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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

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. 

Undertale

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. 

Conclusion

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. 

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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.

Assassin’s Creed III’s Remaster Comes with a Host of Visual Upgrades (Courtesy Ubisoft)
Assassin’s Creed III’s Remaster Comes with a Host of Visual Upgrades (Courtesy Ubisoft)

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’. Gamesindustry.biz 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?

Conclusion

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.

Franchises

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
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:

Title

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

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

Description

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

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.

Barcodes

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.

Screenshots

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

Trailers

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.

Genres

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.)

Perspective

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.

Theme

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.

Relations 

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.

Conclusion

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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Video Game Genre Trends Among Console Games In The Last Five Years

In 2020, the video game industry clocked global revenues of nearly $180 billion, up from almost $150 billion in 2019. It’s one of the fastest growing ecosystems in the world, especially considering the effect the pandemic has had on people, with more and more of them looking to video games for entertainment. The console market has a solid fifth of this pie, making it an essential segment to focus on. We at Gameopedia want to understand why gamers love what they play.

People with different tastes go for various types of games. For example, some people like games that test their reflexes, others like to solve puzzles, while some of them just want to unwind and build their fantasy world. These types of games are commonly categorized into genres. We have already published a detailed guide to learn more about the different kinds of Video Game Genres if you’re interested. 

In this article, we will explore genre trends in the console market across the past five years, i.e. 2016-2020. 

Consoles Covered

  • PlayStation 4 – Launched in late 2013, the PlayStation 4 went on to sell more than 100 million units in its lifecycle, and served as the home for several bestselling games such as God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, and The Last of Us Part II.
  • PlayStation 5 – Launched in late 2020, in the thick of the pandemic, the PlayStation 5 provides a significant hardware upgrade over its predecessor.
  • Xbox One – Launched in late 2013, the Xbox One started off weak against its rival, the PlayStation 4, and continued to lag behind in sales. It made up for this by providing support to older games through its backward compatibility feature, and later became known for its well-received Xbox Game Pass subscription.
  • Xbox Series X|S – Launched in late 2020 alongside the PlayStation 5, the Xbox Series X is touted to be the “World’s Most Powerful Console”. The other member in the family – the Xbox Series S – carries the tag of being the “smallest Xbox ever made”.
  • Nintendo 3DS – Launched in 2011, the 3DS was a popular handheld console whose USP was to display stereoscopic 3D effects without requiring the use of 3D glasses. The model had a long lifespan, getting discontinued in 2020.
  • New Nintendo 3DS – Launched in 2014, this is a prominent revision to the original 3DS, bringing along with it several hardware enhancements. Curiously, it got discontinued a year earlier than the original 3DS.
  • Nintendo Switch – Launched in 2017, the Nintendo Switch is a hybrid console that can switch between handheld and TV modes. This unique model quickly appealed to gamers worldwide, as the Switch shipped more than 14 million units in its first year.

As seen above, there are primarily three console brands, each with multiple devices available in the market during the study period. The newest entrants to the market – the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X|S – arrived in November 2020, marking a new generation of consoles.

Put together, the games released for the above consoles represent a diverse mix, ranging from titles developed by a studio with hundreds of employees to a solo developer working tirelessly on their dream. They also represent a large mix of genres, catering to the varying tastes of the gaming market. When you want to analyze this data, Gameopedia’s expertise with game metadata and taxonomy come in handy.

Our Analysis of Video Game Genre Trends among Console Games

We utilized Gameopedia’s extensive database to build the dataset to be used for the study.

Since the focus of this study is on genre trends among console games, we built a list of games that were released on at least one of the above-mentioned platforms. Each game in our database is classified into one or more Genres. Further, we also took note of the game type, whose definitions are given below:

  • AAA Games – These are games developed by large teams, backed by a huge budget, ensuring the production values are high. The scope of these games is similar to that of a blockbuster film. Only a handful of established studios across the world currently work on producing AAA games, and they are usually accompanied by a sizable marketing budget as well. Some examples of this type include Resident Evil Village, Returnal, and Ghost of Tsushima.
  • AA Games – These games are developed by smaller teams as compared to AAA games, and have relatively smaller budgets and scale. Mid-sized and Major publishers are both known to develop AA games on occasion. Some examples of this type include A Plague Tale: Innocence, The Outer Worlds, and It Takes Two.
  • Indie Games – While the word “Indie” stands for Independent, “indie game” is a term often used to describe games that have been built by extremely small teams (sometimes even consisting of a solo developer), with a minuscule budget compared to the other two game types. A smaller scale does not mean a smaller game however, and indie games are well-known to be creative and innovative. Some popular indie games include Gone Home, Untitled Goose Game, and Stardew Valley.

After building our dataset, we analyzed the number of releases across genres observed over the past five years. We also took note of the number of releases across each game type and looked for patterns.

Since the goal of this study is to examine trends among primary genres, we have excluded sub-genres from our dataset. Before going further into the study, it is important to explain how we define a ‘genre’ and ‘sub-genre’. 

Simply put, any genre that isn’t a defining characteristic of the game is treated as a sub-genre. For example, an adventure game might contain a few levels where the player is required to solve simple puzzles to progress. However, solving puzzles isn’t the defining characteristic of the game. Players do not buy that specific game with the intent to solve puzzles. In this case, Puzzle becomes the game’s sub-genre, indicating that the game has a few puzzles, but they aren’t the main focus of the game. A game can have multiple genres and sub-genres.

Our Game Insights

Overall Genre Distribution from 2016-2020

AA Genre Trends

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

AAA Genre Trends

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

Indie Genre Trends

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

It is immediately apparent from the study that two genres feature consistently at the top every year – Action and Adventure. This is true for each game type and each year. 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), Super Mario Odyssey (Action, Adventure, Platform), Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War (Action, Shooter), and Battlefield 1 (Action, Shooter).

Action and adventure games have been and will always be extremely popular amidst gamers because they bring to the table the two best things about gaming: escapism and involvement. As the protagonist of these games, you usually have a great deal of power as well as choose how to use it to change the world(s) you’re in. With the advancement of technology, the setting of the game as well as the abilities your character has are only getting more and more awesome, so these genres will always be popular.

Super Mario Odyssey: 5 things that could make it epic

Action games aren’t necessarily violent all the time. Super Mario Odyssey, Nintendo.

Following the top two are a few genres that jostle for third place with varying results across the game types and over the years. One genre that keeps cropping up here is the Shooter genre.

Shooter games are arguably one of the most popular kinds of game, no matter how you define popularity. Are we talking sales? The annual Call of Duty games consistently feature among the bestselling games each year. Are we talking about actual playtime? Some of the most played games in the world are shooters – Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Fortnite, and PUBG: Battlegrounds, to name just a few. And yes, even in our own study, we noticed that across all game types, the Shooter genre did feature in the top 3 in every year except one. Nothing quite gets one’s adrenaline pumping like a high intensity firefight. As newer shooter games come out, the social aspect related to these games is under constant enhancement as well with an increased focus on tactics, team coordination, and communication. This keeps the genre ever-beloved, be it single-player or multiplayer titles.

Next up is the puzzle genre, which is among the most beloved genres in the market, although this is not immediately visible. Games like The Witness (Adventure, Puzzle) and Tetris Effect (Action, Puzzle) may not receive as much publicity as a highly-marketed AAA game like Cyberpunk 2077 (Adventure, Role-Playing). However, they are well-received by the market and have a dedicated audience.

Puzzle games are a good way to unwind at the end of the day. Tetris Effect, Enhance Games.

It is no wonder then, that indie games feature the most amount of releases for the Puzzle genre, where it consistently features in the top 3 or top 5 at worst. It features among the top 10 for AA games, while it is entirely absent from the top 10 list for AAA games. This makes a lot of sense because compared to action, adventure, or even shooter games, 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.

Another genre that has proven to be consistently, quietly popular are Role-Playing games. This is a genre that never quite reached the top in terms of number of releases, but makes its presence felt nonetheless. Among AAA games, Role-playing games featured among the top 3 most-released genres for every year, while it did so for four straight years for AA games, losing out the third place in 2020.

Nothing beats exploring an alien world on a Saturday night. The Outer Worlds, Take-Two.

Curiously, a lot of indie publishers seemed to avoid releasing Role-Playing games, as the genre always made up less than 5% of all indie game releases in any year. This explains why some of the most well-received Role-Playing Games of the past five years are all AA/AAA titles. Some of these include Final Fantasy VII Remake (Role-Playing), The Outer Worlds (Role-Playing, Adventure), and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (Role-Playing, Adventure). It makes sense if you think about it: the most popular RPGs are those with beautiful, rich, detailed worlds and elegant gameplay mechanics, which might be hard for indie gamemakers to create when compared to AA/AAA studios.

Similar to Role-Playing games, indie publishers didn’t release a lot of games in the Sports genre in the past five years. These games however have been consistently popular with AA/AAA publishers. It is easy to point out that there are a few annual sport franchises – FIFA, NBA 2K, Madden NFL, NHL – which make up for the bulk of sales and media attention each year. However, this study takes into account the number of game releases each year, and the above-mentioned franchises are but a tiny percent of the overall pie. 

What comes to mind is how most of these games facilitate online gameplay with players around the world. Competition is a key feature of these games; whether you’re playing against your buddies for fun or taking part in a high-stakes tournament, you’ll end up enjoying yourself. The real-world element that a lot of sports games provide as well, with references to actual athletes and teams help it to stand out and have a dedicated group of consumers. This genre provides a very unique experience which accounts for its consistent popularity.

Riding down dangerous curves. MotoGP 20, Milestone.

Among AA games, the genre features among the top 10 consistently, with 2020 being its best year, where it broke into the top 3. This year saw the release of such games as Rugby 20 (Sports), MotoGP 20 (Sports, Racing, Simulation) and Football Manager 2021 (Sports, Simulation, Strategy). Now let us turn our attention to a genre that is popular with indie game publishers, and not so much with the AA/AAA publishers.

Looks simple, but isn’t. Celeste, Matt Makes Games.

The Platform genre is one of the oldest genres in the industry. Classic games such as Donkey Kong (Action, Platform) and Super Mario Bros (Action, Platform) were pioneers of the Platform genre, and it was popular with AAA publishers for a long time. Franchises such as Prince of Persia, Tomb Raider and Uncharted made their name by being excellent platforming games. However, of late, the genre is fast disappearing from AA/AAA titles, and has found a new home among the indie scene.

The numbers indicate that the genre either features at the very bottom of the list or doesn’t make the top 10 list at all for AA/AAA released in the past five years. For indie games however, it 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!

Conclusion

Just like any other market, the stakeholders in the video game industry are constantly aware of changing trends and try to appeal to their consumers. While it’s safe to say that games featuring a combination of the Action, Adventure, and Shooter genres will continue being a safe bet for now, the market is wide open for a broad mixture of genres to be explored.

The fact that the same genres do not appear among the most released games every single year is a strong indicator of a market that is eager to try something new, while still having something familiar to return to at the end of the day.

No matter what combination of genres game publishers come up with over the next five years, you can be assured that we at Gameopedia will always be here. We’re ready to guide you through the exciting world of video games with our game comparison and sentiment analysis tools, as well as other interesting projects we have in the works. Drop us a line if we can help you with anything!

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The Ultimate Guide To Video Game Genres

Understanding Video Game Genres

The dictionary defines the word genre as “a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.” When extended to the realm of video games, a video game genre refers primarily to what players do in them. The word ‘primary’ is important here, because it is not uncommon for games to blend several video game genres in an attempt to appeal to the widest possible audience.

A Video Game Genre is a term that summarizes the core gameplay concepts and elements present within a game. Unlike movies & other media, a Video Game Genre is usually assigned to a game based mainly on its gameplay, not the story, narrative, or lore.

Apex Legends
Apex Legends (Courtesy EA) - An Action Genre Game

For example, an ‘Action’ genre game involves challenging a player’s reflexes or hand-eye coordination. A game like Apex Legends would fit perfectly here.

The classification of video games into genres began in the 1980s. Various authors used classifications to categorize games in their books, but the most prominent taxonomy was the one used by Nintendo. In order to maintain control over the quality of games released for their console, the Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo came up with eight genres: Adventure, Action, Sports, Light-Gun, Programmable, Arcade, Robot, and Educational.

This list was later modified to remove some and add more genres, but it also introduced genres as a concept to the entire video game market. Gradually, sub-genres started popping up, building upon the foundation of their parent genres. This is where things started to get a little murky as several lists of genres and sub-genres were being maintained by different stakeholders as per their convenience and reasoning. We at Gameopedia have simplified and streamlined genre classification through our home-grown Game Taxonomy that is trusted by tech giants across the globe. In this article, we will cover some of the most popular genres to better understand the pulse of the video game market.

Why Do We Need Video Game Genres?

With thousands of video games coming out each year, a robust game taxonomy is necessary for consumers to identify what they would potentially buy and for sellers to recommend the most suitable games to their customers. Parents who are buying games for their younger children may like to avoid certain genres like ‘shooter’ or ‘fighting’, where some games might have gore and realistic violence . However, adult gamers might want to explore the same games for exactly the same reason.  On the other side of the equation, online game stores and game streaming platforms can leverage classifications to improve game recommendations and create more personalized experiences for their customers.

On a broader scale, the popularity of certain genres helps developers and publishers identify the direction for their next project. Making video games is an unforgiving business and therefore being able to gauge the performance of various genres in a particular market is a powerful tool to minimize financial risk.

How Are Video Game Genres Defined?​

There is no official body that classifies or defines game genres, although age rating boards do classify games based on the age groups they are considered to be appropriate for. Genre definitions are a mere understanding between the developers and the audience, and occur organically.

That being said, Gameopedia defines game genres as a term that describes the core gameplay concepts and elements within a game

Modern video games almost always contain a healthy mixture of genres instead of focusing on a single one. This makes a game more enjoyable, rather than monotonously focusing on a single gameplay element. As a result, a single game may feature multiple genres, of which some are considered defining and the others sub-genres. The defining genre is the game’s main gameplay focus, while the other genres present to a lesser extent are the sub-genres. We will cover sub-genres, genre mixes, and descriptive genres in detail in our later blogs.

The List Of Video Game Genres

At Gameopedia, our game taxonomy team is exclusively made up of gamers. As a group, we exhaustively play games belonging to every genre across all platforms. Using our own 200+ years of collective gaming expertise and taking industry standards into consideration, we have come up with a set of genre definitions that cover the gamut of choices available in the market. In the next part of this article, we are going to explore genre definitions in detail.

But first, here’s the list of Video Game Genres:

  • Action

  • Adventure

  • Driving

  • Educational

  • Exergaming

  • Fighting

  • Flying

  • MMO

  • Music

  • Party

  • Platform

  • Puzzle

  • Racing

  • Real-World

  • Role-Playing

  • Shooter

  • Simple Activity

  • Simulation

  • Sports

  • Strategy

  • Trivia

  • Virtual Life

Genre Definitions

Now let’s deep dive into each of these video game genres while looking at some of the games that fall under each category.

  • Action: Possibly one of the oldest genres out there, Action games focus on challenging the player’s reflexes, hand-eye coordination, and reaction times. It is important to note that violence is not a criteria that’s necessary for a game to be classified into this genre. Games like Call of Duty, Spider Man: Miles Morales, Street Fighter, and Temple Run fit the ball.
Spider Man: Miles Morales, Example Of An Action Video Game Genre
Spider Man: Miles Morales(Courtesy Sony Interactive Entertainment): An Action Genre Game
  • Adventure: Games in the adventure genre generally involve a player exploring the world within the game while experiencing the story through the eyes of a protagonist. Games such as those in the Tomb Raider series or the Uncharted series are prime examples. Adventure games need not necessarily rely on high-octane exhilarating moments but may focus more on thoughtful, philosophical, or relaxed endeavours. Games such as Gone Home are also adventure games.
  • Driving: Games that are classified under this genre mainly involve players spending all or most of their time driving ground/water vehicles like cars, trucks, heavy machinery, trains, boats and ships to name a few. It’s important to note that the driving mechanic in the game must involve physics like gradual acceleration, gradual braking, and turning for example. Games such as Euro Truck Simulator 2, Train Simulator and World of Warships among others, are part of the ‘Driving’ genre.
Euro Truck Simulator 2 , An Example Of A Driving Video Game Genre
Euro Truck Simulator 2 (Courtesy SCS Software) : A Driving Genre Game
  • Educational: Every now and then, we come across games designed specifically with the purpose of helping players learn about certain subjects or a concept. They very well could focus on a historical event, reinforce development or could be entirely focused on helping players learn a particular skill. In order to make the experience more engaging, the game might involve a narrative or more game-like elements from other genres. Games such as Minecraft: Education Edition and Educational Games for Kids are notable examples.
  • Exergaming: Games in the ‘Exergaming’ genre require the player to perform a physical activity to complete an objective, generally with the intent of making the player exercise. Some examples of objectives could include walking 5 kms or doing 15 push ups in order to progress. Most exergaming games are complemented by certain accessories or equipment that track fitness, body movement, and reaction times. Games such as Wii Fit, EA Sports Active, and Cyber ExerCycle fall under this category. Due to the integration of technology and physical activity, a game like Wii Fit has even been used in real-life physiotherapy treatment.
Wii Fit (Nintendo) : An Example Of An Exergaming Video Game Genre
Wii Fit U (Courtesy Nintendo) : An Exergaming Genre Game
  • Fighting: Games in this genre have a major focus on the players’ character fighting in real-time against one or several foes via hand-to-hand or weapon-based combat. Due to the core gameplay being heavily dependent on hand-eye coordination and reflexes, fighting games are always action games as well. Some of the more popular games of this genre belong to franchises like Street Fighter, Tekken, and Mortal Kombat
  • Flying: The ‘Flying’ genre mainly focuses on flying a vehicle, object, character, or even a creature/animal. Within such games, the player has to take into account some or all flying-related physics that could affect gameplay like gravity, inertia, roll, wind and resistance among others. Games like Tom Clancy’s HAWX, Freelancer, Flappy Birds, and Microsoft Flight Simulator can be classified as ‘Flying’ genre games.
  • MMO: ‘Massively Multiplayer Online’ genre games are self-explanatory. The primary criteria is that it should require the player to play online simultaneously with numerous others (could be in the hundreds or even thousands). Some common features across MMOs include persistent online worlds, guilds, clans and parties, social interactions, raids and Player Vs Player combat. They could also have Guild Vs Guild/Realm Vs Realm combat and an ‘Endgame’ through which the player remains invested, despite having completed the main story or having reached the maximum level cap. Popular examples are World of Warcraft, EVE: Online, and Guild Wars 2
World of Warcraft Shadowlands : An Example Of An MMO Video Game Genre
World of Warcraft Shadowlands (Courtesy Activision Blizzard) : An MMO Genre Game
  • Music: ‘Music’ genre games are those where the main focus is on music-related activities. A player could be creating, manipulating, and composing music or could simply be playing, performing, or dancing to it. Music genre games like Guitar Hero have actually had a cultural impact with some publications even deeming it as a “Cultural Phenomenon”. Other popular entries in this category include the likes of SingStar and Amplitude.
  • Party: ‘Party’ genre games refer to games that are intended to be played by a group of people together during a social gathering with family or friends. They are designed to be easy to play and simple to learn. Party games almost always include a local multiplayer that can be enjoyed by both players and spectators. Games such as those in the Mario Party series and Buzz! Series are some of the more well known games in this genre.
  • Platform: This genre of games focuses on traversal between platforms suspended in the game environment while avoiding obstacles and enemies. Some modern games have also introduced more complex obstacles for the player to clear, with a few offering physics-based environments to make the levels more realistic. Games such as Crash Bandicoot, Super Mario Galaxy, Super Meat Boy Forever, and Psychonauts are good examples of platform games.
Super Meat Boy Forever - Platform Video Game Genre
Super Meat Boy Forever (Courtesy Team Meat) : A Platform Genre Game
  • Puzzle: These games are for those who like to put their brain to use and find the thrill in solving puzzles. Whether simple adaptations of real-world puzzles like Sudoku or full-blown puzzle games meant to be explored in a video game environment like The Witness, there’s a lot of variety on offer. They test the player’s problem-solving skills including logic, pattern recognition, sequence solving, and word completion. Puzzle games continue to find millions of fans, especially on mobile phones where games like Candy Crush Saga are extremely popular. 
  • Racing: A ‘Racing’ game mainly focuses on racing a vehicle, animal, monster/creature or object, on land, water, air, or in space. The player usually races against an opponent, the clock, or both. The gameplay may be anything between a hardcore simulation or a simple arcade racing experience and can be based on real-life events and tracks like F1, or completely fantastical like Mario Kart. Some popular examples are the Need For Speed and Forza series.
ForzaHorizon4 - A Racing Video Game Genre
Forza Horizon 4 (Courtesy Xbox Game Studios) : A Racing Genre Game
  • Real-World: This genre consists of digital adaptations of actual games that exist in the real world. Card games like Poker and UNO fall into this category. Other examples include games that are played with physical machines in the real world, such as Pinball and Slot Machines.
  • Role-Playing: A Role-playing video game (RPG) primarily involves the player taking control of a character and progressing gradually by upgrading, levelling up, and/or increasing the character’s power as they progress through the game. Common features of RPGs include but are not limited to skill / ability unlocks, levelling up, experience or training systems, NPC interactions, and side-missions. Some examples are Final Fantasy VII, The Witcher, and Monster Hunter Stories.
Diablo III (Activision Blizzard): A RPG Genre Game
Diablo III (Courtesy Activision Blizzard): A RPG Genre Game
  • Shooter: One of the most popular video game genres is arguably the ‘Shooter’ genre. ‘Shooter’ games often require the player to aim and shoot at objects/enemies throughout all or most of the game. Games like the Call Of Duty series or the Battlefield series are commonly known ‘Shooter’ games. This genre is not just limited to shooting guns or weapons; a game like Harry Potter & The Chamber Of Secrets or ‘Spellbreak’ where the player shoots magic qualifies as well.
Doom Eternal (Bethesda) : A Shooter Genre Game
Doom Eternal (Courtesy Bethesda) : A Shooter Genre Game
  • Simple Activity Game: The games in this genre offer a simple activity (such as drawing, dressing up, cooking and the like) as their core gameplay loop. They are meant to provide a stress-free and relaxed environment to the player, where there is a minimal to non-existent learning curve and very little challenge faced while playing. A lot of such games are developed for mobiles, allowing players to unwind and play on the go. Some prominent examples include Star Girl, Little Tailor 2, and Little Panda’s Bake Shop.
  • Simulation: In 2010, Gran Turismo 5 was launched. It was the first game in the series to provide a Damage Model. It also featured weather effects that were available for specific circuits. Such games that are realistically modelled to simulate real-life (driving a race car or flying a plane for instance) or hypothetical (space exploration games) experiences/events taking into account most or all possible parameters, fall under this category. For example, in a simulation car driving game, the player will have to watch the fuel gauge, obey traffic rules, change gears and account terrain to name a few. Games like the aforementioned Gran Turismo 5, Star Citizen, Assetto Corsa, Farming Simulator Series, and Elite Dangerous are prime examples of the “Simulation” genre.
  • Sports: From virtually playing a real or fictional sport to managing the activities around it sports games have always found a firm footing among gamers. Games like those in the F1 series or the FIFA series fall under this category.
FIFA 21: A Sports Video Game Genre
FIFA 21 (Courtesy EA) : A Sports Genre Game
  • Strategy: Games under the ‘Strategy’ genre are primarily focused on measured planning and tactics to either defeat opponents or achieve a goal. Such games may present strategic, tactical, and even logistical or financial challenges. Some notable examples of this genre are the Age of Empires series, Total War series and the likes of X-COM 2, Cities: Skylines, SimCity: BuildIt, and Civilization V.
  • Trivia: Games that fall under the ‘Trivia’ genre, just like their real-life counterparts, focus on asking players questions on various subjects or themes and scoring them based on the accuracy of their responses. Some well known trivia games are Scene It?, Trivia Crack, QuizUp, and Lights, Camera, Action.
  • Virtual Life: ‘Virtual Life’ games are focused on virtually recreating the mundane, day-to-day activities of real-life. This usually involves the players’ character performing tasks like sleeping, eating, bathing, shopping, working, and visiting friends to name a few and leading a relatively full virtual life. The Sims Series of games is a very popular example in this genre.

Conclusion

The sheer number and variety of games released every year makes it tough to keep track of the evolving trends, including the rise of new video game genres. This is where a deep and nuanced taxonomy created by passionate gamers and industry veterans, like those at Gameopedia, can help. With a coverage of over 180,000+ games, we can help online retailers, game streaming platforms, and the like categorize games on their platforms more efficiently, thus improving discoverability, recommendations, and personalization. 

Drop an email at [email protected] to talk to our experts.

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The Definitive Database Of Video Games

With an estimated market size of $167.5 billion, the video game industry has come a long way since its humble beginnings around fifty years ago. Once marketed almost exclusively towards kids and teens, video games have now matured to create unique experiences for adults as well. This is helped by the fact that the children who grew up playing video games in the 20th century stuck to their hobby and are now adult gamers.

A natural consequence of this evolution is that there are now multiple genres of games to choose from, with each game further having several sub-genres and other elements that make it unique. Even for the most passionate gamer, it can be hard to keep track of the multitude of games arriving in the market each year. This is one of the reasons for the existence of a Video Game Database.

What is a Video Game Database?

A Video Game Database contains intricate video game data on multiple aspects of each game. There were some databases that started in the 1990s, became popular and in fact continue to thrive today. These were almost always crowd-sourced and worked as a good source for gamers and enthusiasts. 

Since then, Video Game Databases have continued to evolve and gave rise to niche Professional Databases for more intricate requirements. They are maintained by teams of video game experts, who take great care in curating the data entered into the database. Their goal is to provide curated and classified high-quality video game data for the gaming ecosystem. 

Before we dive deeper into the two types of databases mentioned above, let us examine the need for a Video Game Database in the first place.

The Need For A Database Of Video Games

With thousands of video games releasing on just one popular marketplace (Steam) every year, it is clear to anyone who works in the industry that there needs to be a process through which one can organize and study data regarding major releases. This is where a database of video games comes into the picture. A properly managed database can provide accurate information about an assortment of games.

The two major types of Video Game Databases – crowdsourced and professionally managed – are both essential to organize and understand the huge stream of data pouring in each year. This video game data, when used efficiently, has several applications, the most prominent of which is to help consumers make smart purchases.

Now let us compare the two major types of databases, looking at the benefits and limitations of each one.

Crowdsourced vs Professional Databases

Video Game Database

What does a Video Game Database contain?

  • Video Game Metadata (Basic information) – This includes information like the game’s release date, developer/publisher, age ratings, release platforms, and so on. Video game metadata is used to quickly identify core information about a game, which can then be used to find games with similar data. 
  • Game Breakdown/Teardown  – A breakdown/teardown of a game breaks down the various concepts and components that make up a game, to analyze what makes it tick. This builds upon the information included in the metadata and adds on data like Genre, Gameplay Actions, Game Concepts (Design choices used in the game), Perspective, Types of Elements used (weapons, mods, and so on). Building upon information collected in a game breakdown, Games can be classified into groups. This classification helps in identifying patterns between games. 
  • Game-related multimedia– These include screenshots, high-definition trailers, and gameplay videos.
  • Relations – This information analyzes how a game is related to other games in a series or franchise. For example, a series includes games that continue their story with sequels. An example of this is the Halo series. A franchise is a group of games that all revolve around a common theme, but have their individual stories. An example of this is the Assassin’s Creed franchise (which, interestingly, also has a series of sequels included)

This varied mix of information enriches the value that a database can provide, giving rise to many potential applications. So, who exactly taps into this potential?

Who Needs A Database Of Video Games?

  • eCommerce Stores – Digital game purchases have gone up by leaps and bounds in recent years. This makes it important for online game stores to ensure that they provide accurate data that are always up to date about each game to their customers using high quality video game metadata. It is also in their interest to provide smart game recommendations for returning customers. These recommendations are powered by algorithms, which in turn need a database to feed them.
  • Game Developers & Publishers – Market research is a key phase in the development of any video game amidst the video game industry. Game developers of all sizes spend a considerable amount of time analyzing the in-trend game features and their competitors’ games to make their games better. Such video game data can easily be provided by a professional database.
  • Advertisers – Advertisers can use video game data for creating better ads, powered by sentiment analysis. This allows advertisers to pick an opportune moment to run their campaign, by reaching out to a targeted and engaged audience, that is already invested in the kind of game(s) being advertised.
  • Media outlets – As competition heats up in the media space, larger outlets can differentiate themselves from their competitors by providing richer and up-to-date video game data to their users via an API that is powered by a stream of data fed by a Video Game Database. The data is then supplemented with high-quality screenshots, trailers and artwork related to the games. 

And it’s not just limited to these four; many digital distribution platforms, gaming websites and forums also require access to an up-to-date video game database.

Conclusion

The recent boom in gaming due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to sustain well into the future. As the number of gamers across the world increases, businesses in the video game industry will need to serve this rising audience more efficiently. Using the functions of a well-maintained database is a step in the right direction.

Gameopedia’s professionally maintained database and high quality video game data can serve multiple needs of businesses in the gaming industry. We provide a vast array of customizable services, powered by our database that contains more than 5 million video game facts/insights and up to 13,000 Game attributes for more than 180,000 games.

Our database keeps growing every day and we are excited to work in the dynamic, ever-changing video game industry. Get in touch with us to know more.

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The Urgent Need For A New Game Taxonomy

As video games become more complex and have increasingly intricate features, there is a long overdue need for a new, comprehensive Video Game Taxonomy for 2021. In this blog, we will look at the need for a new taxonomy, as well the industries who need these levels of video game classification.

In the last decade, video games have become the world’s favorite pastime. With this massive expansion of the market, every member of the gaming ecosystem, from developers to retailers, now have a larger audience to build games for and sell them to. 

However, selling to this audience can be tricky. Developers and publishers need to understand the complicated formula that works for successful games and then build on it. Retailers, who now have thousands of games to feature on their portals, need to correctly identify and recommend titles that a customer is likely to buy based on their preferences. This is where a comprehensive, flexible, and actionable taxonomy comes into play.

The Definitive Video Game Taxonomy for 2021

Today’s games are complex works of art that are designed to continuously engage a wide audience. To think that only one aspect of a game makes it special is definitely foolish. For example, Candy Crush belongs to the Match-3 Puzzle genre, but is this the mechanic what led to its enormous success?

The answer is no.

The leaderboard, new level additions, timer, move-limit, and reward systems are some of the other attributes of the game that incentive the player to keep returning to the game. More screen time means more ad impressions which translates into more income for the developer, publisher, and ad networks. 

As you can tell from the example above, there are multiple factors that play a part in the success of a game. To identify the importance of these aspects in the game is what matters. And this is where Gameopedia’s Values System comes into play.

The Values System

Gameopedia has been delivering insightful game data to some of the biggest companies in the world since 2008. In the last 12 years, we have created detailed video game breakdowns for over 180,000 games. Over time, we have come to realize that while a genre, feature-set, mechanics, and graphic style may be useful in providing a high-level description about the game, it does not do justice to describe what the game has to offer. 

To help with this, we introduced a rating system that assigns a value to feature-sets and mechanics to help evaluate their importance within the game. Going back to Candy Crush, here is how our video game classification framework would break down the game:

This unique view into the anatomy of a game can reveal information that otherwise would have gone unnoticed. For example, although Puzzle is the main genre of the game, there are certain important attributes of the game like the Beat the Clock mechanic that is more prominently seen in Action games. Clearly, to exclude Action as a Genre would be foolish but it is definitely not more important than solving the Match-3 Puzzle when it comes to game progression.  

This extra layer to the data allows for a more comprehensive look into the game and its offerings. Additionally, you can identify exactly what makes the game popular among its audience and how it can be improved or modified to appeal to another demographic.

The Importance of Detail in Video Game Classification

Starting with Pong in the 70s, video games have evolved from a simple digital game with a couple of controls into more complex entities with multiple characters, storylines, mechanics, and so on. In this multi-billion dollar industry, game developers and publishers are innovating daily to engage a community with a goldfish-like short-lived memory. 

To break into the market, it is important that studios understand market trends, analyse their competition, and identify popular features to gain video game insights. But with thousands of games hitting the shelves each year, it is difficult to recognise what a new game can offer. This is where a well-defined, in-depth, and flexible Video Game Taxonomy can help. 

A comprehensive Game Taxonomy lets you deep-dive into every, single aspect of the game and decode where each feature and mechanic fits in the overall scheme. It also gives you insights into how the developer has designed the game to make it not just enjoyable, but profitable as well.  

How Gameopedia does Video Game Breakdowns using our Game Taxonomy

Let’s take a look at two of the most popular open-world games in the market today: Grand Theft Auto V and Mafia II. Both are relatively well-known but one is clearly more popular than the other. The reason for the crowd loving Grand Theft Auto V more than Mafia II is because of the well-thought out, vast world. Our video game breakdown reveals that Rockstar Games created a dynamic open-world environment with multiple side-missions, heists, and DLC content that immerses the player thoroughly, keeping them in a trance. Mafia II on the other hand, serves the purpose of delivering a more linear story experience, while still allowing the player to explore the open-world.

Both games have been successful in their objective and have proven profitable for their respective publishers. But for someone looking to replicate this success, it is necessary to understand what made each game tick.

Industry-Defining Game Taxonomy Designed With A Purpose In Mind

A comprehensive Video Game Taxonomy has use cases for a wide range of beneficiaries. Gameopedia’s Taxonomy has been created while keeping the pain points and requirements of the gaming ecosystem in mind. 

Retailers – They can help their customers find better results for the kind of games they are looking for. For example, a customer may want to purchase a shooter game. This is a huge genre that has drastically different games that can show up in a search result. A single-player game like Metro Exodus and a multiplayer title like Halo 5 are both shooters, but they are each meant for a different target audience. A well-defined taxonomy can help narrow down the results to suit the customer’s preferences, thus helping the retailer maximise the chances of a sale. 

AdvertisersAdvertisers can benefit from a good Video Game Taxonomy by having access to better ad targeting tools that are built by measuring trends in the community. Understanding the current mood towards popular genres and using these video game insights can help advertisers focus their attention towards maximising returns from markets that are highly receptive.

Developers/Publishers In order to ensure that their in-development game will get a strong start at launch, developers and publishers need to understand the market and analyze their competition. Releasing a game in a particular genre when there is negative sentiment in the market towards that genre can be bad for business. Similarly, releasing a game that is too similar to the competition can also be bad news. Therefore it is essential to do the research beforehand in order to come up with a strong launch strategy. This can be achieved by making use of a comprehensive Video Game Taxonomy and game classification to understand the competition as well as the market.

Conclusion

A good Video Game Taxonomy should ideally be consistent, flexible, and most importantly, up-to-date to keep in touch with evolving market preferences. 

At Gameopedia, our team of experts are constantly at work analyzing the changing trends in the video game market. Our taxonomy is well-researched and built to ensure that the most important aspects are covered accurately. It is vital that you have a good video game classification system such as ours to provide accurate video game breakdowns and get high quality video game insights. If you have a business problem that requires a customized solution powered by a comprehensive Video Game Taxonomy, get in touch with us to start making better business decisions using game data.

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How e-Retailers can boost Game Discoverability with Quality Game Content

The ability to collect from and analyse vast pools of information is expected of all enterprises with a digital footprint. This represents an increasing number of businesses and operations every year.

With more than one-third of all global retailers selling the majority of their products via digital platforms, and the rest expecting the gap between physical and digital retail to shrink ever further in the coming years, it is becoming ever more imperative for e-Retailers and App Stores to streamline their data usage in order to improve uniformity, efficiency, and cost. 

In order to take advantage of the ripe condition of the digital retail market, there needs to be both a mechanism for sourcing large quantities of data, as well as the ability to analyse, categorise, and easily communicate what that data means.

This is especially true in the video game industry, which is growing exponentially, both in terms of overall sales, but also in terms of how many of those sales are switching over to digital retailing.  

PC gaming has steadily been shifting from physical sales to digital sales, with the ratio being 4:1 in favor of physical sales in 2009 in the US, to an almost directly inverse 1:4 in favor of digital sales by 2018Gaming app download revenue was responsible for $20.9 billion, or 72.3% of all app revenue for Q3 2020, across both iOS and Android app stores

As a result of the current global pandemic, which has led many customers to turn to digital options for their needs, Sony has seen the digital sales for their console games grow by 154% this year alone, in comparison to their physical sales growth of 1%. In the same year, for the first time in their history, more than 50% of all their gaming revenue came from digital sales. This trend tracks similarly for other major game developers. A major reason for improved digital sales is good usage of video game taxonomy and metadata.

What is Video Game Metadata?

Game metadata consists of descriptors about the game that not only give you an overview of the game like the developer’s name, publisher’s name, release date, game description, and so on, but it also allows the people who use this data to easily understand what the game has to offer and game content without having to purchase or play the game yourself.

Video Game Metadata

How Stores Benefit from Quality Metadata and Game Content

Video game metadata can be vital in increasing product discovery, as well as providing an enhanced customer experience for discerning customers keen to know more about a product, especially via a digital platform. This increases the transparency offered by a digital retail platform, further increasing the likelihood of a purchase, as well as the customer returning. Video game taxonomy helps in classifying and organizing games which makes it easier for your customers to find what they need.

The presentation of certain keywords regarding genre or gameplay specifications will also greatly enhance a platform’s SEO, allowing visibility across search engines, while simultaneously increasing visibility of related products on the app store or e-retail platform. Powerful video game taxonomy allows retailers to bolster their in-house personalization and search solutions.

Good metadata and  game content is capable of guiding the customer from when they arrive at the app store or e-retailer platform till the point at which they make a purchase. During the discoverability phase, keywords, SEO classifications, and relevant images help the customer along this journey. A varied database improves the targeting of a wider array of customers, leading to increased conversions.

An estimated 65% of users barely swipe or scroll beyond the first images and text they see. The remaining users, however, prefer to examine their products in detail. Access to well-organised video game metadata and game content caters to both types of users. In addition to this, the smart deployment of a well-curated database can keep customers engaged for longer periods, improving website traffic.

Despite the rapidly growing state of the global digital market, the presence of high-quality video game metadata remains minimal. In 2020, most e-retailers and app stores rely on data provided to them by suppliers, and their own in-house collection and sorting. This is an expensive and cumbersome process, with supplier data varying in its quantity, quality, and clarity.

How can e-retailers and App Stores gain the Competitive Edge in Video Game Metadata?

In place of these expensive and inconsistent options, e-retailers and app stores are better served seeking out services and products that specialize in providing metadata collection and curation.

This allows retailers to avoid the hassle and expense of organizing and maintaining their own databases, freeing up their time and capital to be invested elsewhere. It also ensures the accuracy and uniformity of game information across platforms. By utilizing a pre-existing and well-curated database for video game taxonomy, game content, and metadata, e-retailers and app stores will be able to improve existing personalization and product discovery with detailed descriptive tags and metadata.

With that being the case, an even wider, more varied customer base is likely to turn towards e-retailers and app stores for their video game needs. The ability to provide these customers with the most relevant information, organised and classified according to their individual search and spending patterns and quirks by using video game taxonomy, game content, and metadata, is a provably successful way of increasing the frequency a customer returns to purchase more.

With a database spanning 40 years of video game metadata across over 200 platforms, this is where Gameopedia and our products shine. We specialize in a niche suite of data services that improve game discoverability, enhance customer experiences, and increase conversion. Reach out to us for industry leading video game information for over 180,000 games.

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