you in due time.
  • Release off season: If you release a B-grade title off season, you can avoid the massively hyped release of the genre kings. You may pick up some addicts who need a fix immediately. But when the next Half Life 2 comes out, you'll be forgotten.
  • Leave now!: Get out while you still can. Too many great titles are released with a whimper during the decline. Grim Fandango comes to mind.
Niche
"A population of hardcore genre addicts provides both the development resources and audience for the continued development of games in the genre."

By this time, most of the publishers no longer support the genre. Now is the time for the indie copycats and Eastern European sweatshops to clean the carcass.
  • Go independent: Release online and market to remaining genre addicts through fan sites and ancient journalists still remember your niche genre fondly.
  • Copy the most popular game possible: Some innovation is okay because the player don't have many choices, but be warned that many addicts will complain feverishly that "Your title doesn't work exactly like genre king XYZ!" If it does work just like their favorite title, you can build a cult addicts that will spread the gospel of the Second Coming across the net like wild fire.
  • Try to pick up a license for cheap: Sometimes publishers are in financial straits (cough, cough) and it is amazing the deals you can get.
  • Pay lip service to higher layers game mechanics: Definitely keep things like plot and such because the genre addicts expect it. However, you can do it on the cheap with no real retribution. Sure, your game will look 5 years old, but that's okay. The addicts will still buy it.

Conclusions
Well, it took longer than I thought, but we've started a great discussion about game genres and how they evolve. Some key points of this essay include:
  • Risk mechanics are the most meaningful defining aspects of game genres
  • Rewards grow with intensity as genres out compete one another in the market place. Sometimes, intense rewards will cause the evolution of risk mechanics and spawn a new genre
  • Genres grow and fade away just like a traditional product category. The standard product evolution stages of innovation, growth, maturity, decline, and niche are very applicable to understanding how genres evolve.
  • There are distinct, optimal strategies for both game design and marketing that should be followed during each stage of the genre life cycle. Break these rules at your own risk.

As I journey down this exploration of genres, it is apparent to me the importance of innovation, both as a market shaping activity, but also as a sound business strategy. In a period of several years, a genre can go from the introduction phase to the mature phase. Only the genre kings can play in the later stages of the genre life cycle and their advantages are substantial.

Innovators like Peter Molyneux and Will Wright are onto something. Each game, they drop out of the race and start the battle anew with fewer competitors and the chance to make their own way in the world. If all else fails, why not innovate?

take care,
- Danc.

Read previous chapter: Game Genre Lifecycle Part III

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Game Genre Lifecycle: Part III

How to create a new genre
We've seen how genres die. Now let's look at how they are born. There are two clear cut methods I've come across for founding new genres:


  • Innovate in terms of more potent reward mechanisms
  • Innovate in terms of more cost-effective risk mechanisms.
As we will see, innovating in terms of reward mechanism is merely a path that leads towards creating new risk mechanisms. Ultimately new genres rest upon the uniqueness of their risk mechanisms and nothing else.

Improving reward mechanisms
As I was perusing the data for graphics adventures I came across an unexpected growth period in the genre, starting in the mid-90s. Could it be that graphics adventures were experiencing renewed popularity? Such a discovery would add a serious kink to the simple generalized curve of the genre lifecycle chart.

Upon closer examination, I found that innovation wasn't dead. Clever designers in Japan had used the oldest trick in the book to invent a new genre. They added pornographic images.

Pornographic video games, though a distasteful subject, is a good test for the conceptual structure of game genres that I've been building in these essays. Fringe content is often useful in testing the flexibility of a theory.

Defining Core Game mechanics


  • Risk elements are composed of simple clicking on dialog choices.
  • Basic reward comes in the form of watching adult video clips.

Defining Metagame mechanics

  • Limited player statistics or meta-game elements.
  • A linear narrative is used to connect the series of dialog trees

Notes on the Genre Definition: Trouble 'a brewing
Again, the major apparent shift here is in the reward system. The introduction of sexual images provides a more intense reward for the player.

A major concern should arise at this point. Our original definition of genre specifically excludes contextual design layers such as plot, setting, and contextualized token. The existence of a genre that is defined by contextualized tokens (naked women) calls into question our original assumption. So we must ask: Is context fundamental to the definition of a genre?

How rewards influence risk mechanics
The answer sheds light on the importance of risk mechanics in the definition of genres.

What we've uncovered is the feedback link between strong reward systems and underlying game mechanics. In any game system risk and reward work in concert to create player addiction. When you introduce new reward mechanisms, the risk mechanics inevitably evolve as well, creating a new genre.

Historically the adoption of new reward systems has caused the rapid evolution of risk mechanics. The addition of graphics to the traditional text adventure resulted in designers developing new ways of creating visually rich puzzles that took advantage of the graphic rewards. It was the "point and click" risk mechanics of the evolved graphic adventure that ultimately defined a distinct genre in a market landscape filled with 'graphical games' such as RPGs and FPSs.

With this perspective, let us return to adult graphic adventures. In the presence of a strong reward system (pornographic content) we should observe an evolution of the game mechanics that better showcase the rewards. Games listed in Moby Games have moved strongly towards simple dialog trees and simplistic 'relationship simulators'. This is a radically different risk mechanic than you find in puzzle-oriented graphic adventures. In fact, these are "games that can be played with one hand" to quote an anonymous player.

Adult graphic adventures are a genre, not defined solely by their adult content, but by the underlying risk mechanics. A simple test can be performed. If this genre is truly context independent, we should find other examples with the same core risk mechanics and non-adult content. In fact these are easy to find. Particularly in Japan, there are a wide range of so called 'relationship simulators' that use a choose-your-own adventure form of gameplay to show case non-adult anime movies.

The historical pattern of reward escalation in genre 'speciation'
Over time, we see a clear pattern emerge. Later genres contain psychological risk / reward mechanisms that are substantially more potent than later game genres. Consider the escalating reward mechanisms for the adventure games we've covered so far

  • 80's: Text-based plot rewards
  • 90's: Generic graphical rewards
  • 00's: Sexual graphical rewards
The reward mechanisms in games have been slowly and steadily becoming more intense both in terms of graphics and psychological impact. An early game like Planetfall gained substantial emotional impact from a textual description of the droid Floid's heroic death. Modern games like God of War give the player an emotional rush by relying on visceral depictions of human sacrifice.

The driving mechanisms behind the creation of these more intense experiences are self evident. Better hardware allows to improved graphics. King-of-the-genre competition results in designers striving for bigger explosions, more violent deaths, and more glorious landscapes. If you want to differentiate your design through improved reward systems, the tools and techniques are available to even the crudest game designer. Even Pong can be made into a more impactful game by replacing the ball with a human head and the paddle with a boot.

The next step however is crucial to the development of new genres. As reward mechanism are introduced, developers evolve the critical risk mechanics to better take advantage and showcase the rewards. As risk mechanics converge on a standardized interface and set of player activities, a well-defined genre is born.

Improving risk mechanisms
Now we are getting somewhere. We've isolated the risk component of psychological risk / reward mechanics as a critical aspect of defining genres. In hindsight this is perhaps not surprising. Another, less academic way of saying the same thing is that genres are defined by the basic activities that a player must perform.

Now let us dig into a deeper understanding of which risk mechanics survive in the marketplace. There are some trends apparent here as well.


  • Text based puzzles that often required an intimate understanding of plot to solve: From a design perspective this required large amounts of custom design work for each puzzle.
  • Graphical puzzles that were more mechanical in nature: This required less design work, but was still heavily customized.
  • Simple dialog trees: This requires very little design work and is only slightly customized.
This is a small sample set, but we can form a basic theory. Over time, the market values genres that use risk mechanism that are more modular and reusable. Early genres had the equivalent of assembly programming for their risk mechanics. Everything was custom tailored to a specific game experience. This is economically inefficient. Imagine if every time you fired a bullet in a FPS, you had to recode from scratch new mechanics for aiming and firing.

Economics make this unreasonable. Consider the trends of ever growing reward intensity. Creating a more visceral reward require substantial resources. As a genre matures, developers spend more time and effort on the reward elements of title in an attempt to maximize the 'fun' (aka positive feedback).

Risk and rewards come in pairs
Risk and rewards come in pairs. If you add more rewards, you inevitably need to add more risk activities. Unfortunately, core game mechanics have a substantial cost of implementation. Below is a simple conceptual graph that shows the increasing cost of core game mechanics compared to more reward and learning curve oriented systems.

What is a designer to do? They cheat like hell (aka innovate) and come up with activities that are still enjoyable, but can cost effectively service a wide number of reward scenarios without growing stale.

The concept of elegant risk mechanics:
We can go further and state that there are rules behind the design of 'good' risk activities.

Elegant Risk Mechanics: Small rule sets defining activities that result in long term, high levels of player addiction.

  • Low burnout: Players don't burn out even though they are performing the same basic actions thousands of times.
  • Reusable: Can be repeated throughout the game with minor modification.
  • Scalable: There are economies of scale as additional content is added.

Text adventures are a great example of an inelegant risk mechanic.

  • Not Reusable: Each time the author creates a puzzle, he cannot easily reuse the puzzle without custom programming and writing.
  • High burnout: If you do repeat a puzzle, the player becomes rapidly bored and experiences burnout. "Oh, no...not another lever puzzle."
  • No economies of scale: Adding an additional puzzle costs you just as much as adding the last puzzle. Occasionally, it will cost you more because you've run out of ideas.
Alternatively, consider a FPS. You invest substantial up front development costs in perfecting player movement, enemy AI, and shooting physics. Yet once these basics in place, it becomes trivial to set up additional activities. Drop some objects down and voila...player can fight against one monsters, player fights against two monsters. Minor risk / reward variations on the more 'elegant' risk mechanic allow the designer to economically maintain the player's addiction.

An argument for the importance of elegant risk mechanics
Is it theoretically possible to create a game that has inelegant game mechanics such as a graphics adventure that competes in terms of addictiveness of a more elegant system such as GTA? Certainly. The economics of the endeavor would be unthinkable however. Instead of the dozens of puzzles found in adventure games you would need thousands of puzzles. The effort required to imagine each unique puzzle and associate it with a meaningful plot-based rewards hurts my noggin. Adventure games died because their fundamental design simply did not scale.

Ultimately, it is risk mechanics that helps differentiate 'fun games' from their brethren. All else being equal, games that improve risk mechanics yield more fun for longer periods of time. Done correctly creating innovative elegant risk mechanics can help a developer carve out a unique sub-genre that is difficult to replicate by competitors. Elegant risk mechanics are the magic sauce that let developers do more with less and rock the gaming world in the process. Here is the beginning of my post.

take care
Danc.

Read next chapter: Game Genre Lifecycle Part IV
Read previous chapter: Game Genre Lifecycle Part II



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Thursday, May 05, 2005

Game Genre Lifecycle: Part II

How to kill a genre: Revisited
In my previous article, I discussed how a single king-of-the-genre title can take such a large market share of genre addicts that it gains a market monopoly that crushes future competition. This tale is certainly quite palatable to many craggy old genre addicts who reminisce about their favorite genre. However, now that I've looked at some more data I'd like to revise my theory of genre death.


  • First, genres do not seem to die. Instead they fade away with a long tail of minor product releases during the niche phase.
  • Second, genres die because they are out competed in the market place by other more addictive genres. These new genres typically improve on some core game mechanic of a precursor genre.
  • Third, the consolidation that results from the epic king-of-the-genre battles creates a rigid development structure that is unable to adapt to market challengers.

Near the decline of a genre, companies have clear investment patterns:


  • Investment in higher layer design activities: Major effort spent on elements such as plot and setting.
  • Investment in low-yield low layer design activities: Minor tweaks to game mechanics that don't fundamentally change the addictive nature of the game play.

From a portfolio management stand point, this investment pattern makes a lot of sense. Publishers want to reduce risk and out compete the other publishers for the king-of-the-genre dollars. Winning these battles can mean life or death to a publisher.

From a genre management perspective, these publishing tactics merely put a nail in the coffin of a potentially long lived genre. By focusing on pleasing genre addicts, the genre becomes prone to stagnation.

The craftsmen's downfall
This last point is worth exploring further. In both the case of text adventures and graphics adventures, there emerged a strong, highly dominant genre leader. With text adventures, this was Infocom. With graphic adventures this was Sierra (with perhaps LucasArts sharing the title). These companies became market leaders through mastery of their chosen game genre.


Yet, their skills were their downfall.

  • During the peak of each genre, the genre leaders released large numbers of titles with fundamentally the same core game mechanics.
  • Innovation was limited to variations on a theme (A Mind Forever Voyaging, Police Quest, Hero's Quest, etc).
  • Decline phase titles focused heavily on high layer design techniques. Skilled craftsmen and cowboy designers, schooled in the 'perfect genre formula' moved into key leadership positions. They caused massive amounts of money to be poured into elements like plot, improved graphics, new settings, etc. These low yield design activities did not substantially increase the addictive qualities of the titles.
  • If game's addiction rating stands still, it falls behind other more innovative titles. Players began sampling other genres.
  • Average per title sales began to decline. Even though they were 'following the formula', the dramatic leap in sales that accompanied early successful king-of-the-genre titles was not reproducible. This increase in sales traditional came from genre addict consolidation, not from pure market growth.
The craftsmen attempted to adapt, but this was difficult. With their skills so heavily entrenched in a specific genre, their attempts in other genres were of limited success. Infocom was sold to Activision. Sierra released a large swatch of poor titles that failed to achieve king-of-the-genre status in emerging markets. LucasArts dumped their adventure teams and focused on the safe haven of the Star Wars license. The hemorrhaging of talent in all cases was brutal.

When I see the great craftsmen of past genres, I'm saddened by their end. The truest craftsmen amongst them rarely make a comeback. They succeeded because they were polishers, not innovators. They fade into obscurity, unable to escape the rigid lessons learned during their long ascension to mastery of a faded genre.

And this is how the genre is put on life support. The best development teams are destroyed and the skills to create great titles are lost. A passionate few attempt to keep the genre alive, but they focus on recreating the past. Historical blinders prevent them from creating a new mix of potent game mechanics that can compete in current market conditions.

take care
Danc.

Read next chapter: Game Genre Lifecycle Part III
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Game Genre Lifecycle: Part I

The life cycles of game genres and the lessons that they teach us

Intro
Over the years people have bemoaned the rise and fall of various gaming genres, but there has been little analysis behind the functional processes that drive this critical market systems.

Genres are a major defining factor in the creation of rich markets of avid gamers and designers ignore them at our own risk. We cannot assume that a genre will always exist, or that a genre will have competitive room for our latest title. A genre in the wane is a dangerous market where past success is no indication of future success.

Equally important is the opportunity that genres present. If we can understand how genres arise and change over time, we can tilt fate in our favor by releasing and developing new titles that hit emerging genres with the correct timing and release strategies.


Several pressing questions come to mind:

  • What are the stages of a typical genre's lifecycle
  • What does genre evolution tell us about creating financially viable new genres?
  • What are the common success strategies associated with each lifecycle stage?



Adventure Games: Just the Facts

It's all about the numbers

I have been guilty in the past of focusing on theory and not relying using a foundation of real world data to back up my discussion. Luckily, this the topic of genre evolution has a rich resource in the form of the MobyGames.com database. The database lists over 20,000 games across 55 platforms. Games range from 1978 through 2005 and are organized according to a wide variety of categories and sub-categories.

Though by no means perfect, I was impressed by the breadth and accuracy of the information I found within. The large quantity of games and the historically minded nature of the site's contributors limits the 'survivor' bias that is common to data recorded after the fact. When possible, I double checked genre classifications against my personal recollection and other resources on the web.

Analysis
I choose adventure games, a genre that many claim as 'dead' and tracked it from its first recorded inception in 1978 until the last valid data point in 2003.

The primary focus was the number of titles released per year. I would have loved to use sales numbers or aggregate review ratings, but neither piece of information as publicly available in any reliable form.

(A great service to the game research community would be sales numbers for all games released in a particular time period. Unfortunately, the competitive realities of the game industry make this unlikely.)

Adventure Games: "I'm not dead yet!"
The initial graph I ran just looked at 'adventure games' as defined in the following fashion:

Adventure: Denotes any game where the emphasis is based on experiencing a story through the manipulation of one or more user-controlled characters and the environment they exist in. Game play mechanics emphasize decision over action." - Moby Games

This was a good starting point and fit my preconceived notion of the traditional adventure game including classics such as King's Quest or even Grim Fandango.

Surprisingly, the number of adventure games rises time goes on. I was expecting to see a precipitous drop at the end of the 1990's. In fact, adventure games and their descendents are the second most popular genre as late as 2003.

Number of titles released in major genres in 2003
  1. Action: 573
  2. Adventure: 317
  3. Strategy: 266
  4. RPG: 179
  5. Simulation: 159
  6. Sports: 137
  7. Racing / Driving: 125

Genre Mutation
The major genres are by no means exclusive categories. On closer examination, day traditional plot driven adventure category has been mixed (or 'cut' in the language of gaming addiction) with game mechanisms from almost every possible alternative genre. There are strategy adventures, action adventures, etc. There are even racing-adventure games. (Beyond Good and Evil is one of the more interesting examples of this sort of genre-bending) The adventure game is dead, long live its mutant offspring.

Creating a useful definition of Game Genre
Much of this apparent growth in the adventure genre stems from poor classification. Let's go back to the definition of a genre that we started to develop in the genre addiction article.

Game Genre: A common set of game mechanics and interface standards that a group of titles share. The common set of psychological risk/reward systems present in a game determine it's membership in a genre grouping.

This is a rather rigid definition of genre, yet it explains much of life cycle trends the various genres. I hope to tackle the following topics with this particular definition:

  • Obtain a clear working definition of genres using concretely definable game mechanics, not ill-defined concepts such as 'fantasy' or 'science fiction'.
  • Track the lifecycle of various genres in a statistical fashion.
  • Gain insight into game design guidelines that may help reduce the risk of creating innovative game designs.

Market Factors: It is all a wash
To be clear, I'm intentionally ignoring differences such as whether or not a game is a fantasy RPG versus a science-fiction RPG. I am well aware that platform, setting, and plot, and license are important secondary market factors. The contextual elements of a game design can make or break a specific game.

My initial assumption is that many of these factors are long term cultural trends that exist on a time-scale much larger than an individual game. Well delivered plot is eternally delightful. Visuals that fit the whims of the public are a development technique that was available to past designers as well as future designers. Smart developers across multiple genres will always take advantage contextual elements to increase their sales.

The point is I'm assuming that developers will execute on all these contextual elements equally well or badly in some statistically uniform distribution. I'm taking the grand bet that these factors are a wash when it comes to examining the lifecycle of various games genres. In fact, my initial look at the problem using aggregate game rankings shows same basic normal distribution of game scores within any genre at any point in time.

Modeling: "Imagine a spherical cow"
So why focus on game mechanics as the defining factor? Because we can. According to the game design layers theory, core game mechanics are the most tangible, well-defined aspect of a game. We are going back to the basics and seeing what that gets us.

In physics, we have a joke that sums up this attitude quite nicely. A man asks a physics professor how long it would take for Holstein cow dropped from a 747 to hit the ground. The professor replies "First, let us assume a spherical cow..."

Sometimes we need to simplify a complex real world situation in order to begin modeling it. My hope is that this simple mechanics-based definition of game genres will provide substantial insight into how genres grow, evolve and eventually fade away.


Interactive Fiction
Let's use our new genre definition to tightly define a genre. Interactive Fiction is pretty clear cut.

Defining Core Game mechanics

  • Risk elements are composed of puzzle solving with a simple text-based parser. Puzzle solving tends to consist of acquiring an object and then using that object in the correct location.
  • Basic reward comes in the form reading new plot elements.
Defining Metagame mechanics
  • Limited player statistics or meta-game elements.
  • A linear narrative is used to connect the series of puzzles.
Other Game Design Layers
The above definition takes care of almost any text adventure I came across in during data collection. We can talk about contextualized objects, plot, etc, but these vary dramatically across games in the genre without giving us too much additional insight.

Notes on the Genre Definition
When defining the basic elements of the game, I'm splitting up the core game mechanics into two groups:
  • Risk elements: The actions that the player must perform successfully
  • Reward Elements: The 'treats' that the player gets for successfully completing the actions.

Immediately, we run into an interesting discovery about reward systems. The physical form of the reward system appear to matter greatly in the definition of the genre. In this case 'plot' arises as a reward mechanism. As we look at additional genres, we'll be able to make some conclusions about how different reward systems affect the addictiveness of the title.

A side note on plot. When you start thinking of games using mechanics-based definition, eternal debates such as the importance of story become very clear cut. Plot points are merely one of the many forms of reward that the designer has in their tool box.

The Data: Interactive Fiction


I graphed the number of titles released in a particular year using frequency polygons. The data was culled from an automated search on Moby Games and then compared to my above definition to make sure that each title fit.

We can see five clear phases of the genre lifecycle. These correspond with the typical product lifecycles you would see in most consumer categories, with some key differences.

  • Introduction: A new and addictive set of game mechanics are created.
  • Growth: The game mechanics are experimented with and genre addiction begins to spread.
  • Maturity: The game mechanics are standardized and genre addiction form a strong market force. Product differentiation occurs primarily through higher layer design elements like plot, license, etc.
  • Decline: The market consolidates around the winners of the king-of-the-genre battles that occurred during the Maturity phase. New games genres begin stealing away the customer base. With less financial reward, less games are released.
  • Niche: A population of hardcore genre addicts provides both the development resources and audience for the continued development of games in the genre. Quality decreases.

The first four phases are quite standard product phases. The last phase 'niche' occurs in many products, but is worth calling out due it's impact on indie development design decisions. Let us see if this pattern holds in other genres and if we can glean any addition insights from it.


Graphical Interactive Fiction
Graphical Interactive Fiction is a clear evolution from the interactive fiction genre. Not only do games in this genre add graphics as an enhance reward, but they also focus more strongly on graphical puzzles.

Defining Core Game mechanics

  • Risk elements are composed of puzzle solving with a simple text-based or icon-based parser. Puzzle solving tends to involving gaining an object and then using that object in the correct location.
  • Graphical puzzles make an appearance as a major activity.
  • Basic reward comes in the form of watching new plot elements.

Defining Metagame mechanics
  • Limited player statistics or meta-game elements.
  • A linear narrative is used to connect the series of puzzles.

Notes on the Genre Definition
The major apparent shift here is in the reward system. The introduction of graphics provides a more intense reward for the player.

The risk systems also change to a more graphically oriented method. Text parsers start to die as developers figure out that iconic puzzle solving offers a more streamlined approach to puzzle building.

The Data: Graphic Adventures



This graph was generated in the same method as before. It was a bit more interesting coming up with the data this time since the adventure genre was in full evolutionary explosion. The graphic adventure may be the clearest descendent of the text adventure, but it was not alone.

Others include:

  • Action Adventure
  • Puzzle Platformer
  • RPG
Examples of each of these emerge in the early 80's and some have a strong market presence even today. (A delightfully future project would be creating a chart that shows the evolutionary relationship of historical genres. Unfortunately, the query engine of Moby Games is limited in the current iteration and I did not have the ability to cull through the thousands of games in the database in an efficient fashion.)

A more informative graph shows the relationship between text adventures and graphics adventures


This chart shows three identifiable genres: Interactive fiction, graphical interactive fiction, and an unexpected new genre: adult graphical interactive fiction. We'll dig into this later.

Text adventure were some of the earliest games and peaked in popularity in the mid-80s. Graphic adventures came into existence shortly after the text adventure, but peaked in the early 90s.

It is impossible to determine an exact causal relationship, but graphics adventure arguably supplanted text adventures.

take care
Danc.

Read next chapter: Game Genre Lifecycle Part II

Terminology
I'm starting to build up a list of specialized terms from my previous essays. Here is a short cheat sheet

  • Genre Addict: Someone who strongly prefers to play a specific genre. There are elements of psychological addiction driving this preference.
  • King-of-the-genre: The top title in a genre that wins the purchases of a majority of genre addicts.
  • Game design layers: The concept that a game is built in layers with the most basic systems being core psychological risk / reward systems and higher layers focusing on contextual elements such as plot, characters and setting.
  • Craftsmen designers: Designers who prefer to focus on higher layer game design elements such as plot, characters, etc instead of core game mechanics. They are often strong genre addicts.
  • Design testing: The process of systematically instrumenting and logging player addiction statistics as a feedback mechanism for turning core game play. The goal of design testing is to increase the addictive nature of the game.
  • Player addiction: The concept that games are psychologically addictive systems that use risk / reward mechanics to produce measurable player behavioral change.


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