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Risk vs Reward: The Souls-Like’s Twist on Multiplayer

Communication, cooperation and competition are integral parts of the multiplayer experience in most games, but souls-likes have some of the most unusual twists on these three aspects of multiplayer.

In our previous blogs we discussed the design of souls-likes and the evolution and rise to prominence of these games. We believe they are highly popular because of the endless innovations and variations that their developers offer: always sticking to a few rules, but following them in unique ways. 

The distinctive multiplayer aspects of these games were first introduced in Demons’ Souls, the first game in the Souls series by From Software. Since then, every developer (including From Software itself) has persisted in changing up the multiplayer formula with one fixed rule: multiplayer, or even online play, always entails risk or reward. 

Live or Die? Collaboration by Communication in Souls-Likes

In Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, I was looking for ways to even the odds against my first boss. I found something that was labelled a ‘Remnant’. After activating it, a ghostly version of Sekiro, the protagonist, appeared near me, reached the far end of the gate the boss guarded, landed softly behind him, and vanished. I felt then that Sekiro’s stealth system could possibly help me with my first boss encounter. 

Sekiro’s Remnant mechanic can yield useful hints about how to progress in-game (Courtesy Activision)
Sekiro’s Remnant mechanic can yield useful hints about how to progress in-game (Courtesy Activision)

I did as the Remnant hinted and made my boss fight 100% easier. I snuck up behind the boss and dealt a deathblow, then sparred with him to inflict the second mortal wound (confusing as this sounds, certain enemies and bosses in Sekiro can withstand multiple deathblows; this one required two). I won my first fight in one of the toughest souls-likes with relative ease thanks to a feature that is available only when you are playing online. In Souls games, other players can leave actual messages, and you can also see how they died by activating certain Bloodstains on the ground. Sekiro is somewhat different, in that you can create a Remnant where you record 30 seconds of your playthrough and append a message to it. This becomes a record of death only if you die, and quite a few Remnants show how some ways lead to death. 

Nioh’s Bloody Graves mark spots where other players died and spawn AI enemies when activated (Courtesy Koei Tecmo)
Nioh’s Bloody Graves mark spots where other players died and spawn AI enemies when activated (Courtesy Koei Tecmo)

Remnants, Bloodstains and messages do not always help. Some just troll you, and you may encounter this in your very first playthrough of Elden Ring, when a glowing message right next to a precipice suggests you jump. You will die if you jump. The joke isn’t over yet. You can enter the tutorial cave later on by jumping down another precipice, and there is an NPC nearby, urging you to take the leap. This time, you don’t die, but get a crash course on how to play the game. 

For games that don’t hold your hand at all, collaborative features such as these can be a godsend (or hellsent).

In fact, the Nioh duology (which does something unique with just about every feature of a Souls game), creates a very simple risk vs reward scenario with its Bloody Graves mechanic. These do not record the last few seconds of another player before they died, but tell you how they died, and will spawn a hostile AI revenant when activated. The Bloody Grave even tells you the rarity of the loot you will find if you defeat this revenant, and its level (based on the player who died on that spot). Even lower-level revenants are tough to battle but yield good loot, so you know what you are getting into. Revenants may also drop the highly useful Ochoko cup, which can be offered at a checkpoint to summon human aid. 

In Nioh 2, this cup can also be offered up at special Benevolent Graves left behind by human players. When activated, these graves will spawn an AI companion based on the human player who left the grave, and this ally will aid you in battle until they die.

In the Nioh games, you can call for human or AI help using various in-game mechanics (Courtesy Koei Tecmo)
In the Nioh games, you can call for human or AI help using various in-game mechanics (Courtesy Koei Tecmo)

An area chock-full of Bloody Graves is certain to be very, very hard, and since you know how each one of these players died, you can build up a mental map of the various hazards in an environment. Invoking a Benevolent Spirit from a Benevolent Grave not only helps you in battle, but by paying attention, you can even see how to tackle enemies, mini-bosses and bosses the right way. Of course, the Nioh games make up for all this by being incredibly difficult

And the Souls games (from Demons’ Souls on to Dark Souls I, II and III, and even Sekiro) can be the most deceptive. Acting on any message, or even a bloodstain, is basically a coin-flip. Is this message sending me to my death, or saving me from it? Is this Sekiro Remnant showing me what to do, or what not to do? You can choose to ignore these elements altogether, but then again, consider how I got past Sekiro’s first boss. These messages can hold a lot of allure, especially for new players.

You (All) Died: Co-Op Gameplay in a Souls-Like

Playing a souls-like game in co-op is the closest such titles come to a relatively ‘easy mode’, though co-operative play does come with its own challenges. Over the years, developers have come up with various excellent co-op experiences that build a sense of solidarity between players, but not all co-op experiences are equal. Some games offer seamless co-op, others don’t. Some games are needlessly obscure about how to set up co-op. The list below contains a description of various co-op modes, and one recommendation that many souls-like developers could adopt to improve the co-op experience. 

What are the Must-Haves for Co-Op in Souls-Likes?

  • Seamless Co-Op: Some souls-likes deliver fluid and well-synchronised co-op where you and your friends can live and die together, level up together, and beat the game together. Nioh 2 allows for three players to play all game missions together where beating bosses and levels in co-op transfers over to your single-player playthrough. Gunfire Games’ Remnant: From the Ashes and its sequel Remnant II are actually meant to be played in co-op mode, but the procedurally generated world prevents progress from carrying over to your single-player campaign. However, any level-ups, skills or items gained in co-op mode stay with you in single-player mode – you just have to finish the mission on your own again. 
Remnant: From the Ashes and its sequel allow you to play in seamless co-op
Remnant: From the Ashes and its sequel allow you to play in seamless co-op
  • Summons: Seamless co-op, however, is not a staple of souls games. You can’t just join another player and beat a Dark Souls game together – in fact, the main boss of a level must be alive for co-op gameplay in Demons’ Souls and the Dark Souls games. You can summon a companion at the very first checkpoint of a level and complete the mission together, but your ally will be sent back once the boss is defeated. Your ally will also have to clear the level in single-player mode unless he has already done so. There are various other hoops to jump through, as we detail in the next point. 
  • Difficulty Balancing: The ultimate rush in a souls-like is the sense of accomplishment you get when you finally defeat a boss. Co-op modes must be carefully balanced so they don’t blunt this feeling. Nioh 2 is one of the hardest games ever made, and co-op mode maintains this challenge while allowing players to feel a sense of solidarity in defeat or victory. In games such as Elden Ring or the Dark Souls games, human companions summoned into your world have fewer resources and bosses are significantly stronger. Summoned players must be close to your own level as higher-levelled summons will turn the boss fight into a milk run. Engaging in co-op makes you open to invasions by a hostile human player, adding a further element of risk.
  • Making Co-Op Accessible: People love Souls games for their mystique and lack of hand-holding. This approach to game design, however, can carry over to UX design, especially for multiplayer, to such an extent that an article flat out states that setting up co-op in Elden Ring can sometimes be as tough as a boss fight. There are several online guides and wiki pages dedicated to explaining the various steps you must take to summon a friend into your world – and this problem has been met with criticism. Games like Nioh 2 address this issue by offering seamless co-op, which does not fit with From Software’s multiplayer design. Lords of the Fallen removes the tedium involved in setting up multiplayer without straying from the Souls games’ co-op formula. 
Lords of the Fallen simplifies the process of setting up co-op while staying true to the Souls games’ multiplayer modes
Lords of the Fallen simplifies the process of setting up co-op while staying true to the Souls games’ multiplayer modes

Invading Your Space: PVP in Souls-Likes

Like many other aspects of souls-likes, PvP entails risk and reward
Like many other aspects of souls-likes, PvP entails risk and reward

Invasions. That is the name for the default player-versus-player (PVP) mode in the Souls games – and the name tells you a lot about just what you are in for in PVP zones. If you are playing the game online without any restrictions like a multiplayer password, entering certain areas in-game opens you up to invasion by another online player. If the host dies to the invader, they lose all their souls and are sent back to the most recent checkpoint, and must go back to where they were defeated to retrieve their souls. The invading winner gets a percentage of the souls possessed by the winner. If the invader dies, they lose all their souls and must retrieve them after being revived at their checkpoint. 

Duelling with another player who invades your world can be both infuriating and rewarding
Duelling with another player who invades your world can be both infuriating and rewarding

PVP invasions are a highly divisive gameplay mechanic even among fans of souls-likes. Some believe it strikes a fair balance vis-a-vis the benefits of co-op, and that the invader is as much at risk as the defender. Even those who find the mechanic in itself as balanced might find its frequency too much to handle – turning it into a repetitive annoyance. Another criticism is that the invader’s attack patterns cannot be memorised – a core aspect by which a souls-like remains punishing but fair. There are some who even relish playing the role of a troll-like invader, and others who write of griefers who made them rage-quit a Souls game. One particularly fiendish troll kept invading a Kotaku columnist’s Demons’ Souls playthrough, never bothering to kill him, but always weakening him, first by ruining his armour and then using a spell that delevels the player one hit at a time

Of course, you can choose to play offline, but then you lose all aspects of the multiplayer experience. Consider how online play can guide your playthrough before you choose to go offline – encounter zones filled with the signs of many player deaths can provide a stark warning of the dangers ahead. There are some ways to avoid or cope better with invasions in the Dark Souls series, but each of them inevitably comes with some trade-offs. 

The Hollow Arenas in Dark Souls III, an arena-based PVP system, allows for a less chaotic experience while duelling human opponents. The Hollow Arenas are unlockable world-spaces in the game, and are usually accessed after finishing the single-player campaign. Winning in the Arena does not yield much as reward: you get a badge of victory. Invaded players will actually be alerted to your PVP experience if you sport a higher level badge, so, in a sense, the badge is less of a reward and more of a warning for lesser players

The Hollow Arenas of Dark Souls III offer a less chaotic, more controlled PVP experience (Courtesy Bandai Namco)
The Hollow Arenas of Dark Souls III offer a less chaotic, more controlled PVP experience (Courtesy Bandai Namco)

Elden Ring makes invasions optional so long as you are not in co-op mode. Again, there is a special ring you can equip to call for more aid when invaded while in co-op mode, but that will help only if someone responds to your summons. The game also features three arena-based PVP locations known as Colosseums

Elden Ring’s Colosseums offer multiple PVP modes, supporting up to six players together
Elden Ring’s Colosseums offer multiple PVP modes, supporting up to six players together

Each Colosseum can support up to six players at once, with three combat modes. Two players can engage in a duel to the death with no chance of respawning, two even teams can fight against each other with the chance to respawn, and all players can engage in a battle royale of sorts. 

Elden Ring’s Colosseum lets two players fight to the death, along with other PvP modes
Elden Ring’s Colosseum lets two players fight to the death, along with other PvP modes

Neither of the Nioh games feature invasions, but the first game in the series offers arena-based PVP where players can engage in 1v1 or 2v2 combat. But the near-absurd degree of customisation possible in Nioh means that these battles can become thoroughly unbalanced, with expert marksmen going up against near invincible opponents and picking them off with ease. Nioh 2 simply dispenses with PVP altogether, choosing to feature the robust co-op mode detailed above. 

Nioh has an arena-based PVP system that can get chaotic because of the sheer build variety in the game
Nioh has an arena-based PVP system that can get chaotic because of the sheer build variety in the game

If every aspect of multiplayer in souls-likes entails a risk vs reward calculation, the very decision to play offline or online requires a thorough understanding of the trade-offs involved in both modes when you are playing a Souls game. Playing online means invasions, but also guidance. Playing offline spares you from invasions, but removes all the various messages and tips that other players have left, and in games such as these, where the player must figure out many things for themselves, such guidance can be invaluable. But griefers can frustrate you so much that you quit the game, which is arguably the worst way to end things with a souls-like – doing the hard yards but still not coming away with a sense of achievement. 


Hidetaka Miyazaki, the mastermind behind the Souls games by From Software, wants to continue improving the multiplayer aspects of these games, taking cues from titles like Escape from Tarkov. Considering the fact that souls-like developers are hellbent on innovation, we can expect more twists in the multiplayer formula of such games. 

Elden Ring might be the most successful souls-like, but its multiplayer has invited criticism, especially because the formula hasn’t really been updated to facilitate the exploration of the open world in co-op mode. The mechanic of returning a partner to their own world after defeating a boss makes sense in the linear levels of the earlier games, but exploring an open world together is quite different, as Jade King of The Gamer points out. Seamless co-op in Elden Ring would result in shared discoveries, going down unknown paths together and surviving in a huge world with a friend who has got your back. All of this led to the development of the seamless co-op mod for Elden Ring, and From Software could come up with its own solution as well. 

Except for the arena-based PVP available in some games, multiplayer elements are organic – even integral – parts of your playthrough. The asymmetry in PVP invasions only adds to the brutal challenge of these games, making them tougher, but more rewarding – fighting and winning against a higher-levelled gamer will yield both high-quality items and any in-game currency that powers level-ups. 

There is a common thread running through all these multiplayer elements apart from the risk vs reward calculation: they are meant, at least in part, to make the world easier to understand and navigate. This carries over into real life as well: there are subreddits, Discord servers, and Youtube channels all devoted to helping people get by in the harsh world of these games. In that sense, you are never really alone when you are playing a souls-like, and you shouldn’t be – these games are hard enough as it is. 

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Perfecting Souls-Like Games: The Rise of a Winning Formula

In November 2021, the Golden Joystick Awards asked gamers to vote for the Ultimate Game of All Time as part of its celebration of 50 years of gaming. Dark Souls I bagged this coveted title, beating Minecraft, Doom and other legendary games. The Golden Joystick Awards is the longest-running video game award ceremony, and the fact that Dark Souls won this award via an audience poll underscores the meteoric rise to prominence of the souls-like. In a previous blog, we made no bones about the difficulty of these games. Nevertheless, it was not critics or tastemakers who voted for Dark Souls, but gamers themselves. 

Gamers voted for Dark Souls as the Ultimate Game of All Time (Courtesy Bandai Namco)

Why are souls-likes so popular? We will try to answer this by tracking the evolution of the souls-like formula and its coming of age in 2023. We will argue that the souls-like is an audience favourite because it’s a hotbed of innovation, it offers punishing but ultimately rewarding gameplay, and developers are now taking it in directions that few studios would risk, imbuing the souls-like with its own identity.

Must-Play Souls-Likes: Evolution and Experimentation

In most souls-likes, you are never more than seconds away from death, you need skill to survive, and stamina in combat. We will take a look at how From Software established and iterated on the core gameplay of Souls titles, and how studios like Team Ninja introduced novel variations on this formula: no two souls-like are alike.

Demons’ Souls

Demons’ Souls became a sleeper hit after imported copies met with favourable reception in the West

The first Souls game might well have been the last. Shuhei Yoshida, the then President of Sony Worldwide Studios, played a buggy final demo with framerate issues containing none of the game’s promised multiplayer elements. Sony decided not to publish the game worldwide. But soon, Atlus USA published the game in the US and Bandai Namco released it in Europe after reviews of imported copies made it clear that the game was 2009’s sleeper hit. At a time when mainstream games were criticised for holding the gamer’s hand and making things too easy, Demons’ Souls broke the mould and introduced the core gameplay concepts of the Souls games, with punishing combat, dark themes, an indirect narrative, death penalties, and more. As Demons’ Souls was released before the term ‘souls-like’ was coined, it was called an RPG and drew praise for its build variety and challenging combat

The Dark Souls Franchise

If Demons’ Souls was almost nipped in the bud, Dark Souls I was against nigh-impossible odds. 2011 saw the release of Skyrim, Portal 2, Batman: Arkham City and other hugely successful games. Yet, Dark Souls drew critical praise and fans who guided each other to make the experience less punishing. Dark Souls improved upon the Souls formula: healing supplies are replenished when you respawn at a checkpoint, combat is more fluid, and the environmental storytelling is more nuanced. 

Dark Souls II (2014) was not very popular on release because of performance and design issues. But it is now recognised for pioneering many of the elements that Elden Ring would feature: it is a quasi-open world allowing room for exploration, it offers more variety in builds, and has stances with unique movesets. If nothing else, Dark Souls II was a failed experiment that laid the groundwork for the best-selling souls-like to date. 

Dark Souls III (2016) broke sales records on launch, becoming publisher Bandai Namco’s fastest-selling game until Elden Ring was published. A lot of hype surrounded the game before release; the term souls-like was now known, if not common, and most importantly, Bloodborne (2015) was a smash hit, giving From Software a chance to bounce back from Dark Souls II. And Dark Souls III didn’t disappoint. The game expands on many souls-like concepts: the parry system is more refined and magic builds are stronger with the Ashen Estus Flask, which can either regenerate health or magic. The new Weapon Arts system also arms the player with a variety of movesets. The world of the souls-like was now brimming with possibilities. 


Few games are as unique as Bloodborne, a souls-like that plays like a horror fantasy inspired by the author H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. Bloodborne encourages fast-paced, aggressive combat by depriving the player of any shield or defensive weapon and giving them guns that can deal damage and repel attacks. If an enemy attack deprives you of health, you can counterattack within a narrow time frame to regain lost health points. This ‘Rally’ mechanic, along with Bloodborne’s gunplay, is a significant departure from the deliberate, methodical combat of other souls-likes. 

Moreover, Bloodborne has a twist on the horror elements as well. A faculty called Insight keeps increasing as you progress through the game. This allows you to see the world as it really is – filled with Lovecraftian monstrosities. According to Lovecraft’s mythos, people who truly see the world’s cosmic horror go mad. Bloodborne’s developers translate this fictive conceit into a brilliant gameplay mechanic.  

Bloodborne’s literary themes are expertly translated into gameplay features

The Nioh Duology

The Nioh games are true souls-likes: they don’t copy the Souls formula, but experiment with it. As a gamer notes, unlike the Souls games, Nioh’s gameplay is much smoother, fluid and multifaceted, with various mechanics that offer plenty of approaches to combat, improving your odds of defeating the games’ incredibly difficult bosses. 

Firstly, there is the all-important Ki pulse, which lets you rapidly regenerate your stamina, or Ki, in the middle of battle, allowing you to stay in the fight. Each weapon comes with three stances and their own specific movesets, and each stance offers unique advantages in battle. Every single weapon has a detailed skill tree: once mastered, these skills can be devastating in battle. The Nioh games’ narrative is drawn from Japanese folklore. In Nioh (2017) you battle Yokai – malevolent supernatural creatures – with the aid of guardian spirits that make you invincible for a short time in battle and can greatly damage enemies. In Nioh 2 (2020), you can become a benevolent Yokai, yourself, armed with powerful movesets.

The Nioh games innovate on almost every aspect of`the souls-like

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Sekiro eschews many core aspects of Souls games. In Sekiro, the most powerful move you make is the perfect parry or ‘deflect’, a timed block that you can follow up with a crippling attack. There is no stamina mechanic, but a posture bar that fills up if you block repeatedly. Once full, your posture breaks, you slump to the ground, defenceless, and are open to mortal attacks. If you successfully deflect attacks, or time your blocks, the enemy’s posture breaks and opens them up to a deathblow

Sekiro is a masterpiece that reduces the souls-like to its core concepts

The game does away with RPG mechanics and only offers a few upgrade paths. Sekiro, the player character, is fitted with a prosthetic after his arm is chopped off early in-game, and it can be equipped with weapons like a shuriken launcher or a short-range flamethrower. They may work with regular enemies, but you must master the art of deflecting again and again and finally dealing the coup de grace to defeat bosses.

The game does have a forgiving stealth system, though, where you can kill enemies and severely weaken bosses with a timed backstab. You can flee to a nearby checkpoint even when very close to death. Even the death penalty is not severe. Sekiro is less punishing than most souls-likes purely because every boss is a nightmare. 

Sekiro is a masterpiece and won the Game of the Year Award for 2019. Every design choice is meant to let you be the perfect Ninja, who can kill anything with his katana. Sekiro adds a whole new level (literally) to the world by placing loot and even NPCs in high places that can be reached only with a grappling hook. And it’s a true souls-like: it just throws out anything that does not directly involve death and difficulty. 

Elden Ring

Is the best-selling Souls game and the Game of the Year for 2022 the best Souls game? Arguably, yes. Penned in part by George R.R. Martin, Elden Ring is as difficult as any souls-like, and combines this with a complex RPG system in a wide-open world. Like in any Souls game, difficulty and deception play an equal role in this title. 

Elden Ring’s open world is both gorgeous and treacherous

Roam without caution and you will stumble upon a mob or a nigh-unstoppable mini boss. Try to bypass this area, and you may encounter another foe who kills you with one blow. Unlike the linear Souls games, however, you are never necessarily stuck somewhere, you can always find a relatively safer path

It’s also consistent with linear souls-like design. You explore large spaces, but your path to the Erdtree, which plays a critical role in the main quest, is blocked by incredibly difficult bosses. Explore to grind, gear up, level up and git gud enough to go after these demigods. And these boss fights are as hard as they come, but to paraphrase a reviewer, you go from ‘no way I can do this’ to ‘I can’t believe I did that’.  

In Elden Ring, your path to the Erdtree is blocked by immensely difficult bosses

Elden Ring is both accessible and punishing. Rather than just grinding in the same area in a linear game, you explore and can come upon gorgeous vistas. There are plenty of checkpoints, and you can fast travel between them. Many regular enemies can be dispatched with a backstab using stealth. In a previous blog, we noted that only 25% of Steam gamers had beat the first boss, but the game is still a favourite among players. This is perhaps because even if you keep dying, the open world never bores you. 

2023: The Year when the Souls-Like Found its Identity

If there is a tipping point for the souls-like, it’s the year 2023. Even before the year started, there were articles about hotly anticipated souls-likes. Matt Purslow, UK News and Features Editor for IGN, believes that the souls-like has ‘grown up’, suggesting that the year’s souls-likes are taking the genre in entirely new directions and emerging from the shadow of From Software, the progenitor of these games.

2023 is a year simply overwhelmed with souls-likes: Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, released in early March; Star Wars: Jedi Survivor, released late April; Lies of P, released mid-September, followed up quickly by Lords of the Fallen in October. 

With the possible exception of Jedi Survivor, each one of these games is hard enough that you might not finish it. We will discuss Star Wars: Jedi Survivor, Lies of P and Lords of the Fallen below. Each one of them not only count as adept variations on From Software’s formula, but also indicate that the souls-like is maturing rapidly. 

Star Wars: Jedi Survivor

Star Wars: Jedi Survivor makes you earn the title of Jedi Knight with its souls-like combat (Courtesy Electronic Arts)

Strictly speaking, we do not consider the Jedi series true souls-likes, but we classify them as titles with combat inspired by such games. However, gamers and game sites treat them as ‘entry-level’ Souls games. This unfairly puts them in the shadow of From Software’s titles. The Jedi games are set in the beautiful, space opera world of Star Wars and have a compelling narrative, a refreshing change from the oppressive, brooding atmosphere and indirect storytelling of most souls-likes. In our taxonomy, these aren’t just ‘Souls games for noobs’, but unique games in their own right. 

As Matt Purslow puts it, Jedi Survivor isn’t aping the Souls games, but aiming for ‘saberrealisticcombat’ – adroitly simulating the experience of wielding a lightsaber in close-quarters melee duels. At the same time, souls-like combat mechanics (like penalties on death, etc) make Jedi Survivor’s lightsaber duels both difficult and fun, or rewarding. You must earn the title of Jedi Knight, instead of indulging in the fantasy of being one. 

Lies of P

Lies of P’s literary ambitions sets it apart from most souls-likes (Courtesy Neowiz Games)

Lies of P draws inspiration from the Pinocchio fairytale, and that in itself lends it a literary sheen that other souls-likes, except Bloodborne, lack. The fact that this game is also set in the belle epoque period of European history speaks volumes about its sophistication. The belle epoque roughly corresponds to the three decades before World War I and was characterised by prosperity, cultural sophistication and relative peace. But inequality was endemic and the artistic elites felt cynical and pessimistic about the world. This combination of ‘prosperity and negativity’ allowed developers to craft a souls-like atmosphere from a real historical setting, whereas such games generally invent their own dark-and-stormy mythos. Even the ending of Lies of P suggests a sequel based on another beloved (and dark) classic of children’s literature. 

In terms of gameplay, Lies of P is an unabashed love letter to Bloodborne, encouraging fast, aggressive combat (like in Bloodborne, you can recover lost health if you counterattack after a blow). Playing as Pinocchio, you can customise the protagonist based on your preferred playstyle. A standout feature is the option to break weapons into two halves and then joining two mismatched halves to create a powerful armament. 

Lords of The Fallen

Lords of the Fallen’s dual world is a remarkable twist on souls-like environment design (Courtesy CI Games)

Any developer inspired by Souls games has to convince gamers that the game is difficult and punishing, but also fair and rewarding. Hexworks, the developer of Lords of the Fallen takes a unique approach to this design principle: parallel worlds that the player can alternate between to traverse the environment, solve puzzle obstacles and even get a second shot at life after dying. When you die in the living world, Axiom, you aren’t sent back to the last checkpoint, but rise back up in the exact same spot in Umbral, the parallel realm of the dead. If you die in Umbral, however, you are returned to your last checkpoint. 

Umbral is hard to escape from and becomes increasingly inhospitable as you spend more time in it. The dual worlds system always poses a risk-reward problem to the player. They can use the Umbral Lamp to discover that an area blocked off in Axiom is easily accessible in Umbral, but can run into nasty enemies in the world of the dead. Players can even enter the Umbral world with the Lamp to search for rare loot, running the gauntlet of the realm’s enemies and deeply disturbing apparitions. Souls games are set in gloomy worlds; this game is set in one dark world connected to another terrifying underworld.  

Lords of the Fallen’s two worlds are both inhospitable and deeply interconnected

Conclusion: Why the Souls-Like is Popular

From Demons’ Souls to Lords of the Fallen (and numerous indie gems in between), the souls-like game is a hotbed of innovation – and this is arguably the reason for their continued popularity. Like nature, the gaming industry is red in tooth and claw, and each studio must evolve to survive and thrive. The developers of souls-likes have taken this mantra to heart, always experimenting with a handful of core design principles, using them as a scaffolding to create entirely unique and punishing, but rewarding, games. 

Open worlds have become larger and larger, but not necessarily better. In fact, Elden Ring arguably features the best open world, with elegant sightline design and even an immersive take on the infamous Ubisoft Tower. Its minimal design elements and UI let the player truly inhabit the Lands Between. 

Perhaps this type of game draws successful and innovative studios precisely because they do not have to follow ‘souls-like commandments’ set in stone. There have been so many successful experiments on the souls-like that each one has its own identity: they might all follow a few rules, but the player will have no idea how they honour these rules. Even our own checklist is a descriptive rather than a prescriptive rule-set – if more developers decide to remove the infuriating slog back to where you died to recover lost resources, we would remove this death penalty from our rule-set.

Souls-likes are heavily single-player focussed, but paradoxically, they also have the most inventive multiplayer systems. Team Ninja, From Software, Gunfire Games and others have introduced key elements that transform the game when you play it online. We will delve into these gameplay elements in our subsequent blog. 

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Difficulty, Deception and Death: The Design of a Souls-Like

Within a year of its launch in February 2022, Elden Ring, From Software’s first open-world souls-like, had sold more than 20 million units, making it one of the ‘most popular games in recent memory’. 

Elden Ring’s sales figures – and the sheer speed at which the game hit the 20-million milestone – surpasses every other souls-like by a huge margin – the entire Dark Souls series (comprising Dark Souls I, II and III) hit 27 million units sold in 2020, over the course of ten years.

Elden Ring is set to dwarf the sales figures for the entire Dark Souls Trilogy

As of the time of this writing, Elden Ring has an average player count exceeding 25000 for the last 30 days according to Steam Charts, and in the months since it was released, the Steam player count has never dipped below 20000, placing it in the top 5% of Steam games in terms of active players.

Elden Ring is so difficult that even after a year of release, very few players have finished the game

Perhaps the game is easier than other souls-likes? No. As of June 2023, only 8% of owners on Steam had beaten the game. 25% of them hadn’t even beaten the first boss: Elden Ring is a gorgeous world that many owners have not even begun to explore. 

To wit, you have a best-selling, incredibly difficult but frequently played game, which makes no sense. Why would so many throw themselves at Margit, the first boss, only to be thwarted for the umpteenth time? Why would so many buy the game well after its overwhelming difficulty is made obvious in any playthrough?

In this blog series, we will discuss how the souls-like – a radical reinvention of the role-playing and fighting games – creates a challenging but ultimately fair interactive experience, rewarding your victories and forcing you to learn from your failures. In a subsequent blog, we will discuss some major souls-likes, and how these games took the genre in new, unexplored directions. And in our final blog of the series, we will delve into how these games – known for focussing on single-player – innovate even with online play, adding a variety of features that can both help and hinder the gamer. 

But before we answer any questions about the souls-like, we need to identify what it is

What is a Souls-Like? What are its Key Traits?

At its most basic, a souls-like features very difficult boss fights, inhospitable environments, unforgiving combat, preset checkpoints and various other elements meant to make the game hard but fair. A souls-like incorporates gameplay elements of developer From Software’s titles, like the Dark Souls trilogy, Demons’ Souls, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and others – many of which were directed by Hidetaka Miyazaki. The souls-like is not a genre unto itself, but reinvents the fighting and RPG genres. This is why we study the shared traits of these games, rather than treating them as a subgenre.

What are the Key Features of a Souls-Like?

  • Fixed Difficulty: The player can’t change the difficulty level of these games. The entire user base has a level playing field. 
  • Unforgiving Combat: Just a few missteps will lead to player death. Combat moves such as attacks, blocks and dodges cost stamina (or a similar resource) and leave you vulnerable if completely depleted. Regular enemies are as strong as the player, if not more.
  • Pattern Memorisation: The player must memorise enemy attack patterns and placement, and also the location of hazards or traps in order to succeed.
  • Hostile Level Design: Navigating the environment is a challenge, with tough enemies packed in tricky locations. 
  • Preset Checkpoints: The player has to reach and activate checkpoints manually to use them, and will respawn there on death. The checkpoint is also a place to level up your skills. Activating a checkpoint respawns all enemies in the area except for bosses. 
  • Loose, Indirect Narrative: The games do not feature explicit cutscenes or plotlines. There may be a quest log, but no quest markers to guide the player to their objective. The narrative unfolds as the player explores the world, and uncovers its lore by talking to NPCs and slaying bosses. 
  • Penalty on Death: Players may lose unused items, XP and resources (called Souls in the Souls games and Runes in Elden Ring) on death, but they may be able to return to where they died to reclaim lost resources


We class all souls-likes as ‘masocore’. As defined by game designer Anna Anthropy, a masocore game subverts the player’s expectations, and the genre conventions that they think they know. Souls-likes deliver a masochistic and hardcore experience that ultimately rewards the player with an immense sense of achievement after beating a challenge that appears to be insurmountable. 

True souls-likes batter and beguile you into thinking that failure is inevitable, when it isn’t. Death is central to learning from mistakes, and eventually defeating super-powered enemies. Both difficulty and deception play an equal role in a souls-like’s design as it constantly subverts the assumptions you make about the game.

Mastering combat, sussing out the game’s various illusory challenges and tricks, and eventually winning by paying attention can leave you immensely satisfied. This is probably why these games have a fervent fan base

Souls-likes often explore dark fantasy themes. To paraphrase blogger Josh Bycer, in a souls-like, the world is ruined, the good guys are dead, there is nothing to save, and you are just trying to make things a little better (you will fail, however). You are not Geralt the White Wolf, the Dragonborn or John Shepard. 

Bloodborne is a Lovecraftian horror fantasy. The Nioh games are filled with Yokai, monsters drawn from Japanese folklore. Demons’ Souls is set in a world overrun by soul-devouring creatures. The most prominent souls-likes are set in a carefully crafted and oppressive atmosphere that leaves no doubt that you are entering a world of pain. In that regard, there is no deceit. 

Bloodborne’s Lovecraftian horror themes are integral to its gameplay (Courtesy Sony Interactive Entertainment)

How Does a Souls-Like Differ from Other RPGs?

No matter how much you level up in a souls-like, victory hinges on the skill with which you use your stats, and the care with which you choose your stats and build. 

In normal RPGs, use determines progression, and it is the player character who levels up. You can upgrade an item by using it, wield this item to gain more experience points and reinvest these points into making the item even better. You can become a tank with sufficiently upgraded armour, and a one-hit killer with an overpowered weapon. 

This may not work in a souls-like, though it is possible to craft a build that gives you an overwhelming advantage. If you don’t perfect your build, your buffed up armour will probably absorb a few more blows from bosses before you die, and regular enemies can kill you if you cheese them with a powerful weapon – they will dodge, time their block and follow it up with a vicious and mortal counterblow. Levelling up in a souls-like requires you to carefully manage XP, and even after levelling up successfully, you need to grow skilled at whatever attack move or ability you gain. Not only do you have to grind to unlock a perk or skill, you have to grind again to master it. Skill determines progression and, in a sense, you are the one who levels up. 

In other RPGs, not all skills are meant to improve your ability to fight. In Starfield, there are entire skill trees with no relation to combat, allowing you to role-play as a planetary explorer, a space-faring merchant or an entrepreneur managing a business empire. 

In a souls-like, you aren’t going to be any of these things. You fight enemies, mini-bosses and bosses while navigating hostile levels and every skill in every skill tree is meant to give you a tactical edge in battle, and that’s it. This is why you should put extra care into every level up, every skill, every buff – they aren’t there to let you live out some RPG fantasy, but to help you ‘git gud’. 

This raises a question: are you truly role-playing as anyone if the entire levelling system is based on combat? It is possible that future souls-likes might introduce other role-playing mechanics, just as Elden Ring transplanted the souls-like into an open world. However, no matter how developers flesh out RPG mechanics in future souls-likes, player skill, rather than the player character’s level, will determine the progression along any skill tree. 

How to Survive in a Souls-Like, or How to ‘Git Gud’

The phrase ‘git gud (get good)’ will forever be linked to the souls-likes: becoming skilled is the key to surviving and winning in these games. You must also cultivate patience and perseverance to cope with the various challenges these games hurl at you. 

How Do You ‘Git Gud’ at Playing a Souls-Like? 
  • Be a Survivalist: Souls-likes do not feature typical survival mechanics like the need for food, clothing and shelter. But you have to garner resources needed to level up, unlock skills, and purchase key in-game items, all of which play a critical role in killing bosses and thus progressing to new areas. Dying to lesser enemies and losing resources can thus be infuriating. Learn enemy weaknesses, patterns and placements so you can clear an area again and again and level up to improve your odds against the boss. When weakened, flee from a fight if you can – whether it’s with a boss or an enemy mob – and return healthy. Lure away enemies from their groups if possible: divide and conquer. 
The stealth system in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice confers a strong tactical advantage (Courtesy Activision)
  • Learn How to Deal Damage: One of the first surprises a souls-like throws at you is that your attack buttons don’t really do much. Enemies dodge, block, and counterattack expertly. Even if they don’t, repeated attacks will drain your stamina, leaving you totally exposed. However, these games offer move sets that can inflict significant damage, only if they are executed within a narrow time window. In the Souls games and Bloodborne it’s the parry and riposte, in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, you can follow up ‘perfect deflectswith a deathblow. In Nioh, a timed button press triggers a ‘Ki’ pulse that rapidly regenerates your ‘Ki’, or stamina, letting you deal more blows to enemies. 
  • Perfect the Defensive Moves: Dodge rolls to get out of, or under, the boss’ range. Ducking to evade high attacks. Leaping to avoid sweep attacks. Timing the block right, or at least blocking instead of spamming attacks and exposing yourself. Getting far, far away from unblockable attacks. No matter what build you choose, and no matter what high-damage move the game has, defence is critical to surviving in a souls-like.  
  • Study the Game, the World and the RPG System:  In other RPGs, any build can be effective, but souls-likes may not offer such flexibility. This is why the Nioh games allow you to respecialise or ‘respec’ your skill points because tactics that work in early missions may not work in harder levels. The set of starting builds offered in souls-like can be considered a deviously hidden difficulty slider: the worst builds almost guarantee failure, and the best offer a fighting chance. In the Dark Souls trilogy and Demons’ Souls, the magic build can actually be overpowered. Souls-like world-spaces can offer helpful hints (some of these are left by other players and are visible only when playing online). Read guides and watch playthroughs if you get stuck at a certain stage – this is particularly useful in such games as they offer little to no guidance.
In Demons’ Souls, the magic build can be exploited to create an overpowered character (Courtesy Sony Interactive Entertainment)

None of these survival tactics guarantee success. In each of these games, you must execute a perfect combination of defence and offence unique to each boss to defeat it and you will keep dying in perfecting this combination. Victory is always stolen from the jaws of defeat. 

Despite this, every Steam user has at least one souls-like game in their library, according to SteamSpy. Steam had a user base of 132 million active users as of 2021, and the total number of owned copies of games tagged as souls-like currently exceeds 170 million. 

It is safe to presume that the developers of souls-likes are getting things right more often than not, but these games could use a few upgrades without compromising on the design or artistic integrity of a souls-like experience. We delve into these below.

How Can Developers Improve the Souls-Like Formula?

Making souls-like games easier would just rob these games of their identity. However, developers can innovate on certain key features, compelling gamers to play such games despite their difficulty: 

  • Variety in Builds, Weapons and Bosses: Nobody wants to slog through reskinned bosses and enemies.  The best way to keep these games fresh is to provide a great deal of variety. Nioh’s movesets are not only fluid, but replicate real katana techniques: here’s a video of swordsmen replicating these moves, and explaining how lethal they can be. 


Nioh’s balletic weapon movesets are inspired by real Japanese katana swordplay
  • Intricate Level Design: As Josh Bycer points out, good souls-likes combine expert level design with immersive environments. You need to place obstacles, traps and other nasty things (the level) organically in a well-crafted world-space (the environment). With its grappling hook mechanic, Sekiro adds a vertical dimension that lets you soak in each gorgeous but treacherous worldspace. 
  • Rewarding Gameplay: These games should give freely if they wish to remain unforgiving. Good souls-likes reward exploration: you can find ‘Kodamas’ by exploring Nioh’s levels, and these beings confer various ‘blessings’ that can make your playthrough easier. In Elden Ring, exploring the Legacy Dungeons (without the aid of your steed Torrent) can result in epic rewards and boss fights.
The player’s horse, Torrent, cannot accompany them in the Legacy Dungeons of Elden Ring (Courtesy Katlego Motaung, ArtStation)
  • Less Punishing Deaths: This is another quality-of-life feature that can make these games more accessible. Sekiro is by far the most forgiving: You can resurrect in mid-battle after dying and flee to a nearby checkpoint (boss encounters zones do not lock you in) without any penalty. Even if you die, there is a 30% chance that you will lose nothing because of the Unseen Aid mechanic. 


Developers need not compromise on the difficulty or even the souls-like rule-set that we have defined above when they introduce quality-of-life upgrades or innovations. Sekiro might not punish you repeatedly for dying, but you possess only one decisive move in battle: the perfect parry. Nioh’s movesets are fluid and even flashy, but they must be executed within a very narrow time window and can be mastered only with a lot of grinding. 

In fact, throughout this blog, we have discussed how each prominent souls-like balances offence, defence and difficulty, how it stands out with variations on the core design principles of such games, and how even death, the worst outcome, is usually a learning path for the gamer. So long as designers get the basics right, they can innovate endlessly – and this is why we have so many high-quality souls-likes, and so many devoted fans of these games. We will take a closer look into these games in the next blog in our series.

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How our Genre Taxonomy Powers Game Design and Discovery

The gaming industry is not only more lucrative than the movie and music markets combined, it is also expanding at a dizzying pace. The industry is projected to grow at a rate of nearly 10% per year in the next four years to reach a market value of more than $360 bn. By 2027, there will be 3 billion gamers worldwide, constituting nearly half the global population. Xbox estimates that over 800000 games are currently available across various platforms, and this number will only grow as the market grows.

But game development is such a risky business that a company has actually come up with an AI de-risking tool that parses a developer’s game concept to see if it’s already been done, and then estimates the idea’s chances of success. The industry is big, but the risks are even bigger. As the number of games increases, e-retailers and subscription platforms will also be hard-pressed to provide tailored recommendations to guide thousands of users to the few standout games they want.

In this blog, we will discuss how our genre taxonomy can power game design, and how our genre labels can organise a game e-retailer’s storefront into a coherent game library perfectly suited for discovery and conversions. 

Empowering Developers

In a previous blog, we discussed how our game taxonomy resolves the confusion that results when there is no standard by which genre labels are defined and assigned to various games. This ‘genre muddle’ can handicap game makers, thwarting any attempt at informed game design because they lack a clear blueprint for the type of game they are making. Our robust taxonomy, however, can drive game design choices, allowing developers to allocate costly resources in the right way and even empowering them to reach and surpass their design goals. 

This is because our core genre labels allow us to class a variety of seemingly disparate games accurately. This is why we need not rely on marketing to determine that Immortals of Aveum (2023) is a first-person magic shooter; the shooter genre label already accounts for aiming magic projectiles. Even a platformer doesn’t need to be 2D: Sony’s Spider-man games have elements of the platformer – Spider-Man can swing past entire city blocks and land on various ‘platforms’ such as roof-tops and even window panes simply by web slinging. This approach to genre enables a game developer to envision shooters without guns, platformers without jumping, and simulations of impossible worlds where faster-than-light travel is a mundane reality. In essence, our genre definitions, by their very nature, inspire innovations. 

The first person ‘magic shooter’ Immortals of Aveum features a reticle for precise aiming of magic projectiles

In subsequent sections, we will discuss how our genre taxonomy can expand a designer’s vision if they pay attention to key game concepts assigned to games – such data points can become a well of inspiration, potentially transforming the developer’s original idea, especially when they mix and match features from various games to create an entirely new interactive experience. 

We will also discuss the challenges of making a game like the souls-like, as the term is a descriptor rather than a well-defined genre in its own right. As such, it requires a particularly strong taxonomy so that the developer can nail down exactly what a souls-like must have, allowing them to create novel variations on a popular template. 

Broadening the Creative Vision

In our taxonomy, Portal (2007) is tagged with a data point named ‘environmental manipulation’, referring to the mechanic where you use a gun to shoot portals that instantly teleport the player or in-game objects to other areas of the puzzle enclosure. There are other, similar types of manipulation, however: in Control (2019), the player character can manipulate in-game objects with telekinesis. This is tagged as ‘physics manipulation’. The developer can create their own unique spin on game world manipulation by studying such games. 

Control’s physics manipulation and weird weapons seamlessly cohere with the game’s vibe and setting

Moreover, in Portal, the mechanic and the narrative are not really linked: the portal gun is a mere utility, and Portal’s narrative is structured purely around the AI GLaDOS’s comical malice toward the player character. 

However, Control ties its gameplay to its theme, setting and tone. The weird powers and items you can use seem to form an integral part of the eerie Federal Bureau of Control, which is tasked with containing and studying phenomena that violate the laws of reality. This close link between gameplay, tone and setting is reflected in our taxonomy. The developer can choose to make a game where the core mechanic and other elements are separate, or a game where the gameplay and other elements come together, and have a good chance of succeeding no matter what decision they take, because both Portal and Control are exhaustively analysed in the taxonomy. 

One data point – environmental manipulation – can potentially transform a developer’s vision, making them seek other sources of inspiration to revise or even change their design goals.

Nailing the Souls-Like

When dealing with Portal or Control, the developer is working in a genre with a clear definition, allowing them to take calculated risks. However, the souls-like, or the rogue-like, are not core genres. The ‘souls-like’ was coined after the fact, when studios began to emulate the Dark Souls formula. How, then, can developers use our taxonomy to make such games? They can start with our exhaustive description of the souls-like. 

What is a souls-like? A souls-like should contain all of these features: 

  • The player cannot change the difficulty level of the game. 
  • In combat, a few missteps lead to death. Moves like attacks and dodges cost stamina or some other resource, and leave the player vulnerable when this  resource is depleted. The player will lose skill points and items on death, but may be able to reclaim lost resources by returning to where they died. 
  • Players must memorise the enemy’s attack patterns and placements to stand a chance of winning. 
  • The hazardous environment is difficult to traverse, and the player must also fight tough enemies placed in tricky areas
  • The player respawns at set locations which they have to reach and activate, and this automatically respawns all enemies except for defeated bosses.
  • There is no direct narrative, it unfolds as the player explores the world.

The above is a precis of the full description in our taxonomy. Despite the difficulty of these games, Elden Ring sold 12 million copies within two weeks, and is still one of the most played games on Steam by concurrent players, proving that a masochistic gaming experience could actually be lucrative

Our taxonomy contains more than a hundred games that fulfil the criteria mentioned above. A developer looking to emulate and innovate can study how each game delivered its own spin on the souls-like without compromising on its defining aspects. 

For instance, Remnant: From the Ashes (2019) and its sequel are shooter souls-likes. The developer Gunfire Games seems to define the ‘shooter’ much like we do: you can’t fire a ranged weapon unless you are aiming, by pressing the gamepad left trigger or the right mouse button. If you don’t, you will swing your melee weapon instead. This makes for fast gunplay, and quick slashes simply by releasing the aim button. 

In the Nioh games, your moves consume Ki, a magical substance, instead of stamina. In battle, you can perform a special move called the Ki pulse. This rapidly regenerates your Ki or stamina, but only if you time a button press perfectly, when blue lights coalesce around you after you perform an attack or other move. This encourages the player to remain in the melee, instead of dodging or running away. 

The Nioh games have a stamina regen mechanic that allows players to fight rather than flee

The Star Wars: Jedi games feature a difficulty slider, and are hence tagged with the data point souls-like combat, indicating that they are not true souls-likes but take inspiration from the combat in such games. These games give the player the thrill of being a Jedi knight, but make them earn that title with challenging combat. Unlike many souls-likes, which tend to have a dark fantasy theme, these games are set in the beautiful and vibrant Star Wars universe, and can encourage the developer to create a souls-like without its characteristic themes or vibes.

The Star Wars: Jedi series offer souls-like combat without the oppressive dark fantasy vibes of the Souls games

The rulesets for souls-likes, metroidvanias and roguelikes show what all such games have in common. The full taxonomies of such games show how each souls-like or roguelike is unique. And tags like souls-like combat offer more sources of inspiration. A developer can imagine what a souls-like could be, while the taxonomy grounds them in the reality of what a souls-like should be. 

Reinventing Game Discovery

Whether a store is selling games or a subscription to its game library, game discovery is vital. As genre influences buying decisions across media, meaningful genre-based recommendations can guide users to the games they will enjoy. 

According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), shooters have consistently ranked among the top five genres for the past three years, meaning a user is quite likely to search for shooters. Our taxonomy allows the user to both narrow and broaden their search to find the game best suited to their preferences.

If the user wants to narrow their focus, they can be presented with games belonging to shooter subtypes, such as the puzzle shooter Portal or the Borderlands looter shooters. They will also find the stop-n-pop Call of Duty titles and the run-n-gun Halo games.

The Borderlands games are classic looter shooters

If the user wants to broaden their search, a toggle can populate the discovery queue with games that are predominantly shooters, but combine other genres as well (based on our four-value system), like Halo Infinite

The taxonomy also deals properly with terms like action and action-adventure, which are applied indiscriminately as the industry lacks precise definitions for such terms. We have discussed how we deal with the action-adventure moniker in our blog on video game genres, we will provide a brief recap here.Action is a well-defined core genre in our taxonomy: these titles require quick reflexes and good hand-eye coordination, and test your proficiency at using an input device to achieve in-game objectives. As such, shooters, fighting games and even platformers count as action games because they test your manual dexterity. The adventure genre is also clearly defined: it features exploration and/or a strong narrative that gives the player a sense of participating in an adventure. So an action-adventure combines the skill-based mechanics of an action game with the narrative or exploration elements of an adventure game, both in good measure. But each action-adventure is distinguished by its core skill-based mechanic or gameplay loop, such as shooting or fighting, and the action-adventure label is appended to this core genre. No game is just an action-adventure – but it can be an action-adventure shooter, an action-adventure fighting game and so on. 

If the gamer uses action-adventure as a filter, the storefront can choose not to display a single game directly under this term, and show action-adventure shooters, action-adventure fighting games and so on, under separate queues or carousels. 

The user will not find the Call of Duty games under action-adventure shooters – while these games have basic story modes, they are primarily multiplayer player-vs-player games. However, he will see these games under action shooters. He will not find the Street Fighter games under action-adventure fighting, but will see games like Ghost of Tsushima (2020) or Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (2019), as they have strong narratives. 

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is not just a great souls-like. It’s also a great story.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is not just a great souls-like. It’s also a great story.

If the storefront or platform feels that action-adventure is so well-known that the user should get at least a few results directly linked to the term, it can create a single discovery queue with a few top-selling action-adventure shooters, fighting games and so on. A prompt under each game can then take the user to other action-adventures that belong to the same core genre. In effect, the user can search with loosely defined terms, but still get relevant and precise results. 

Ultimately, our taxonomy gives a game platform or subscription service a way to help the user find what they really want, rather than bombarding them with pages full of results under catch-all terms. The need for such an organised game library will only grow as more games are published and more people turn to gaming.


Some games create memorable endings by inverting their core gameplay at the climax. In Assassin’s Creed 2 (2009), Ezio literally casts off all his weapons to engage in a fistfight with the Pope: no stealth, no parkour, no hidden blade – just a punching match at the end of a revenge saga. 

In Shadow of the Colossus (2005), the youth Wander finally turns into a shadowy Colossus himself, only to be defeated when the sword he used to kill 16 Colossi is hurled into an abyss. The former is exhilarating; the latter feels tragic: your actions have rebounded on Wander and sealed his fate.

Shadow of the Colossus is an all-time classic with a compelling end-game twist

It is unlikely that the developers would have taken such risks with the end-game without mastering their gameplay loop: the climax stands out because the gameplay until then had been so well-defined. Genre determines gameplay, and gameplay determines genre. Our genres can allow developers to nail down the core aspects of their game and create striking variations, inversions and more – in this blog, we have provided only a few use cases where our taxonomy can inform and inspire game design.

For game sellers or subscription platforms, being savvy about genres will only help them foster game discovery. Instead of wallowing in the genre muddle, they can use our taxonomy to great effect, populating their discovery queues with results that match search intent and give the user a plethora of games suitable to them. 

Like any classifier, genre is only useful if accurate. For over a decade, we have defined and refined our genre taxonomy with utmost rigour, and this is why we can help gamers find games they love, boost e-retailers’ conversions, and empower developers to achieve and surpass their design goals. 

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The Ultimate Guide To Video Game Genres

The video game market is bigger than the movie and music industries combined, and this has led to a plethora of games across multiple platforms such as mobile, PC, console and even the cloud. But for many gamers, finding the right game for their tastes remains a challenge, and researchers have found that this is largely because games lack a robust genre taxonomy

Gaming More lucrative than movies

Veteran designer Ernest Adams argues that a game’s genre cannot be determined by its theme, setting or even its intended audience (like children, for instance), but on what you do in-game, or its core gameplay mechanic. We couldn’t agree more. 

In our taxonomy, video game genres encapsulate the core gameplay concepts of a game. Genres are assigned mainly on gameplay and not story, theme, setting, or tone – these concepts are used to refine, rather than define, genre labels.

Rigorous game genres are the need of the hour. Genre is the second-most important decision driver in buying books, and the principal deciding factor in watching movies. Genre also influences what games we choose to play. Yet, game genres are loosely defined and problematic on many levels. Authors and filmmakers can work within well-established genre conventions but game developers, sellers and buyers can’t. 

Our first task then, is to identify why current genres fail, and then provide rigorous definitions of game genres. We will then explain how our genre labels address the various problems that plague current genre taxonomies. In a subsequent blog, we will show how our genres, coupled with our broader taxonomy, can enable game retailers and subscription platforms to provide better recommendations, and help developers make informed and creative design choices. 

Game Genres Matter for Developers, Sellers and Gamers

As of 2023, there are more than 50000 games on Steam, and almost 700000 mobile games available across the App Store and the Google Play store. 

How, then, does a gamer choose a game to play? A survey of more than 1,200 gamers revealed that 74% relied on genre information when selecting new games to buy. Video game genres are hence the focal point of analyses meant to yield actionable insights into games. However, few of these reports adopt a rigorous methodology for studying game genres, undermining the insights they derive.

For years, the Entertainment Software Association has covered the most popular genres among key demographics like gender and age, without providing genre definitions. Even scientific studies try to derive insights about gaming based on genres without nailing down what game genres are. One study maps personality traits to genre preferences, another examines how genres correlate with ‘problem video game playing’, or gaming addiction. The former does not provide any genre definitions, and the latter provides loose descriptions, rather than definitions, of genres. 

In our next section, we will delve into why such imprecise genre labels – used by gaming websites, researchers and analysts – do not serve their purpose, which is to help developers, publishers, sellers and gamers make informed choices.

How Video Game Genres Fail

In a research paper focussed on game discovery, Rachel Clarke and Jin Lee identify several reasons why game genres fail, despite the importance of genres across media in driving buying decisions.  

A good, but poorly marketed game is likely to sell eight times fewer copies than a good and well-marketed game. As genre drives buying decisions, it is essential to a game’s marketing, and bad genre labels can impact a game’s chances of success. 

According to Clarke and Lee: these are the main reasons why game genres fail:

  • Some catch-all genres like action are assigned to too many games
  • Some multifaceted games such as Minecraft are assigned to too many genres
  • Labels like ‘souls-like’ and ‘metroidvania’ become equated with the very genres they reinvent. 

Clarke and Lee point out that a popular gaming site classes Super Mario Bros (1985) and Grand Theft Auto as action games, though GTA and Mario are quite unlike each other. Other catch-all terms like action-adventure, RPG and ‘indie’ are applied too broadly, and the researchers quote a gamer who finds the label meaningless because more than half the games in digital storefronts are called action-adventures. 

Then there are games like Minecraft (2011), which offer a great deal of gameplay options. Such games lose their identity by being tagged with too many genres: as Clarke and Lee ask, what is Minecraft when it has over 10 genres assigned to it? 

A game like Minecraft with many possibilities loses meaning when assigned to too many genres

The souls-like and the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) are remarkable twists on the fighting and strategy genres. As they rose in prominence, more and more developers emulated such games. Due to the MOBA’s popularity, the strategy genre can become equated with what can be considered as one of its sub-genres, and strategy game recommendations may end up containing only MOBA’s. 

Or consider Elden Ring (2022), the first open-world souls-like. A user expecting the exploration and discovery of Skyrim (2011) would find themselves fighting for every inch of the map. However, if the term souls-like were clearly defined, the gamer would have some idea about the hostile terrain of Elden Ring’s open world. 

Unlike conventional open worlds, Elden Ring offers a challenge around every corner

Imprecise genre labels impair game discovery, which in turn can impact sales. But they also vitiate studies based on them. 

One study uses the Five Factor Model – a standard framework for assessing personality using core human traits – to map gamers to genre preferences. According to the study, introverts tend to like ‘indie’ games. But as Clarke and Lee point out, ‘indie’ games can belong to any genre. So what type of indie games do introverts like? 

A study by psychologists found that gaming addiction was most prevalent among those who played MMORPGs, first-person shooters and action-adventure games. However, the study defines the FPS as a ‘kill-or-be-killed game from the player’s eye view’. A game like Fashion Police Squad (2022) doesn’t fit this definitionin this FPS, you fight ‘fashion crime’ by shooting badly-dressed NPCs, instantly clothing them in fashionable attire. What, then, is its addictive potential?


Fashion Police Squad is such a hilarious variation on the FPS that it counts as a parody (Courtesy No More Robots)

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If such studies had defined genres with care, then all of them would be critical to the gaming ecosystem. Game e-retailers could estimate a buyer’s personality based on purchase history and tailor recommendations, and developers could make games for specific personality types. But these studies’ findings can only be treated as estimates, and we need proper definitions to understand game genres and put them to use. 

Resolving the Genre Muddle – Game Genres Defined

In this section, we will attempt to sort out the genre muddle – the confusion that results when there is no standard to define genres. We will first define core genres and will then explain how they solve the problems endemic to current classification systems. 


In a shooter, the player must aim and shoot projectiles – whether they are bullets, arrows, or magic fireballs – at a target in order to achieve a given objective. These games typically feature ranged combat. There are tons of shooters out there – the Call of Duty franchise, the Halo franchise and more. Immortals of Aveum (2023) allows you to aim and fire spells and magic projectiles – it is called a first-person magic shooter.

The Call of Duty games are classic examples of shooters

Role-Playing Game (RPG)

In an RPG, the player advances up a power curve, getting stronger and stronger at certain skills as they unlock experience points, perks or any in-game feature meant to reward and enable progress. 

Such games offer many playstyles: you could play as a mage or archer in a fantasy RPG, and experience a strong sense of skill progression in your chosen role. Levelling up is usually tied to completing quests and missions that are part of the game’s story, but completing ‘side-quests’ can help you progress too. 

The classic video game trilogy Mass Effect offers a wide range of role-playing options


Action games require quick movements, fast reflexes, excellent hand-eye coordination and short reaction times. They test your ability to use an input device proficiently to score an in-game objective. 

Arcade classics like Breakout (1976) and Asteroids (1979) are pure examples of action games. In his 1982 book The Art of Computer Game Design, industry pioneer Chris Crawford categorises all arcade titles as ‘skill-and-action’ games. 


Asteroids is an arcade classic that tests your reflexes and manual dexterity (Courtesy Atari)


The ideal adventure game is a perfect blend of narrative and exploration: a game should have either one of these in good measure to count as an adventure. 

The visual novel series Ace Attorney are interactive narratives where you collect clues, solve the crime and then cross-examine people to exonerate your client. Gone Home (2013) combines exploration and narrative: the player must explore their empty family home and discover what happened to their kin. 

Ace Attorney is a pure adventure game, without any action or combat elements


In a fighting game, a player has to engage in real-time close-quarters melee combat with one or several enemies. Any other type of fighting, such as turn-based or ranged combat, doesn’t count. Street Fighter, Tekken and Mortal Kombat feature fast-paced, button combo-based unarmed melee contests. 

The Tekken games require you to master combos in unarmed melee combat match-ups

Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMO)

An MMO is any game that has a massive number of players playing online together. Black Desert Online (2014) is an MMORPG that has servers located across regions, like the ASEAN or the EU, facilitating low-latency gameplay for thousands of players in various parts of the world. A game like GTA Online, which might have thousands of concurrent players playing online, does not count, as the gamers are playing in groups of 30 or less.

Black Desert Online has a committed user base across the world (Courtesy Pearl Abyss)


In a platformer, the player character has to jump, climb or use other in-game mechanics to move from one platform to another. The player may have to deal with enemies or avoid hazardous areas to land on the next platform, failing which they will die. 

Super Mario Bros is a platformer that played a big role in reviving the industry during the ’80’s. Modern indie games like Celeste (2018) and Super Meat Boy (2010) are precision platformers that require timing and carefully planned moves to cross all platforms. 

Celeste is such a difficult platformer that it offers an Assist Mode (Courtesy Maddy Makes Games)


Puzzle games require the gamer to solve problems using logic. There may be multiple solutions to a puzzle, but the player cannot stumble upon any of these by just acting randomly. To solve the puzzles, the player needs to recognize patterns, uncover clues and may also need to perform a set of moves in a certain order. Games like Portal (2007), Candy Crush (2012) and Zuma (2003) offer the gamer a good mental workout. 

Portal isn’t just a puzzle game: it’s a comic narrative too (Courtesy Valve)


Games in this genre require tactical thinking and logistical planning. The player has to garner and apportion resources, place troops in the right areas, and supply them with the resources needed to manoeuvre effectively. 

Combat-based strategy games such as Starcraft (1998) stress this genre’s tactical aspects while non-combat games emphasise the logistics of allocating resources to build cities, settlements and the like. Cities: Skylines (2015) is a non-combat game that recreates the intricacies of city building – you have to plan out areas per zoning laws, place roads properly to avoid gridlocks, and even deal with economic flux. StarCraft requires you to manage resources and position troops rapidly – it demands tactical thinking and quick reflexes. 

Building a city in City: Skylines is almost as hard as building a real world city


A simulation game recreates a scenario as realistically as possible. In a racing simulator, you need to be familiar with every aspect of your car, in a flight sim you have to know about every switch in the cockpit and even weather conditions like wind speed. 

Elite Dangerous (2014) simulates the intricacies of space travel as though it were a real-life scenario. The title focuses on the ground realities of space travel so well that a VentureBeat columnist even stated that while asleep, his brain could not distinguish the game from reality and he would wake up at night, wondering where he was. Elite Dangerous even uses sounds from space recorded by NASA. 

Elite Dangerous simulates space travel so well that it is almost a glimpse into the future

Setting the Record Straight

While we have defined several important game genres, we have left out a few as they are somewhat self-explanatory, such as digital recreations of real-life sports, racing and driving games, and digital versions of games like monopoly or poker. 

Essentially, we wanted to set the record straight about the ‘marquee’ genres in gaming, like the shooter, the RPG and so on, and tie their definitions to their core gameplay. Combining these genre definitions with other aspects of our taxonomy can resolve the genre muddle and allow games to be analysed with rigour.

Making Game Genres Actually Useful

Let us now elaborate on how our genre definitions resolve the three main problems pointed out by researchers Clarke and Lee:

  • Catch-all terms like action-adventure, action and RPG are applied to too many games: our precise definitions for the action and RPG genres ensure they cannot be applied indiscriminately. Even the action-adventure label is only assigned to games that contain both action and adventure in good measure, like Uncharted 4 (2016). We also qualify what type of action-adventure a game is, based on its core gameplay. Hence, the Halo games are action-adventure shooters and the Spider-man games are fighting action adventures.
Uncharted 4 offers a balanced combination of action and adventure, with combat and exploration
  • Some feature-rich games are assigned to too many genres: even we assign a variety of genres to games that offer multiple gameplay options. But we refine such assignations using the four-value system, which is discussed in-depth in this blog. We will explain it in brief here: ‘shooter’ is the defining genre of a game that predominantly involves shooting and ‘RPG’ would be the key genre if the title required you to level up consistently to progress in-game. ‘Puzzle’ would be a ‘notable genre’ if the game required you to solve puzzles occasionally to progress in-game. If it features melee combat that plays little to no role in progression, then fighting becomes a minor genre element. We quantify and qualify the various genres assigned, giving a clear picture of what the gamer will be doing in-game. Minecraft doesn’t have a bunch of genre labels, but a set of genres arranged under a four-value hierarchy. 
  • Terms like ‘souls-like’ can become equated with the genres they reinvent: in our taxonomy, terms like souls-like and metroidvania are not considered genre labels at all. The label ‘souls-like’ was coined after the fact to describe titles that emulated the Dark Souls games. We retain the term souls-like and call it a descriptive genre as it is a handy thumb rule for what a souls-like should feature. However, the souls-like is not a genre, and we identify each soul-like’s defining genre, its key themes and settings, and quantify these data points using the four-value system. We also create detailed descriptions for terms like souls-likes,
The Dark Souls games are radical innovations on the fighting genre

listing all their features and eliminating any ambiguity about what the term entails. Using this method, we classify Remnant: From the Ashes accurately as a souls-like shooter, and can also pinpoint how From Software transplanted the souls-like onto an open world. 

With its gunplay mechanics, Remnant: From the Ashes is a unique twist on the souls-like formula


We at Gameopedia understand that genres power game discovery, inform game design and drive conversions. They determine the success of game designers and game sellers. As such, today’s imprecise game genre labels do not serve their intended purpose. 

In our next blog, we will delve into how we can help game retailers guide users to their next favourite game, and empower designers to make informed, creative and even radical game design choices, backed by our genre taxonomy, which has evolved over the course of more than a decade.

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The Retro Game: Nostalgia and Reinvention

When Nintendo released its Classic Mini NES in 2016, the gaming community went berserk. The Mini Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) sold out instantly due to ‘feverish demand’ and within days, scalpers were selling the console for up to nearly four times its retail price on eBay, at an average price of $230. In comparison, the Switch’s launch price was $299 in 2017. 

The NES Classic Mini (Courtesy Nintendo)
The NES Classic Mini (Courtesy Nintendo)

Nintendo’s retro console is a small-size replica of the NES and there isn’t any place to insert cartridges – it contains 30 games made for the original NES, most of which are at least 30 years old. Yet the console was wildly popular, and Nintendo simply could not match the demand for it. The company ceased manufacturing the NES Classic Mini by 2018, but its foray into retro consoles had shown just how popular retro gaming had become. 

The NES Mini’s unprecedented success suggests that even retro-inspired games may well find an audience among gamers, and this is indeed the case. In fact, modern retro-inspired games are popular both among older gamers looking to relive their childhood gaming experiences, and younger players eager for a taste of the classics. Such games succeed not only because of the pull of nostalgia, but also because they recreate the look and feel of older games while introducing innovative gameplay mechanics. 

In this blog, we will discuss what a retro game is and how they have inspired a slew of modern games. We will also discuss the history of how modern, retro-style games attained a degree of mainstream popularity and recognition, and delve into some of the most well regarded retro-inspired games of today. 

What is a Retro Game?

There isn’t a single widely-accepted definition of a retro game – what is considered retro, and what is considered a retro classic, is largely determined by what will evoke nostalgia among older gamers. 

Today, titles released during the 8-bit to 16-bit period (or the third and fourth generation of consoles) are fondly remembered as classics by older gamers, who played these games as children and are more likely to gravitate towards titles that bring back memories of playing such games. The average gamer is around 35-37 years old, and a significant chunk of gamers today are in their late thirties or early forties. They have more disposable income to spend on games, and are more likely to spend frequently on gaming. Such players almost certainly got their first taste of gaming from the third and fourth generation of consoles and their nostalgia for this time period impels them to seek out the games of the ’80s and ’90s. 

The games from this era are true classics, likely to remain relevant even when nostalgia ceases to be a factor. The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) saved the industry after the video game crash of 1983 and introduced instant classics such as Super Mario Bros (1985) and The Legend of Zelda (1986), both of which would spawn long-running game franchises. The quality of these games has made retro gaming a highly enjoyable pastime – and the NES and SNES are especially popular among retro gamers. The shift from 2D to 3D, during the fifth generation, marked the end of an era that had brought gaming back to the mainstream. This may be why many indie titles, including the ones we discuss in this blog, pay homage to this time period in gaming history. 

Super Mario Bros and other Ground-Breaking Games Revived the Industry (Courtesy Nintendo)
Super Mario Bros and other Ground-Breaking Games Revived the Industry (Courtesy Nintendo)

What is a Modern Retro Game?

A modern, retro-style game devoutly recreates the 2D aesthetic of the 8-bit and 16-bit era and adopts the gameplay mechanics of the ‘classic’ generation while introducing innovations made possible by modern tools and design perspectives. Essentially, a modern retro game tries not only to recreate the appearance of a much older game, but also the experience of playing such a game, with innovations that can appeal even to younger gamers not necessarily looking to relieve their childhoods.

There are some exceptions to the 2D aesthetic, however: both Project Warlock (2018) and Ion Fury (2019) are inspired by the appearance and gameplay of early FPS games like Doom (1993) and Duke Nukem 3D (1996). Both Project Warlock and Ion Fury are nevertheless inspired by the same time period, and the gamers who played games on the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System, 1990) no doubt played Doom and other FPS titles on PC as well.

Project Warlock Pays Homage to the Shooters of the ’90s (Courtesy Buckshot Software)
Project Warlock Pays Homage to the Shooters of the ’90s (Courtesy Buckshot Software)

History of Modern Retro Games

The rise to prominence of modern retro-style games can be linked to some extent with the history of indie game development – in the 2000s, indie developers carved a niche for themselves by delivering retro-style experiences, and by the 2010s, such games hewed closely to the design and aesthetic of older games, intentionally recreating the experience of playing a classic from the past. 

In the 2000s, major game studios were pushing the envelope on 3D gaming and the decade saw exponential growth in the quality of 3D graphics. Eventually, major studios transitioned to 3D game development and the 3D worlds pioneered by id and Epic Games became common. This created a market for those looking for nostalgic experiences of 2D.

According to Sam Roberts, director of the annual indie game festival Indiecade, the retro aesthetic helped indie developers create a niche for themselves because of the big developers’ ‘single-minded’ pursuit of high-res, photo-realistic graphics, which led them to abandon game genres that had been popular in the ’80s and ’90s. AAA studios were not really inclined to deliver retro gaming experiences, even though a demand for them existed, as demonstrated by the success of Cave Story (2004).

The 2D platform adventure Cave Story was the product of a single game developer, Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya, who made the game over the course of five years, mainly during his free time. The game has received widespread critical acclaim for its polished look and gameplay design, and for the sincere tribute it paid to classic franchises like Metroid, Mega Man, The Legend of Zelda, and Castlevania. Its success demonstrated the demand for retro games, and its quality and sophistication showed how indie game development had matured.

Cave Story was one of Indie Gaming’s First Successful Retro Games (Courtesy Daisuke "Pixel" Amaya)
Cave Story was one of Indie Gaming’s First Successful Retro Games (Courtesy Daisuke "Pixel" Amaya)

This was followed by other successful titles like Braid (2008), Super Meat Boy (2010) Terraria (2011) and Minecraft (2011). With the exception of Minecraft, these early indie successes were already harkening back to the 2D era, inspired in part by Cave Story. In 2008, Microsoft launched its summer of games event to promote indie games and prominently featured Super Meat Boy and Braid. Indie games had emerged from their niche and into the mainstream. 

The 2D indie games of the 2000s had unique aesthetics and did not generally mimic the look of an 8-bit or 16-bit game. But from the 2010s onwards, new techniques allowed developers to create an authentic ‘retro’ look. Shovel Knight (2014), made with a custom engine, was so similar in appearance to the games of the ’80s and ’90s that some gamers believed it could be played on the NES console. 

Super Meat Boy (Courtesy Team Meat)
Super Meat Boy (Courtesy Team Meat)

By the mid 2010s, there were a slew of indie games that took cues from Shovel Knight, and attempted to faithfully recreate the retro aesthetic of the ’80s and ’90s. Such games also retained older gameplay elements while introducing modern conveniences. Not all went as far as Shovel Knight in recreating the ‘classic’ look, but their visuals are clearly inspired by games for the NES and the SNES. 

Why are Modern Retro Games So Popular?

Modern retro-inspired games are popular because they are well-developed titles that are highly replayable and maintain an older-looking visuals and audio – the best retro games combine nostalgia and innovation to appeal to a wide variety of gamers.

In fact, a video game is far more capable of evoking nostalgic feelings than a film or a piece of music because it is highly immersive, allowing you to revisit a cherished virtual space from the past. Playing retro games (rather than watching a classic film) can be an intensely personal experience

However, just nostalgia alone cannot account for the popularity of retro games. Such games also bring back the elegant simplicity of older game design, and even while some of them are harder to play than the average game, their gameplay elements can be quickly understood, paving the way for an immersive experience quite unlike a modern AAA game, which can become overwhelming with its cutscenes, visuals, branching storylines and sprawling worlds. Those looking for a simpler experience may naturally turn to retro games.

According to The Independent, 90% of gamers will not finish modern games, partly because games now feature longer campaigns – a modern game’s campaign can take between 30-100 hours to complete. Given the complexity and length of modern video games, older gamers tend to prefer the simplicity and familiarity of a retro game that will not eat into their time. Even younger players can be attracted to such games because they are now trendy and their core gameplay loops are relatively easy to pick up.

Another compelling reason to play a retro game is that it provides an alternative to the toxic culture of competitive multiplayer gaming. As a critic observes, contemporary multiplayer focuses on ‘destroying’ opponents, but the couch co-op games of the ’80s and ’90s were about having fun together. Retro games that allow multiplayer gaming of the older kind let people relax instead of obsessing over being the best and racking up the most kills. 

At its simplest, nostalgia is a sentimental yearning for a happy past. It indubitably plays a role in the popularity of retro-inspired games, but so do many other factors. Gamers who are rediscovering old-school couch co-op are not just reliving their childhood, they are escaping the needless stress of competitive multiplayer. Gamers who are tired of sprawling open-world games with endless side quests can enjoy both the simplicity and the challenge of retro-inspired games. 

The Best Retro Games of Today

The best retro games released today blend nostalgia, innovative gameplay, simplicity and a very recognizable 8-bit or 16-bit aesthetic that goes right down to the use of ‘chiptune’ music and a rigorously limited colour palette derived from classic games. The games we discuss below are all very well-regarded for their adroit recreation of the past for gaming audiences of the present. 


Celeste (2018) is a retro platformer with unusual mechanics – it lacks a skill progression system even as the levels get tougher. You will have to restart each level, or screen, afresh if you make a single mistake, and the lack of level progression essentially impels you, rather than your player character, to become better at the game. This might give the impression that Celeste is a ‘hard’ game, meant to be ‘beaten’ – but the game uses its difficulty to tell a compelling and emotional story about a young woman who must climb a mountain while coping with her depression and anxiety. 

Celeste is a Difficult Game that Tells a Moving Story (Courtesy Maddy Makes Games)
Celeste is a Difficult Game that Tells a Moving Story (Courtesy Maddy Makes Games)

You die a lot in Celeste, but each death is a reminder that you are constantly learning how to overcome challenges. When you do complete each level, there is an exhilarating sense of accomplishment, especially as your player character does not level up – it’s you who have surpassed the challenge. Celeste’s restrained approach to mental health actually helped a player cope with suicidal thoughts – a remarkable achievement for any game. Celeste was by no means a ‘cult’ hit – by the end of 2019, it had sold over a million units. 

Sonic Mania

Unlike most retro-inspired games, which are usually made by indie studios, Sonic Mania (2017) was produced by Sega itself. Sonic Mania went back to the franchise’s roots – building and maintaining momentum were once again the focus of the game. The Sonic franchise had long been stagnant and Sonic Mania was a refreshing return to form. 

Sonic Mania Goes Back to the Franchise's Roots (Courtesy Sega)
Sonic Mania Goes Back to the Franchise's Roots (Courtesy Sega)

The game allows you to control Sonic, Tails, Might, Ray, and Knuckles, each of whom have unique skills. Sonic’s new drop-dash move enables faster movement through the air, enabling new platforming strategies. The soundtrack, with its combination of remixed classics and modern tracks suited the game’s own mix of old and new. The graphics were true to the aesthetics of the Sega Genesis, but still looked great on modern displays. Sonic was finally cool again, and all thanks to a game that got back to the basics, and within a year of launch, it had sold a million copies

The Messenger

Inspired by Ninja Gaiden (2004), The Messenger (2018) is an intense 2D side scroller that lets you play as a deadly Ninja who initially goes through various linear levels to combat a boss. But that is when the game throws a twist at you: the Ninja gains special powers that enable him to explore the past and present, presented in 8-bit and 16-bit styles.

The Messenger's 8-bit and 16-bit Art Styles are Part of its Gameplay (Devolver Digital)
The Messenger's 8-bit and 16-bit Art Styles are Part of its Gameplay (Devolver Digital)

But this is just the beginning – the past and present levels branch out into even more areas, and by then it is clear that The Messenger is not a linear game at all, but a game inspired by the Metroidvania gaming genre, which uses guided non-linearity to encourage exploration. The player must traverse various levels, solve puzzles and defeat several more enemies before he meets the real, final boss: the demon who destroyed his village. 

Enter the Gungeon

Emulating the top-down shooters of the third and fourth console generations, Enter the Gungeon (2016) is a rogue-like title with a high difficulty level filled with creative gun designs. The procedurally generated levels follow an internal logic that results in true novelty, rather than slight variations of the same thing, increasing replay value. The game was a critical and commercial success: it has sold three million units since launch.

Enter the Gungeon’s Bullet Hell Mechanic (Courtesy Devolver Digital)
Enter the Gungeon’s Bullet Hell Mechanic (Courtesy Devolver Digital)

The game is difficult enough that there are online guides for beginners who may be unfamiliar with the ‘bullet hell’ mechanic – a staple of many games from the NES and SNES era. In a bullet hell game, a large number of projectiles in detailed formations are hurled at the player, who must then avoid them even as he tries to destroy the gun firing these missiles. Enter the Gungeon uses the bullet hell mechanic to maximal effect, with a great deal of variety both in terms of enemy projectiles and the implements that the player character can use to defeat them. 

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (2018) is perhaps a game that hews too close to its inspirations. Heavily influenced by the Castlevania series, the game painstakingly recreates the 8-bit aesthetic and the slow-paced action of the NES classic Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (1989). In fact, the game’s combat system was so like its inspirations that one reviewer soon grew impatient with the characters’ ‘plodding movement and attack speed’, and IGN states that the game walks a fine line between homage and theft.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon’s Owes Much to its Inspirations (Courtesy Inti Creates)
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon’s Owes Much to its Inspirations (Courtesy Inti Creates)

Other reviewers were more appreciative, praising the ease with which you could switch between multiple player characters, and the gothic visuals and music that set a brooding tone for the whole game. Even IGN praised its difficulty scaling, as the game introduced new gameplay elements rather than just giving bosses more health – some enemies can knock back the player, who might then plummet down the sort of abysses very common in 2D games. The game offers multiple options for tackling its eight stages, making it highly replayable. Within two years of launch, the game had sold over half a million copies

Shovel Knight

Shovel Knight comes closest to perfectly recreating an 8-bit game and its art style counts almost as a faithful forgery, and even the widely praised chiptune soundtrack reinforces the feeling that one is playing a game made for the NES – developers actually had to clarify that the title could only run on modern consoles. 

The 2D platformer pays homage to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (1987), copying its downward thrust attack, and other inspirations include Castlevania, Super Mario Bros and the Mega Man series. 

The game’s developers – Yacht Club Games – recreated many elements of a classic 2D side-scroller, including ‘parallax’ scrolling – the backgrounds of side-scrolling games can suggest a 3D space by shifting different layers at different speeds, mimicking how near parts of the landscape rush by you when you look out a train window, while horizon landmarks seem to remain immobile. Even the colour palette of the game is restricted to what would have been available during the NES era. Yacht Club Games took a nuanced approach to difficulty as well, introducing penalties for dying rather than returning you back to the beginning of the level – in effect, the game’s difficulty is the only aspect not faithfully copied from its inspirations.

Shovel Knight: A Game So Retro Users Thought it Required an NES (Courtesy Yacht Club Games)
Shovel Knight: A Game So Retro Users Thought it Required an NES (Courtesy Yacht Club Games)

The crowdfunded game proved so successful, both among audiences and critics, that it is now considered one of the greatest games ever made, and has sold 2.5 million copies since launch. 


The 2D RPG Undertale (2015), was also lauded as game of the year by many publications and was nominated for, and won, many awards – in a year when the Witcher 3 hit the stands. This is all the more incredible because Undertale was mostly made by a single designer, Toby Fox, who also composed the music for the game. Undertale, like Shovel Knight, is a classic of the 2010s.

Undertale shares the 8-bit aesthetic of Shovel Knight but its gameplay is entirely unique, quite unlike any games from the classic (or contemporary) era. Undertale leaves it up to the player to decide whether they want to kill or spare enemies, creating three distinct playstyles pacifist (with no kills), neutral (with some kills) and genocide (all kills). Undertale however, gently nudges you toward a neutral playthrough

Transcending both the Retro and Modern Aesthetic, Undertale is an Indie Classic (Courtesy Toby Fox)
Transcending both the Retro and Modern Aesthetic, Undertale is an Indie Classic (Courtesy Toby Fox)

Many games discussed here add nuance to game difficulty – Undertale actually lets you talk to enemies and get past them without striking a single blow. Many of the games feature widely-acclaimed music, Undertale is the most streamed video game soundtrack on Spotify as of May 2022. Your play style even determines what content you will see – an iconic battle with one of the game’s toughest enemies (accompanied by one of gaming’s most popular tunes) is unlocked only if you choose the genocide playthrough. Simply put, Undertale is indie development at its innovative best, combining old and new, and transcending both. 

Released in September, the game sold over half a million copies soon after launch, becoming one of the best-selling Steam titles of 2015. It has since made $26.7 million off Steam sales alone, and continues to remain popular, getting ported to the Switch as well, where it became one of the top-selling indie games in 2019. 


The greatest quality of the retro games we have discussed is their runaway imagination, even as they hew close to their 8-bit inspirations. Nostalgia can only go so far; in fact, it has been criticised for discouraging innovation in game design. The designers of retro-inspired games are aware of this, and succeed in striking a fine balance between nostalgia and reinvention. 

Many of the games featured here are far more innovative than some of the greatest AAA games released today, despite the millions of dollars spent by bigger studios – AAA titles invariably push the envelope in terms of graphics, but not always in terms of gameplay. Moreover, ‘risk aversion’ is the new norm for bigger industry players, and this allows smaller games, with smaller budgets, to truly spread their wings and soar to new heights. And the ones that reach truly undiscovered territory are those that go back to the roots of home console gaming. 

Gameopedia offers custom solutions depending on your specific data requirements. Reach out to us for actionable insights about retro games, from their unique aesthetics and novel gameplay.

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Remakes, Remasters and Next-Gen Upgrades (How Revived Games Thrive)

When Bluepoint Games was remaking Shadow of the Colossus (2005) for the PS4, they noticed a pattern about the birds in the central temple complex of the game. In Shadow, the protagonist Wander sets out from this temple to kill various giants, and is returned to the temple once his mission is complete. Bluepoint developers noticed that if Wander was heading out for his fourth giant, or Colossus, then four birds would be perched in the temple; if he was heading out for his 10th, then ten birds would appear. 

This detail had escaped Bluepoint’s notice when they were remastering the game for the PS3, and in any case, since a remaster mostly uses the original code, the pattern would have been reproduced automatically. But in a remake, which requires developers to recreate a game, pretty much from scratch, all these little touches have to be remade as well, and Bluepoint took great pains to ensure that the bird-and-colossus pattern, and various other details, made it to the remake. 

The result was a ‘precedent-setting’ game that not only introduced Shadow to a whole new generation of gamers, but also preserved and recaptured the experience of playing the ground-breaking original. Bluepoint’s remake has received widespread critical acclaim, with some claiming that the new Shadow is one of the best remakes of all time. The original Shadow of the Colossus is often cited as an example of how video games can be art, and Bluepoint’s painstaking reconstruction does justice to the game, its fans and its legacy. 

In this blog, we will discuss remakes, remasters and next-gen upgrades, all of which give old games a new lease of life on upgraded consoles and modern PC hardware. We will see how prominent remakes faithfully retain the unique features of the originals, how remasters greatly enhance the graphics of an older game for new hardware, and how the next-gen upgrade endows a game with improved graphical fidelity and performance on a new generation of consoles. 

Remakes and remasters are compelling business propositions today, especially because the gamers who played the original versions of classic games are older now and have more disposable income. Remakes and remasters are big money makers – digital revenue for prominent remakes nearly doubled between 2018 and 2020, and remake earnings surged in 2020 amidst widespread pandemic lockdowns. Moreover, remakes and remasters allow younger gamers to experience ground-breaking classics with all the graphical fidelity and streamlined gameplay of modern hardware.

Older Gamers Who Have Played Classic Games Create a Market for Remasters and Remakes
Older Gamers Who Have Played Classic Games Create a Market for Remasters and Remakes

In fact, in 2020, a remaster – The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD  – was more anticipated than many new titles, and it was also the best-selling game in the US at launch, during July 2021. Remakes of Resident Evil 2 (2019) and 3 (2020) had bigger launches than the new entry in the franchise, Resident Evil 7 (2017). One observer calls the new trend of remasters and remakes a ‘nostalgia gold rush’, underscoring how a longing for the past plays a crucial role in driving the success of a remake or a remaster. 

In the following sections, we will discuss what remakes, remasters and next-gen upgrades are, and why they are made. 

How are Games Revived for New Generations?

The development of remakes, remasters and next-gen upgrades are all endeavours that revive an older game for new hardware and modern consoles. But what, exactly, do these terms mean, and why do studios and developers undertake remakes and remastering projects? We discuss both in the sections below.

What is a Video Game Remake?

A video game remake is a ground-up recreation of a classic game. It includes high-quality models, textures, animations and sounds, and is powered by a modern game engine that brings state-of-the-art lighting, reflections, shadows and other effects. 

Examples include Capcom’s Resident Evil 2 remake, released nearly 21 years after the original, and the Final Fantasy VII remake (2020). Both games were originally released on Sony’s first PlayStation console.

Final Fantasy VII Remake (Courtesy Square Enix)
Final Fantasy VII Remake (Courtesy Square Enix)

What is a Video Game Remaster?

A video game remaster is essentially a much better-looking version of an older game. Taking advantage of modern hardware, a remaster adds a whole range of visual effects that were either unavailable to the original, or hard to implement without performance costs, and also upgrade the game’s textures, models and animations. In general, remasters use much of the same code as the original, but can update it so that the game runs at higher resolutions and frame rates on new hardware. Many remasters are bundled into a single collection as well, and remasters of a single game can include all the DLC in a single edition. 

There are numerous examples of remasters, across video game generations, including the Shadow of the Colossus remaster (2011) for the PS3, the Last of Us Remastered (2014) for the PS4, and the Master Chief Collection (MCC) for PC and the Xbox One consoles. The MCC continues to receive updates long after its initial release in 2014

Halo: The Master Chief Collection (Courtesy Microsoft)
Halo: The Master Chief Collection (Courtesy Microsoft)

What is a Next-Gen Upgrade?

A next-gen patch updates a game to match the quality of titles released for the latest hardware. They are usually meant for recent games – older games would need a remaster. Even a bare-bones next-gen upgrade will usually boost frame rates and performance and enable higher resolutions. Some developers may also provide high-res texture packs and greatly upgrade game graphics with features such as ray-tracing, support for upscaling algorithms and HDR rendering. Many games receive such upgrades for current-gen consoles. 

Developers may also update remasters or remakes with next-gen features: examples include Resident Evil 2, a remake which received a ray-tracing patch on console and PC, and Crysis Remastered, which was updated to support NVIDIA’s Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS), an AI-based upscaling technique

Why are Video Games Remastered and Remade?

Remasters and remakes are not made purely for financial reasons, though such considerations may play a significant role in determining what game is to be remastered or remade. Good remakes and remasters evoke nostalgia, build excitement for new releases in the franchise and help developers improve their skills and industry cred.

Furthering a Game’s Legacy and Evoking Nostalgia

One of the key reasons for remastering or remaking a game is to evoke nostalgia among the many fans it garnered when the original was released. Remasters and remakes allow fans to revisit cherished virtual spaces while enjoying all the convenience and graphical fidelity of modern hardware. Such updated games can also attract entirely new audiences looking to discover why these titles became classics. 

Off-Setting the Risks of AAA Development

According to an NPD analyst, publishers can pursue the remastering trend to make money through lower-risk ventures. Remasters may sell less than a new game, but cost much less to make, and publishers can also decide which games to remaster, knowing where the demand exists. In fact, Nintendo’s Super Mario 3D All-Stars, a compilation of older Super Mario games, was sold with a sixty-dollar price tag and became the second best-selling Switch title of 2020, despite the fact that the collection was a time-limited release. An avid fan base looking to relive their beloved franchise had created a natural and profitable market for the Switch release, and saved Nintendo the millions of dollars involved in making a new game from scratch. 

Super Mario 3D All-Stars (Courtesy Nintendo)
Super Mario 3D All-Stars (Courtesy Nintendo)

Creating Excitement for New Releases

Microsoft successfully built hype around Halo 5: Guardians (2015) by releasing the Master Chief Collection for Xbox One right before it. The MCC allowed many new gamers to experience the franchise’s history before they dived into Halo 5. Despite a troubled launch, the Master Chief Collection is now a well-regarded remaster and arguably the best way to experience the early adventures of John 117.

The Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy (2017), a collection of remastered Crash Bandicoot games was a resounding success, and a remake of the PS1 game, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled (2019) followed soon after. For long, Crash Bandicoot had been a mascot for Sony, but the franchise had stagnated until the remaster and remake revived it. In 2020, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time marked the first new release in the franchise in 12 years and proved a commercial and critical success

Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy (Courtesy Activision)
Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy (Courtesy Activision)

Building a Developer’s Reputation and Capabilities

When Grim Fandango (1998) was remastered and released for multiple platforms in 2015 by Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Productions, it was praised by fans and critics and sold far more units than the original. Double Fine built brand loyalty so well with its Grim Fandango remaster that its Kickstarter project ‘Double-Fine Adventure’ broke records in 2012, raising one million dollars within 24 hours. 

Grim Fandango Remastered (Courtesy Double Fine Productions)
Grim Fandango Remastered (Courtesy Double Fine Productions)

Bluepoint Games has a splendid reputation thanks to its critically-acclaimed remasters of games in the God of War and Uncharted franchises, and its marvellous remakes of Shadow of the Colossus and Demon’s Souls (2020). Its remake of FromSoftware’s first ‘Souls-like’ game was a launch title for the PS5 and Bluepoint has been purchased by Sony. It now has the chance to make a first-party PlayStation game, and all its experience remaking and remastering Sony hits will no doubt help.

In the following sections, we will discuss just what it takes to remake, remaster or upgrade a game – each endeavour has its own challenges, and we delve into them below. 

The Video Game Remake - a Labour of Love

Remaking a video game from scratch is a major undertaking, given that the game being remade was released generations ago. The resulting remake must nevertheless capture the feel of the original faithfully, while updating the content to modern gameplay and graphics standards. As such, developers must have one eye on the past and one to the future, and strive to recreate every little detail in the original, and even keep the gameplay elements and mechanics intact while updating them to match modern controller setups. 

Prominent titles include Bluepoint’s great Shadow of the Colossus (SOTC) remake for the PS4 released in 2018, Capcom’s remakes of Resident Evil 2 and 3, and Square Enix’s Final Fantasy VII Remake. SOTC’s remake was released 13 years after the original, the RE 2 remake nearly two decades after the original, and the FF7 remake was released 23 years after the original – the original games are so old they necessitated a full remake. 

This is why remakes are recreated on modern game engines, and not much of the original code makes it to the remake. Many of the environments, models and textures have to be made from scratch. Combat elements may need to be overhauled, as is the case with the Final Fantasy VII remake – the original had turn-based combat while the remake features a revamped real-time combat system and allows you to switch between the main player character and his companions to execute special moves. The end result recreates the flow of battle in the original, while introducing innovative gameplay mechanics.

FF VII Remake’s Combat System is Used to Control Multiple Characters (Courtesy Square Enix)
FF VII Remake’s Combat System is Used to Control Multiple Characters (Courtesy Square Enix)

Bluepoint Games has justly earned the moniker ‘masters of the remaster’ because of their work on various critically acclaimed remasters and remakes, and their Shadow of the Colossus has been hailed as one of the best remakes ever – a closer look can tell us just what it takes to create a great remake of a beloved game. 

Shadow of the Colossus is a minimalist classic made by game creator Fumito Ueda for the PS2. In the game, the hero Wander explores desolate landscapes in search of mighty ‘Colossi’, whom he must kill in order to bring his lover back from death. The game’s areas offer no treasures, there are no low-level enemies to combat, no NPCs and no cities, towns or villages. Wander has only a sword and a bow with arrows to kill each Colossus, and rides a horse that doesn’t always respect his commands. The game is essentially sixteen boss battles, each of which is unique and takes place in its own desolate world, made all the more memorable because Ueda shuns so many traditional gameplay tropes. SOTC was an instant classic and A New Yorker article discusses the game’s status as a work of art. Remaking a game with such a formidable reputation was, well, a colossal challenge. 

For its PS4 remake, Bluepoint started with the updated code base from their PS3 remaster of the game, and used Ueda’s later title, The Last Guardian (2016) as a guideline for how the visuals should be updated. To recreate the forested and grassy areas of the original, they devised a foliage system, in which grass and plants not only sway in the wind, but also bend and flatten as Wander runs through them. 

They painted details such as erosion, cracks and other damage onto the terrain and the mountains to make them realistic, and retained the unique architecture and look of each structure, and even the Colossi themselves, while improving them with higher-quality textures and models. Animations were also revamped and look much more believable, especially in the battles with the Colossi. Even the fur on the Colossi sway and bend as Wander climbs up the giants to kill them. 

Crucially, Bluepoint used physically-based rendering (PBR), a texturing and rendering pipeline that accurately models the interaction of light with in-game objects and is especially effective in rendering reflective or glossy, metallic surfaces realistically. In a game that uses PBR, a gold crown and an iron sword won’t shine the same way – each metal’s sheen is based on its real-life characteristics – and even glossy or dull leather will look different based on how they interact with light in real life. Bluepoint used a blend of PBR and traditional techniques to maintain a balance between modern photorealism and the stylised look of the original. The developers also strove to stay true to the lighting setup of the original, even as they introduced High-Dynamic Range (HDR) rendering with their Bluepoint engine. With HDR, the game has much brighter highlights (leading to glorious skies), much deeper blacks and a far greater range of colours.

The Shadow of the Colossus Remake’s Visuals Utterly Transcends the Original (Courtesy Sony)
The Shadow of the Colossus Remake’s Visuals Utterly Transcends the Original (Courtesy Sony)

Bluepoint also brought performance improvements to the game. They broke up the world into manageable portions, rendering distant areas at lower levels of detail, and made countless optimisations to game assets so that they could offer a 60-frames-per-second (FPS) performance mode, and a locked 30-FPS quality mode at 4k HDR on the PS4 Pro. They also fixed the awkward controls and camera movement of the original, so that the game is playable no matter what frame rate you choose. However, they decided to keep the original control mapping as an option for older fans. With its devout attention to detail and its commitment to reviving SOTC for a new generation, this remake does count as one of the best ever, and is a standard for other developers to reach for. 

Capcom also did an excellent job with the Resident Evil 2 remake, though the title is significantly different from the original, which was not a true 3D game and was released for Sony’s first PlayStation, well before full-3D games were pioneered by id Software and Epic Games. Nevertheless, Capcom faithfully retained the original’s atmosphere – ‘jump-scare’ locations are recreated faithfully in the remake, and even some of the in-game objects are placed exactly where they were in the original. However, some character roles are expanded and certain areas are reworked from scratch. 2019’s Resident Evil 2 is not a shot-for-shot recreation, but a reimagined version that remains true to the spirit of the original. 

The Resident Evil 2 Remake Captures the Spirit of the Original (Courtesy Capcom)
The Resident Evil 2 Remake Captures the Spirit of the Original (Courtesy Capcom)

Capcom nevertheless fumbled the Resident Evil 3 remake, cutting out content, iconic locations and scripting the behaviour of the enemy, Nemesis, taking away the element of surprise that made him so terrifying in the original. 

A remake works if it remains faithful to the original while reimagining it at the same time. Not even the best graphical upgrades can assure success if the game veers too far away from the original. Introducing new elements while staying true to the source is a tough balancing act, and remakes of games such as Resident Evil 2, Shadow of the Colossus and Final Fantasy VII pull this off, while others fail to live up to expectations. Considering that the Final Fantasy VII remake cost $140 million – more than what it takes to make and market a major movie – developers must tread carefully when remaking old games for contemporary audiences. However, despite the manifest challenges involved, studios continue to pursue the remake trend – upcoming remakes include Resident Evil 4 (2005), Dead Space (2008), Silent Hill 2 (2001), Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell (2002), and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003).

The Video Game Remaster – Old Games Get a New Look

A video game remaster is a lesser undertaking than a remake – it uses largely the same game code but greatly enhances the visuals by adding various graphical effects, and increasing resolution and performance by taking advantage of modern hardware. Many remasters are bundled into a single collection, giving users good value for their money. 

Remastering is an ideal choice for famous games released a generation or two ago Generally the time frame between a remaster and the original is shorter, especially when contrasted to a remake. Bioshock: The Collection (2016) – a compilation of remastered Bioshock games, was released about three years after the last Bioshock title, Bioshock Infinite. Borderlands: The Handsome Collection (2015) which contains Borderlands II and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, was released a year after the latter title.

Sony has used remasters to fill out its catalogue since the PS3 generation. A Wikipedia page lists nearly 60 remasters for the PS3, many of which are bundles containing multiple remastered games. These games look much better than their PS2 or PS1 counterparts because the PS3 is one of the first HD consoles, and the original games remastered from SD (standard definition) look much sharper, with higher-quality texture detail and better character models. There are nearly 60 remaster titles (some of which bundle multiple games) for the PS4 as well, but many of these remasters are available on other consoles and PC too. Sony’s remasters are either branded as ‘Classics HD’ or come with labels like ‘Remastered in High Definition’. 

Remastered games come with a slew of visual upgrades. Assassin’s Creed 3 Remastered (2019) includes volumetric lighting (or ‘god-rays’), screen-space reflections (by which water bodies and other glass-like surfaces reflect nearby objects in the scene), improved shadow detail, realistic lighting from in-game light sources and increased view distance. The remaster also uses physically-based rendering along with upgraded textures and remade character models to make the game look photorealistic and supports 4K HDR rendering on PC, PS4 Pro, Xbox One X, and the current console generation.

Ray-Tracing Renders Ultra Realistic Reflections and Lighting in Spider-Man: Remastered (Courtesy Sony)
Ray-Tracing Renders Ultra Realistic Reflections and Lighting in Spider-Man: Remastered (Courtesy Sony)

One of the better remaster editions available today is Halo: The Master Chief Collection, both in terms of the visual upgrades it brings to its games, and the sheer number of games included – six remastered games, with each title’s multiplayer receiving regular updates. When released in 2014 for the Xbox One, the MCC won IGN’s People’s Choice Award as the best remaster of the year, and the collection has only gotten better since. MCC was first released for PC in 2019, (though only Halo: Reach was included), but within a year, all games in the collection were ported to PC. 

The visual upgrades are of such a quality that one can end up considering these remasters as remakes. Digital Foundry’s Youtube review of Halo 2: Anniversary, which is part of the MCC, straight up calls the game a remake. Halo 2 has gorgeous pre-rendered cinematics that replace the original’s engine-based cutscenes, and uses real-time lighting and shadows, along with global illumination, to add realistic lights and shadows to both in-game objects and particle effects (such as explosions). Not all games in the collection were as comprehensively remastered as Halo 2, but every game does come with performance enhancements and supports increased resolutions. The collection is not without its flaws, however, and the multiplayer experience can be buggy, especially in the PC versions of Halo 2 and Halo 3

Halo 2’s Remaster Overhauls Much of the Original’s Graphics (Courtesy Microsoft)
Halo 2’s Remaster Overhauls Much of the Original’s Graphics (Courtesy Microsoft)

Remasters generally improve upon the original and become the ideal way to experience an older game, unless the game has been remade – Fumito Ueda had endorsed the PS3 remaster of Shadow of the Colossus as the definitive edition of the game before the remake was released. But even prominent companies like Blizzard and Rockstar Games can botch remasters so thoroughly that they become the target for relentless backlash from gamers. 

Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition (2021), which bundles ground-breaking classics such as GTA III (2001), GTA: Vice City (2002) and GTA: San Andreas (2004) is an example of what happens if a publisher remasters games without taking care to respect player expectations. The release was buggy, the graphics lacklustre, character models still looked flat and unrealistic, and the Guardian’s critic calls the remaster an ‘infuriating disappointment’. published an opinion piece arguing that companies shouldn’t release remasters just to make a fast buck but must cherish the creative history of the games they upgrade, and excoriated Rockstar for removing the original versions of these games from digital download stores when it released the remastered collection. The debacle forced Rockstar to apologise, even though they had not developed the remaster in-house – Grove Street Games, the studio behind the remaster, is fixing its various issues

Rockstar Studios Received Backlash for Botching the Remaster of Seminal GTA Games (Courtesy Rockstar)
Rockstar Studios Received Backlash for Botching the Remaster of Seminal GTA Games (Courtesy Rockstar)

Another infamous example is Warcraft III Reforged (2020), which is a remaster of the original Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (2002). It received an overwhelmingly negative reception and even led to the creation of a website that successfully petitioned for a refund to all those who bought the remaster by listing all the upgrades that Blizzard had promised, but not delivered. 

Warcraft III: Reforged – a Remaster – Failed to Deliver on its Promises (Courtesy Blizzard)
Warcraft III: Reforged – a Remaster – Failed to Deliver on its Promises (Courtesy Blizzard)

Remasters will likely succeed if developers stick to what is now a well-worn path – offering good value for money by improving the visuals and performance of the game, and bundling either its DLC, or multiple games, into one easily accessible package. 

As discussed above, remasters are inherently less risky than new games or costly remakes, and their target audience can be clearly identified. This is perhaps the reason why a badly-made remaster draws such backlash – it fails to live up to quite modest expectations.

The Next-Gen Upgrade – A Boost for Recent Games

Both remasters and remakes involve a good deal of effort, time and money, and must satisfy gamers familiar with the original and others looking to discover a classic. 

A next-gen upgrade doesn’t have to completely overhaul a game, and usually upgrades a game’s performance and visuals to a certain level – it can unlock 60-FPS modes on a title that was locked at 30 FPS in an earlier console generation, and can also use current-gen hardware to display a game at native or upscaled 4k resolutions. 

Some developers go the extra mile and provide higher-res textures, and offer support for ray-tracing and upscaling algorithms, and utterly transform their game’s look as a result – ray-tracing is an advanced graphics technology that results in near-perfect lighting, shadows and reflections, but it can also severely affect performance. It thus goes hand-in-hand with upscaling algorithms, which allow the game engine to render ray-traced scenes at much lower resolutions before upscaling the result. 

Capcom’s Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil 3 and Resident Evil 7: Bio-Hazard all have free next gen-upgrades, which feature ray-tracing. id Software’s Doom Eternal (2020) got a ray-tracing patch for both PC and current-gen consoles, as did HellBlade: Senua’s Sacrifice (2017) – both games are also available on the Xbox and PC Game Pass.

Doom Eternal is Utterly Transformed by Ray-Traced Reflections (Courtesy Bethesda)
Doom Eternal is Utterly Transformed by Ray-Traced Reflections (Courtesy Bethesda)

Next-gen upgrades make sense for recent games. By default, such games use modern rendering paradigms, such as physically-based rendering and HDR, and are built from scratch with the sort of graphics features that are introduced to an older game when it is remastered or remade. A cross-gen title, which is released late in the life-cycle of an older console generation and ‘straddles’ the boundary between older and current-gen consoles, is also an obvious candidate for a next-gen patch. 

Recent games and cross-gen titles may have run at lower resolutions and frame rates due to the limitations of console hardware when they were released, and the next-gen patch is meant to fix this and make the game run better on newer consoles. Adding support for ray-tracing and upscaling algorithms is a bonus – developers may be focussing on delivering such features for true next-gen games released exclusively for the PS5 or the XBox Series X|S, rather than upgrading older games with such tech.

Given that a next-gen upgrade can be quite trivial compared to a remaster or a remake, one would expect an industry-wide standard for delivering them. This is far from the case. If you want a remake or a remaster, all you need to do is go to a shop or a digital storefront and buy it. But the upgrade path to a next-gen version of your game is absurdly convoluted today. 

Some developers participate in Xbox’s Smart Delivery program, which automatically downloads the game version best suited to your console regardless of what disc or digital edition you buy. Microsoft has promised Smart Delivery support for all first-party games, but third-party publishers aren’t obliged to participate. Ubisoft supports Smart Delivery for Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla (2020) and CD Projekt Red does the same for Cyberpunk 2077 (2020). However, EA came up with a ‘dual entitlement’ scheme where owners of Madden NFL 21 (2020) could claim a free next-gen upgrade for the Xbox Series X|S or PS5 before Madden NFL 22 was released, which makes little sense – why should one game’s next-gen upgrade be blocked after the franchise gets a new release?

Sony, meanwhile, seems to lack a coherent strategy for delivering upgrades, and does not feature any pro-consumer initiative meant to match up to Smart Delivery. Sony promised dual entitlement for a range of first-party cross-gen games for the PS5 – which meant that buying a cross-gen PS4 game would entitle you to a free PS5 upgrade – but did not include Horizon Forbidden West (2022) in this policy. After the ensuing backlash, the game’s PS4 version now has a free upgrade when bought for a PS5, but nevertheless, a costlier PS5 version exists. Consumers may well buy the PS5 version, not realising that the buying PS4 version will result in an identical download

For cross-gen titles with dual entitlement, Sony simply leaves it up to the user to figure out the differences between the PS4 and PS5 versions of the game, and choose accordingly. An InputMag columnist calls the PS5 the ‘most confusing console on the market’, especially because it does not list the next-gen features of even its launch titles in the product description – you have to download these games (or watch Youtube videos of those who did) to find out the features available in quality and performance modes.

As mentioned above, Capcom released its Resident Evil next-gen upgrades for free, and CD Projekt Red did the same for Cyberpunk 2077, offering ray-tracing support on consoles with its next-gen patch. The company has also promised a next-gen upgrade for its seven-year-old open-world classic, The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt (2015) – the patch is expected to arrive before the end of 2022

In fact, Microsoft has told third-party developers that they should offer Xbox Series X|S upgrades for free, and should refrain from branding such upgrades as new DLC. If the developer still decides to create a paid upgrade path, Microsoft recommends that owners of a last-gen version be offered a discount when they pay for the Xbox Series X|S version. Of course, no third-party studio or publisher is obliged to heed Microsoft’s suggestions, resulting in controversial releases such as Control Ultimate Edition.

505 Games’ policy regarding Control’s next-gen upgrade has been particularly egregious. Released in 2019, Control was one of the first games to implement advanced ray-tracing effects on the PC, and is one of the games NVIDIA uses to showcase the capabilities of its RTX cards. Console players, however, could not enjoy these features because the Xbox Series X|S and the PS5 were yet to be released. 

When the publisher did offer a next-gen console upgrade, they locked it behind a $40 ‘Ultimate Edition’, which had no new content when compared to the Digital Deluxe Edition many users had bought earlier, expecting a free next-gen upgrade for the extra money they had paid. In fact, the only upgrade path for the next-gen patch on console is to buy the Ultimate Edition, even if you have bought the base game and all the DLC earlier, and fans of the game are justifiably angry. 

Despite being simpler than a remaster or a remake, a next-gen patch is a far more convoluted upgrade path and can lead to considerable confusion and frustration. While developers strive to create beautiful and faithful remakes and remasters of older classics, there appears to be no industry-wide commitment to deliver the relatively simpler enhancements of a next-gen patch. Is this because gamers now expect these upgrades for free?


Remakes and remasters succeed or fail based on how well they uplift a game while remaining true to the source material, especially as nostalgia is a significant factor in determining such games’ sales. In the future, however, we may not see such remakes or remasters because of the prominence of live-service games, which aim to always keep pace with the 11latest graphics standards as part of their intent to keep gamers engaged for years. 

Also, the primacy and profitability of mobile games may make remakes and remasters less important in the future because the factors driving their creation may no longer be relevant. Shadow of the Colossus has arguably awed multiple generations of gamers, but will a mobile game like Angry Birds ever hold the same place in gamers’ hearts, especially to justify a remaster? 

Ray-tracing transforms the look of present-day games that implement it, and we may soon reach a point where there isn’t much of a difference between console generations, especially as consoles these days feature much the same architecture as PCs, while being optimised for gaming. This would imply that the ‘next-gen upgrade’ will suffice to update a game to a new console generation or a new line of PC hardware. 

Given how utterly confusing upgrade paths are today, publishers, developers and console manufacturers – especially Sony and Microsoft – may soon have to collaborate on establishing a standard by which each console automatically provides access to the most suitable version of any title that a gamer buys. Microsoft has already laid the groundwork with Smart Delivery, but such an initiative can work only if everyone agrees to implement it. Gamers will continue to be short-changed, especially when it comes to next-gen patches, until an industry-wide policy is established for such upgrades. 

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Indie Games: Everything You Need to Know

This is Gameopedia’s Game Terminology and Taxonomy series, where we talk about the different kinds of game categories and aim to give our audience in-depth knowledge about them. This blog covers everything we know about Indie games.

Like we mentioned in our previous blog about AAA games, the classification of games is done based on their budget, scope, and other factors. While these classifications aren’t formalized, they are still useful for game developers and publishers for marketing and e-retailers for categorizing game pages. Customers also gain invaluable information about the potential of a particular game. An important subclass of games are indie games, which have gained huge popularity over the past few decades.


What is an Indie Game?

Indie game stands for independent video game. The phrase ‘indie game’ is based on similar ones like independent films or indie music. It is a video game that’s usually made by smaller development teams or even individuals on their own without financial or technical support from large game publishers. This is a direct contrast to AAA games. The indie term is also applicable to games which have creative freedom even if they’re funded by publishers.

Indie games are often very innovative, experimentative, and explore games as art. They can afford to take risks which aren’t taken by AAA games and are unique. They are usually sold through digital distribution channels as a result of lacking publisher support. Indie video games have become even more popular over the last two years, going by the increased number of indie releases and the higher price they demand on Steam, arguably the biggest marketplace for indie titles.

Indie Releases in 2021

Here are the stats for indie video games released per month for the year 2021.

Those being released over the course of 2020 saw a pretty significant increase of about 25 percent from the previous years, mostly as a result of the pandemic. In 2021, the increase continued, at a YoY rate of about 11 percent compared to 2020’s releases. 

The overall ratings for indie games were also higher this year. In a massive industry like gaming which generated about $180 billion in 2020, while indie video games might not have the biggest slice of the pie, they’re still important to the industry.

A key reason for this is that indie game developers are often free of a lot of constraints and pressure for the game to follow popular trends or genres. Indie video games tend to be innovative and explore video games as a work of art.


What Makes a Game Indie?

While there is no standard definition for games to be classified as indie, they usually share certain characteristics. These are:

Independence: Indie games are either financially or creatively independent. They are funded themselves or from sources like crowdfunding, and even if they have a publisher, their game has been made without too much influence from them.

Team size: Indie video games are often developed by individuals, small teams, or small independent companies which are formed to develop the game. A great example of this is Undertale, which was made by one developer: Toby Fox, who wrote the story, programmed it, and even created music for it.


Undertale: A masterpiece programmed by just one person: Toby Fox.

Budgets: Indie games are made off of smaller budgets which are usually from the pockets of their makers or from crowdfunding. 

Creativity: Indie games are usually noted for their innovation, experimentation, and creativity. Limited graphics are often compensated for by gameplay innovation or unique narrative styles. 

Some notable examples of indie games are Transistor, Minecraft, Subnautica, and Celeste.


The History of Indie Games

The phrase Indie Game started being used commonly around the early 2000’s. Before that, they were termed as amateur, enthusiast, or hobbyist games. One of the first known examples of an indie game is Spacewar! which was released in 1963 but there is still some debate as to which is the first indie video game. 

As personal computers became increasingly prevalent, their availability, as well as easily available BASIC source codes for games, encouraged several people to start making their own games. Around the 1980s, playing a new game could be as simple as coding it yourself using magazines. One of the most popular games during this period was Football Manager, where the designer,
Kevin Toms used his knowledge about football management and board games along with the new technology to make a game– right from his bedroom! However, with this onslaught of games being made, it was harder and harder for them to sell them. An indie developer would either have to publish their game by establishing their own publishing company which was expensive or find a distributor willing to publish it, both of which were difficult. They started giving away pieces of their game in magazines and the like, where if gamers enjoyed the game, they could pay for the full version.

Doom's shareware text was rather provocative, and certainly did the job of selling it.
Search and Destroy's more traditional shareware text entreating players to purchase the full version.

With shareware proving to be a good way to sell and distribute games, especially with Doom proving its massive success, it became a platform for mainstream devs as well. Eventually, with the internet becoming commonplace, digital distribution took off. Game engine developers started offering their software at low or even no cost for indie programmers, and open source libraries also helped them get started. Indie games also began being seen as artsy and innovative. Social and political movements started using indie video games to send messages. With Steam taking off and their Greenlight program (which despite being a bit opaque and awkward, still helped indie games), as well as Xbox, PlayStation, and the iOS store making game development on them easier, indie developers had a place to sell their games as well to the rest of the world. With Steam Direct replacing the Greenlight program, Steam became a haven for indie video games.


However, around 2015, the perception of indie games began to change. More and more people in the game industry began worrying about an oversaturation of lackluster indie video games as a result of how easy it was to make and distribute them. Digital platforms were overcrowded and it was hard for games to gain visibility even if well made. This is still a worry for some but indie video games are nevertheless adored by the gaming community for the unique games they bring to the table.

Finally, indie games constantly raise the bar when it comes to innovation. An important result of this is that a lot of the ideas of these games, if successful, are adopted by AAA and AA studios and eventually become mainstream. For example, Frictional Games made Amnesia: The Dark Descent, then Penumbra: Black Plague. Released in 2008, the latter was one of the first survival horror games that focused minimally on combat, ensuring the player felt a real sense of fright when they couldn’t fight their adversaries in game. This game, while revolutionary and successful, did not have the polish of a AAA game. Alien: Isolation, published in 2014 by Sega had a similar concept where a key focus was to get through the horror game without resorting to combat.


Penumbra: Black Plague's eerie gameplay contributed to a whole new generation of horror games.

Another game we can take as an example is Player Unknown’s: Battlegrounds (PUBG). Upon this indie release’s stupendous success, several AAA games with similar concepts started coming out like Fortnite, Apex Legends, and Call of Duty: Warzone. Indie video games like Undertale which focused on the player’s choices and characters had a similar ripple effect on RPGs and how player choices can affect in-game relationships and even endings.


Factors Involved In Developing an Indie Game

When it comes to developing indie games, many areas of game development are similar to other types of games. The main difference is how a game being developed doesn’t require a publisher.

Size of teams: Indie development teams can range from a small team of developers of up to a few dozen to just a single person. Several famous indie games like Axiom Verge, Undertale, and Papers, Please were all made by a single person.  Indie video games come from many directions. Student projects can turn into future commercial projects for students to work on, or experienced developers can feel creatively burned out and leave to pursue their ideas. Sometimes, indie developers can also be amateur with little experience in the gaming industry and they often have more new ideas and freedom. Usually, indie studios comprise of programmers and developers- game art and music are often outsourced.

Building an indie game: Indie games usually use existing game engines and development kits to build their games. Commonly used engines include Unity and Unreal Engine. Indie developers also tend to use open source software which is free to use but not as advanced technically as their commercial counterparts. When it comes to indie game development for consoles, before 2010, it was extremely difficult. This was a result of software development kits (SDKs) for the consoles costing several thousands of dollars and also having lots of restrictions. Indie developers were usually unable to acquire them. As indie video games became more popular though, console manufacturers and mobile device OS providers started releasing special SDKs to build and test games. These were still expensive for larger developers but reduced rates were provided for those who self-published their games on the console or mobile device’s storefront, such as the iOS SDK.


Involvement of publishers: Most indie games lack a dedicated publisher. However, several publishers focusing on indie video games have arisen, and they’re called boutique game publishers. Examples of these are Adult Swim Games, Annapurna Interactive, and Raw Fury. These publishers who are themselves experienced in developing indie titles usually provide the necessary monetary support and marketing but don’t interfere in the creative direction of the game.

Finances: When it comes to funding, indie developers don’t usually have a publisher to help them out. New developers especially need to bootstrap, take out loans, or use crowdfunding campaigns to get the funds they need. Another method used is the early access model where interested parties can purchase a beta version early, and get access to the full game later for free, as well as other perks. In recent times, there have been funds established like the Indie Fund where developers can submit grant applications and get seed investment funding. Finally, publishers like Epic Games sign exclusivity deals with developers for certain durations, and the game developers get funding to finish making the game as well as higher cuts of sales revenues. 


Distribution: Before digital distribution platforms gained traction, programmers gave copies of their game to local computer stores to sell. They also placed advertisements in magazines and fulfilled mail orders based on that. Later, the shareware model came out and became popular with releases like Wolfenstein 3D and ZZT. As the internet became the major means of distribution, the mail order method started dying out. Valve originally made Steam to help players update patches for their games and keep them in the loop about updates. It eventually evolved into a digital store for games. Steam began curating indie titles among others, eventually adding Steam Direct where any developer could add their game to the platform for a small charge. 

Recognition: Indie games have a fraction of the marketing budget of AAA games and thus, it is harder for them to be widely known. However, indie video games targeted towards niche markets tend to do well. As for industry recognition, several events and awards have been established in the past two decades such as the Independent Games Festival. Indie games have also been nominated alongside AAA games frequently, with games like Hades and Outer Wilds walking away with major Game of the Year awards at BAFTA 2020 and GDC 2021 respectively. 


Hades won awards from almost every major game-related publication or organization, and even those not focused on gaming!

Indie game jams are also a thing, with annual competitions where game developers are asked to design a game prototype based on a concept and preset requirements.

Hades is also the first video game to win a Hugo award, an annual literary award for the best science fiction or fantasy works of the year.

Genre Trends of Indie Games: 2016-2020 Detailed Analysis

This graph showcases the major variations in genre trends across the last five years related to Indie games.

Indie games feature the most amount of releases for the Puzzle genre, where it consistently features in the top 3 or top 5. Puzzle games don’t need to be as graphics-intensive or have a complex setting. They’re more about gameplay and engaging their audience, and thus, easier for smaller studios to make. 

The Platform genre is one of the oldest genres in the industry. However, of late, the genre is fast disappearing from AA/AAA titles, and has found a new home among the indie scene. This genre always features in the top 5, with the total percent of releases falling between 9 – 12% each year. Some popular platform games released recently include Super Meat Boy Forever (Platform, Action), New Super Lucky’s Tale (Platform, Adventure, Action) and Celeste (Action, Platform). This is an interesting trend: if you look at these games, they’re intuitive, easy to understand while challenging to master, and have very unique art styles. While they aren’t always as technically groundbreaking as releases from bigger publishers tend to be, they nevertheless satisfy the most important rule of game-making: they’re fun!

The Future of Indie Games

There is an evolving trend where some AAA publishers have been acquiring indie studios around the world. Between 2016 and 2020, at least 76 indie studios were purchased and the number of them being bought per year is increasing, going from 7 in 2016 to 31 in 2018.  In 2019, THQ Nordic announced they raised $225 million to acquire more studios. Even Netflix has gotten on the bandwagon with their acquisition of Night School Studio in September 2021.

But why are they buying them? Acquiring pre-existing studios is cheaper than building one from nothing. You also get experienced employees along with their intellectual property. An example of this would be EA buying Respawn Entertainment and getting Titanfall. They also buy studios making games they think might be huge, such as Sega’s acquisition of Two Point Studios right after they released Two Point Hospital. Several AAA companies have indie initiatives like EA Originals and Take-Two’s Private Division which let them find nascent creators before they become popular and by extension, expensive. True, they also provide opportunities to indie developers but it isn’t purely out of the goodness of their hearts. AAA studios acquiring indie ones is a win-win: the former get a studio of experienced professionals and the latter get financial security and stability. However, this may come at the cost of what makes indie games indie: their independence.

AAA publishers have been proven to be highly averse to taking risks, and it’s likely that they might use these studios to push out content they think will make money, rather than what they originally wanted to make. Another restriction would be games made by these studios being exclusive to a particular platform. For instance, Microsoft allows The Outer Worlds on the PS4 right now as a result of prior commitments from the platform, but future games will likely be released only for the Xbox and PC. The culture of these companies also changes. The way AAA publishers might treat their new employees is an issue as well. A case of this is Disney closing down LucasArts after getting the Star Wars license because they didn’t want to make games, then farming the license for future games over to EA.

The issue is that when independent studios who’ve made famous games get acquired, they carry heavy expectations about their future games. While they have bigger budgets and access to better technology, they also have to sell massively and perform well. This reduces the likelihood of risk-taking and innovation. These studios are also put to work on projects of their acquirers and their own creative ideas are often put on hold, such as Firewatch’s creator  Campo Santo, who was acquired by Valve, having to put their next game, In The Valley of the Gods, on ice because they were working on Dota Underlords and Half-Life: Alyx.

In the Valley of the Gods has been delayed majorly with no release date in sight as a result of their creators being busy on other projects after being acquired.

It’s safe to say however that indie video games aren’t going anywhere. The chief reason for the increase in the number of games released in 2020 despite several famous games like Deathloop and Kerbal Space Program 2 being delayed were the number of indie releases. The working from home situation which came about as a result of the pandemic has not only let developers spend more time on their projects but also let more people who are hobbyist game developers work on their pet projects.

This increase in releases hasn’t just come from low quality projects made by amateurs though. Looking at the prices of the games released in 2020, the average price has gone from $6.3 in 2018 to $7.7 by the second half of 2020. The average reviews for these games are also higher than those released in the previous year, with 78% positive ratings. January 2021 continued this trend, with 756 new games being released, a 17% YoY increase.

Indie games have always been important because of how they push the envelope. This spirit is only growing, and indie games will always have a key role to play in driving the industry forward.

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Game controlling

AAA Games: A Comprehensive Guide

This is Gameopedia’s Game Terminology and Taxonomy series, where we talk about the different kinds of game categories and aim to give our audience in-depth knowledge about them. This blog covers everything you need to know about AAA games.


In the gaming industry, the classification of games into categories based predominantly on the games’ budget, scope, and the like can be done into AAA, AA, and Indie games. These classifications are informal and used mostly by game developers and publishers for marketing purposes as well as e-retail portals to categorize game pages. They also provide information to customers about the games’ potential.

The video games industry generated almost $180 billion in 2020. While exact figures for all AAA game-related revenue is hard, Free-to-play (F2P) Triple-A games make up for a major chunk of income, with Fortnite: Battle Royale alone contributing a massive $5.1 billion revenue in 2020.

AAA title games have always been an eagerly anticipated bunch of releases by gamers around the world. What makes them so significant to the gaming industry though? Let’s dive in.

How do we define AAA Games?

We need to start with defining what exactly a AAA game is. Triple-A games are generally classified as those which have a significant budget for production as well as marketing, and which are conventionally developed by major studios and publishers. As a result of this, these high profile games are expected to be of excellent technical and graphical quality with top notch mechanics, minimal bugs, and high production values. The term came into existence in the 90s.

Below are some examples of AAA title games, where we also go into what makes them so. The characteristics we’ve noticed are:


  1.  Development budget: These games have a massive budget, usually ranging upward of $50 million. For example, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt had a development budget of $81 million. It is estimated that GTA V cost over $137 million just to develop.  
  2. Team size: The production teams for AAA title video games are huge, with at least 50 to 100 employees working on it. For instance, at Ubisoft, AAA game development involved 400 to 600 staff for open world games, split across multiple locations and countries 
  3. Game scope: These games usually have several features and modes and are narrative based. 
  4. Genres: Action, Adventure, Shooter, RPGs, and Sports are the most commonly seen genres.
  5. Graphics quality: They are expected to be high quality and have the latest in graphics technology such as real-time ray tracing, particle effects, and detailed textures.
  6. Technology usage: They tend to use the latest technologies like game engines, custom development tools, and more. These studios often develop their own proprietary game engines, such as Epic Games’ Unreal Engine and use expensive technologies like motion capture to render gorgeous cinematics and smooth character movement. These games are made for newer generations of consoles and a higher calibre of PCs.
  7. Marketing push: Marketing budgets can also be similar to or even higher than the development cost. An example would be Final Fantasy VII, which cost around $45 million to make, and had a U.S. marketing budget of around $100 million, back when it was released in 1997. Marketing often focuses on generating hype for the game through a large number of campaigns, sponsorships, collaborations, and the like. An example would be Madden NFL 2002 buying Super Bowl ads. Beautiful cinematic trailers and bonuses on pre-orders are other ways these games have improved marketing.
  8. Level of game polish/number of bugs: Triple-A games should ideally be well polished and have a small number of glitches or bugs due to the large number of people working on it and budget. Hiring famous and established voice actors and character models is a well-established process for these games.
  9. Franchise release: These games are usually intended to become a franchise post-success. For example, Skyrim, Dragon Age Inquisition, and FIFA.
  10. Studio size and whether they’ve made AAA titles before: These games are usually made by large, established studios or talent experienced in making them.
  11. Higher threshold for success: Ideally these games sell upward of 2~ million copies to break even if not be profitable, though this depends on their total budget. When The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt launched in 2015, it sold nine million units that year. In May 2020, the developing studio CD Projekt Red announced it had sold 50 million units in a tweet.

Let’s look at an example.

Destiny 2

Destiny 2: A AAA game
Destiny 2: One of the most popular AAA releases.
  1. Development budget and marketing push: According to Activision Blizzard’s CEO, it costs $500 million to develop and market Destiny games.
  2. Team size: For Destiny, according to Butcher, the game’s lead engineer, “If you count all of the test and development and support staff then we’re over 400 people.” Destiny 2 has at least that many if not more, considering the new content they keep releasing.
  3. Game scope: The game features a multiplayer “shared-world” environment with elements of role-playing games. Like the original, activities in Destiny 2 are divided among player versus environment (PvE) and player versus player (PvP) game types. There have been several massive expansions as well, with the latest being new Halo guns being released as a reward as Bungie celebrates their 30th anniversary.
  4. Genres:  It is a free-to-play online-only multiplayer first-person shooter video game released in 2017. It was originally a pay-to-play release but in 2019, was made F2P.
  5. Critical reception: Destiny 2 received “generally favorable” reviews, according to review aggregator Metacritic. Its gameplay and story were both highly praised by several reviewers and publications. It was nominated for and won Best PC Game of 2017 at the Game Critics Award.
  6. Graphics quality: The game’s graphics and gameplay were both highly praised by publishers. 
  7. Technology usage: It was released for the latest generation of consoles available then (the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One) as well as Windows, though you would need a mid to high range PC to properly play the game. Later, when Google Stadia was released, Destiny 2 was re-released as an F2P game by Activision across all platforms. It has recently been upgraded for the new generation of consoles (the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S) as well.
  8. Level of game polish/number of bugs: Destiny 2 was relatively free of game-breaking bugs and came well-polished. The game’s frequent patches and updates tend to ensure this is consistent.
  9. Franchise release: This game is a part of the Destiny franchise, with similar gameplay elements and lore. 
  10. Studio size and whether they’ve made AAA games before: Bungie, the studio behind Destiny 2, is also responsible for creating the famous Halo franchise.
  11. Threshold for success: In 2017, post-release, Bungie shared that millions of people had played Destiny 2, with as many as 1.3 million doing so at the same time. It was also the second highest-grossing console game of 2017 in North America, and was Activision’s biggest PC release based on units sold. Activision also said that Destiny 2 set a day-one sales record on the PlayStation Store.

Why are AAA Titles Important?

AAA games are vital as they historically have driven the industry and pioneered innovation.  An example of this are the Triple-A titles produced during the late 1990s and early 2000s. They brought a shift towards more narrative-driven games that mixed storytelling elements with gameplay. With larger budgets, developers found new innovative ways to present narrative as a direct part of gameplay rather than as pre-rendered cutscenes. Half-Life was one of the first of these new narrative games to nearly eliminate cutscenes in favor of interactive storytelling mechanisms.

Half-Life: The game that turned cutscenes into narratives with gameplay.
Half-Life: The game that turned cutscenes into narratives with gameplay.

AAA title games are likely to continue in this manner. They offer recognition to their production and development teams which aids in getting talented personnel, epic entertainment experiences which attract large audiences, and access to new technology which fosters major innovations. Games and gamers will continue to evolve, but the scale and scope of Triple-A will continue to be vital to provide amazing opportunities.

AAA games can provide the resources, stability, and talent to make the games all of us aspire to play someday.

History of the AAA Game Industry

The term “AAA” started to be heard frequently in the late 1990s, when a few development companies started using the expression at gaming conventions in the US. The term was borrowed from the credit industry’s bond ratings, where “AAA” bonds represented the safest opportunity most likely to meet their financial goals.

One of the first video games that was developed at an Triple-A scale was Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy VII in 1997, which cost an estimated $40–45 million (post adjustment for inflation, $64–73 million) to develop, making it the most expensive video game ever produced up until then. It had unprecedented cinematic CGI production values, movie-like presentation, orchestral music, and innovative blend of gameplay with dynamic cinematic camerawork. Its expensive advertisement campaign was also a novel venture for a video game.

One of the first AAA games ever made
Final Fantasy VII: One of the first AAA games made.

This spurred on future AAA title releases to have a strong emphasis on innovation and narrative-driven gameplay set amidst state-of-the art graphics.


The Most Famous AAA Studios

Now that we’ve examined what exactly makes a AAA game, below are some of the most beloved and prominent Triple-A studios with their popular releases. This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means- it is just meant to provide you with an idea of what kind of studios develop and publish these games.

  1. Square Enix (Final Fantasy, Tomb Raider)
  2. Ubisoft (Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry)
  3. Riot Games (League of Legends, VALORANT)
  4. Rockstar Games (Grand Theft Auto)
  5. Nintendo (Mario, Pokemon)
  6. Activision (Overwatch, Call of Duty)
  7. EA (FIFA, Battlefield)
  8. Bethesda (The Elder Scrolls, Fallout)
  9. Capcom (Resident Evil, Street Fighter)
  10. Sony Interactive Entertainment (God of War, Gran Turismo)

Prominent Genres and Trends of AAA Games

In one of our prior articles, we explored genre trends in the console market across the past five years for AAA, AA, and Indie releases. This graph below showcases the major variations in genre trends across the last five years related to Triple-A games.

AAA Genre Trends

You can see that two genres feature consistently at the top every year – Action and Adventure. Some of the popular games belonging to these two genres over the past five years include Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (Action, Adventure), Red Dead Redemption 2 (Adventure), and Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War (Action, Shooter). 

Some of the most well-received Role-Playing Games of the past five years are all AAA titles. These include Final Fantasy VII Remake (Role-Playing) and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (Role-Playing, Adventure).

Sports games have been consistently popular with AAA publishers as well. There’s a reason for this: licensing costs for these sports leagues go into hundreds of millions of dollars and only AAA studios can really foot this hefty bill. 

FIFA: One of the most prominent AAA games
The licensing fee for FIFA and other franchises can skyrocket into the millions.

There are a few annual sports franchises – FIFA, NBA 2K, Madden NFL, and NHL – which make up for the bulk of sales and media attention each year.


Quite often, AAA title games are intended to be a series of games under a similar title or set in the same universe. Popular characters come back and/or are referred to, and the storyline may continue. The technical definition of a video game franchise would be an iterative series of game products developed around a demand for the services/value of the intellectual property. Once a new single and unique game is released and copyrighted, the brand is established with the first iteration consisting as the IP’s basis of design and definition.


AAA titles are unique amidst other game types because they are developed often with the intention of being a franchise. The massive investment these games require means that they become franchises if the initial game is successful. An example of this not occurring would be Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. This was an action RPG game released in 2012 with a sequel planned, developed by 38 Studios and Big Huge Games. The studio secured a $75 million loan guarantee from the economic development board of Rhode Island for establishing 38 Studios within the state and promoting job growth. The initial sales within the first three months post-release were around 1.3 million. Though impressive, Rhode Island recognized that the title was expected to have hit 3 million units by this point for 38 Studios to pay back the loan. 

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was a game that deserved but didn't get its sequel (yet.)

38 Studios defaulted on one of the loan repayments, leading to a publisher to pull out of a US$35 million investment in a sequel. The studio managed to make the next payment, but could not make payroll or other expenses, and shortly later declared bankruptcy by May 2012. On the contrary, games like Call of Duty, FIFA, and the like, once successful initially, have continued being a great source of revenue for their developers and publishers. 

Publishers like going for franchises because they already have a dedicated fanbase who would be interested in the game beforehand and this increases copies sold. It is also easier to build upon a pre-existing universe and lore. The most successful video game franchises have been made by AAA developers and publishers and remain popular till date because they have developed a large audience over time while maintaining a reasonable quality to their products to keep their players happy.

The Future of AAA Games

When AAA games started out, the focus was on pushing out innovative single-payment games with great narratives, gameplay, and state-of-the-art graphics. However, with budgets being so high for these games, they had to think out of the box to beat their competition and make a profit. One of the major ways they did this was after the release of the 7th generation consoles. Along with the internet capabilities of that time, these studios were now capable of releasing optional post launch content for games. Games received bonus content in the form of DLCs, which added new areas, quests, and storylines for the player to enjoy. 

A lot of AAA games these days follow the GaaS- games as a service. GaaS is a business strategy while F2P is a revenue model. The most successful AAA titles which use this model ensure that they are transparent about what players get by buying a subscription or season pass, and that this is more than the cost of entry. Another thing to note when it comes to GaaS games is how they manage tie-ups and sponsorships. Whether it is Valorant’s Zedd x Valorant series of gun skins or Fortnite’s various collaborations with movies, shows, and musicians, they capitalize on several fanbases to sell add-ons to their players that make them happy.

Fortnite makes a LOT of money off its skins from other famous franchises like Marvel, DC, and even anime like Naruto.

However, microtransactions, loot boxes, and the like which necessitate additional payment from players for uncertain rewards, especially when it’s hard to grind these rewards which are almost compulsory for game progression for free, have proven unpopular. These questionable business tactics have led several gamers to boycott such games. It is however heartwarming to see games like Borderlands 3- a game where loot boxes and microtransactions can thrive- outright stating that there would be none of those. And they kept their promise. Studios which manage to successfully make and sell games without resorting to microtransactions and loot boxes continue to be well received.

Another trend to notice: in the last decade, free-to-play GaaS AAA games have more than proved their mettle as revenue generators, with games like League of Legends, Apex Legends, and Fortnite generating billions of dollars in profit for their developers and publishers, while also driving a related industry up significantly- esports, which in turn improves their popularity and brings in more players. 

AAA giant Ubisoft said that they would be “focusing less on AAA games” and more publishers seem to be heading down a similar route as mobile games prove to be the area of largest profit. More and more Triple-A studios are looking towards GaaS and F2P games to bolster their profits. This however doesn’t mean that Triple-A games are dying. AAA titles will always be a dependable bastion for gamers to return to for their preferred franchise, such as the latest FIFA or newest Assassin’s Creed release.

It seems likely that the future of AAA games will proceed in three major directions: 

  1. An increase in adoption of the Games as a Service (GaaS) model for games which are extremely rewarding for their players and generate a good deal of revenue.
  2. The usual franchises remaining as popular as they always have been thanks to their dependable fanbases, as well as established AAA studios trying to make high-quality games for the new generation of consoles and computers.
  3. New developments in technology such as VR and AR leading to games that are the first of their kind.
Half Life: Alex
Half-Life Alyx: A stunning tribute to what VR gaming can be.

According to Harold Ryan, ex-president/CEO of Bungie, the studio that developed Halo and Destiny, “At their best, Triple-A games can be a generation-defining experience with an oversized cultural impact. They have the power to inspire and influence gamers to become developers.” While games at the end of the day derive their value from the enjoyment they provide to their players, AAA titles show no sign of losing their relevance now, or in the future.

We at Gameopedia have specialized in collecting and curating game information for the last 12 years and have been working with companies across the gaming ecosystem. From release dates, genres, and descriptions to in-depth game breakdowns, we strive towards providing the best to our clients. Reach out to us at [email protected] to learn more about our offerings.

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Managing Video Game Information on E-commerce Websites

The video games industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in today’s world. Those who play video games tend to be some of the most enthusiastic and loyal customers when it comes to the games they love, as well as the most discerning. This sort of audience requires e-commerce stores who are looking to sell video games and associated merchandise to give them three things:

1. They need to provide a fantastic customer experience.
2. They need to provide the products their customers are looking for.
3. They should provide the customer with the ability to discover new gaming products that are right for them.

The gaming sector has been consistently growing over the last two decades, and is one of the few industries that has thrived during the pandemic. People stuck at home found video games a wonderful escape into a virtual, fun reality, leading to a 20% YoY growth from 2019. The market reached over $179 billion in global revenue, and it’s not slowing down. Another result of the pandemic is that bigger and bigger slices of this pie are moving online. Gaming marketplaces like Steam, GOG, and Epic Games, to name a few, are experiencing meteoric growth, demonstrating the increased comfort gamers have with e-commerce services.

Challenges That E-commerce Businesses Contend With

Video game e-commerce retailers deal with quite a few obstacles when it comes to increasing sales. Some of these are:

  • Maintaining customer loyalty and engagement:

Acquiring new customers costs three to five times more than keeping your existing ones. If your checkout processes aren’t easy and your website format is unattractive and hard to navigate, it’s unlikely that your customers will return or even stay on your site long enough to buy something.

  • Standing out amidst competition:

There are so many video game e-commerce portals out there right now, ranging from giants like Steam and Epic Games Store to smaller entities, as well as game developers and publishers directly selling their game. You need to figure out how to set yourself apart from your competitors who offer similar services or products. 

  • Obsolete and outdated technology:

If your technology is outdated or hard to use, it will limit your ability to sell. Whether it is your website or app, your billing solution, or any other feature, it has to be simple to use. Secondly, you need to be able to manage data security to ensure your customers’ confidential data is safe, as well as make sure your website’s functioning isn’t affected. If your data gets hacked, it will lead to a loss of trust.

  • Sourcing accurate data:

To ensure that your products are easily discoverable by your customers, it’s important that their specifications, related media, tags, and the like displayed are accurate and contain relevant information. This data should be periodically updated as needed.

When it comes to ensuring that your customers discover your products and services though, one of the most important factors is video game information/metadata.

Why Is Video Game Information Important In E-commerce

In our blog about video game metadata, we took a deep dive into what exactly metadata for video games is, as well as the different parties which need it. To quickly recap, gaming metadata is any information that gives the reader insight into the game. Everybody that is a part of the gaming ecosystem, from the retailer to the consumer, uses game metadata at some level.

With an exhaustive game metadata repository, you get access to descriptive tags and information, facts, and media that provide an in-depth understanding of the gaming product or service you are offering. This allows you to improve customer retention, engagement, and sales.

Vital Video Game Information

The format in which video game information is presented for a particular gaming product and how it is used can vary depending on the requirement, though there are some fields which most retailers/consumers need. These include:


The title is the official game name in a particular region.

Alternate Title

Alternate Title covers unofficial or common titles associated with a game such as abbreviations.

Game Developers

Developers are the studio, organization, or people that are responsible for creating the video game.


Publishers are the entity that is responsible for publishing the video game in a particular region.


This is the official description or blurb of the game released by the developer/publisher.

Age Ratings

The official age ratings and descriptors for a game released by the competent authority in a particular region on a particular platform.


Reviews from major editorials about the game.

Platforms the game has released on

Platform information tells consumers what platforms the game is playable on.

Video Game Release Date

The game’s release date in a particular region.


Official Barcodes of the game in a particular region.

SKU Number (From the store)

A SKU number is assigned to a product in order to identify specific information. It  stands for “Stock Keeping Unit” and is a code used to differentiate products typically by an alphanumeric combination of 8-or-so characters.


Screenshot captures from within the game which can showcase its setting, characters, and gameplay for consumers to see.


Various gameplay and cinematic trailers released officially for the game.

Gameplay Videos

Gameplay videos are captures of the actual gameplay featuring its mechanics, artwork, graphics, music, and the like to show players in detail what they can expect.

Box Art

This is the cover a hardcopy of a game can come in.


This category describes the defining Genre of a game, which is a term that summarizes the core gameplay concepts and elements present within. A video game genre is assigned to a video game based solely on its gameplay, and not the story, narrative, or lore. 

Single-player/Multiplayer Info

This covers whether the game can be played in single player or multiplayer, as well as the type of multiplayer (if a multiplayer mode is available.)


A video game perspective defines the orientation, position, and angle of the player’s viewpoint of the game. The Main Perspective refers to the perspective that is used most frequently through the game and most if not all of the game is presented to the player in this perspective. 

Gameplay Engine

This mentions the gameplay engine used to build the game.


The Theme of a video game broadly covers what the game is about. This section details the central theme of the game. A game may have more than one applicable theme.

Cross-play compatibility

Cross play compatibility refers to if users from different platforms such as PC, console, and mobile can play together in a session, as well as gives details about this.

Community Data

Community data covers things such as how many hours a gamer spent playing a particular game, the number of achievements they unlocked, the amount of progress, and other such factors.

In-game achievements

These are achievements which a user can garner within the video game, such as high scores and completionist trophies.


These are relations the game might have to other games or gaming products such as prequels, sequels, DLCs, and expansion packs, to name a few.

Metadata for video games - Cyberpunk-2077
Metadata for video games Cyberpunk-2077

Best Practices For Video Game Metadata Management

We’ve established the importance of metadata for video games with respect to maximizing how your customers engage with your products and services. Here are some best practices which can help ensure that you’re utilizing the metadata you have optimally:

1. Have a well-defined strategy:

It helps to have a plan before you start out on incorporating metadata into your future projects. An important question you can ask yourself as you start is what your use cases are for metadata. If your main interest is selling video game console/PC games online, ensure you plan to maximize their visibility and reach with well-defined metadata.

This will help you align your metadata strategy to your business goals and identify important activities.

2. Figure out the scope for your metadata:

In order to focus your resources effectively, you need to analyze both current and future use cases for your gaming metadata. Based on this, you will know the requirements for your web pages and when you’re articulating a solution, you need to specify exactly how you will be doing so: how you will be capturing metadata, integrating it with your page, publishing it, and so on. This will drastically improve product discoverability on your video game e-commerce website or application.

3. Get your metadata from a reliable source and avoid crowdsourcing:

When it comes to obtaining your game-related metadata, the most commonly utilized method, crowdsourcing, often results in poor quality information. It’s easier for details to be incorrect or missed out on without expert curation and strict quality control. With a company like Gameopedia though, any metadata we provide you is run through multiple checks for quality and accuracy, ensuring the final data we give you is error-free.

4. Localize Metadata for the regions you’re selling in:

Quite often, video game information in various regions tend to differ from one another. This could be the game’s title, protagonist names, publishers, release date or other details. Ensuring your metadata is localized and updated for consumers is integral to a game’s discoverability. It can also boost sales on your gaming e-commerce website or portal drastically. Gameopedia has you covered here with extensive localized video game metadata coverage across four continents.

5. Optimize your E-commerce Portal to leverage metadata for Discoverability:

While this isn’t directly related to metadata, it ties in with management and can be used to ensure that as a video game retailer, your customers can find and buy the games they want. Some tips which can help make your website or portal optimal for your consumers are:

-Your customers should ideally be able to navigate to any page on your website in 3 clicks. Include genre categories as a side bar and a clearly visible navigation bar.
-Incorporating detailed video game information through metadata for every one of your available products is essential for delivering effective and relevant search results. Account for typos and misspellings while doing this.
-Implement cross-selling and upselling as much as you can in your website pages. If you see a customer interested in one particular game of a franchise, ensure that your website suggests deals related to not just that game but other ones from the series. Add games or products that are in-demand and trending to your home page.

Metadata management is a continuous activity which needs to be scaled with your organization. The sooner you can incorporate a process to go about it, the easier it will be for your team in the future. Make sure you conduct regular audits to help identify both problems and areas where improvements can be made.


Comprehensive and high quality video game metadata can massively improve discoverability, user engagement, and conversions, helping you capture a larger share of the consumer market. Reach out to us for industry leading video game information for over 180,000 games, spanning across 200 platforms for four continents.

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