Every game is like a carefully prepared meal, where each dish, ingredient, spice and garnish are in the right proportions, and each course is served at the right time to create the perfect dining experience.
What if a system allowed you to identify the recipe of a game? What if you could create a gameplay experience with your unique blend of ingredients? Our taxonomy system enables you to do this, and more.
Video Game Taxonomy: An Overview
Our taxonomy is a classification system that has evolved over a decade, fine-tuned by our in-house experts. It allows you to understand every aspect of a game, from fundamentals, like genre, theme and gameplay mechanics to more subjective and nuanced elements such as its moods and vibes. It was built by tearing down games and identifying various elements, big and small, to see what made each game work, what features they possessed and how they emphasised or played down elements to create a distinctive gaming experience. In essence, it tells you what features a game has, and how prevalent any feature is in the game. Simply put, the taxonomy of a game is like its recipe.
Identify & Quantify: The Foundation of our Taxonomy
Most forms of entertainment, like film, television, music and fiction are passively consumed, and have been extensively classified based on the genre, the creator of the artwork, and other relatively stable groupings, especially as these forms of entertainment have matured over the course of decades and even centuries.
Classifying games presents a unique challenge because interactivity is fundamental to gaming. This means that what you will be doing, how important it is over the course of the game, and how often you will be doing it need to be considered if one wants to see what makes a game tick. A game classified without quantification will say little about the full make-up of the game.
That is why the four-value system is the lynchpin of our game taxonomy. It assesses the significance, prevalence and frequency of the various features of each game, creating a full picture of what to expect in any given playthrough, and how each game offers a distinct and unique gaming experience, with its own mix of interactions and features. Below, we discuss each of the four values that can be attached to a game’s features, in detail.
“All or Most” (Defining Features)
Actions or activities you will perform almost all of the time, and features that essentially pervade the game. In a first-person shooter like a Halo game, you will almost always be shooting your way through enemies, from a first-person perspective. In a role-playing game, which offers multiple viable playstyles (including shooting, fighting, magic etc), the descriptive genre of ‘Role Playing’ is the defining feature, and every single possible playstyle or build becomes a ‘key’ feature, discussed below.
“Major” (Key Features)
These refer to actions or activities that you may be performing most of the time, and features present in much of the game. They often distinguish games of the same genre from another. Halo has a great deal of vehicular combat and lets you drive and fly vehicles, whereas a Call of Duty game does not emphasise vehicular activities as much. Those who love the vehicle sequences in Halo may not find much use for a CoD title.
“Significant” (Notable Features)
These are actions or activities you will be performing some of the time, but are nevertheless required to progress through or finish a game’s campaign, and can also refer to features that form an important, if limited, part of the game. For example, boat traversal is the only means of going from one place to another in the God of War series and the game can’t be completed without using the boat. Some levels of certain games can feature locked off areas accessible only by exploring further.
“Minor” (Elemental Features)
Elemental features refer either to activities that the player seldom has to perform to progress, or to activities that are entirely optional. Some games have a single mandatory escort mission, and these count as elements because they form a very small part of the campaign. Cooking in Skyrim is entirely optional – you can cook food that improves your vital stats but potions do the job much better, and making potions (alchemy) is in fact an important part of the game, with its own skill tree.
Classifying Halo Infinite with our 4-Value Quantification System
So how does the four-value system help understand a game, or more importantly, make a new game? Simply put, it’s a quantitative and qualitative analysis that is necessary and sufficient to fully describe what a game offers, how it does what it does – and cloning this game, or making a viable competitor, or a worthy successor, should start first by breaking down the game that you are using as a base.
Using the four-value system to assess Halo Infinite provides vital insights about the game, especially as the system not only captures the differences between the single-player campaign and multiplayer mode, but also the mix of genres that can be associated with the game.
Today’s games often offer plenty of gameplay options, so much so that it becomes hard to pin down what genre they belong to. Halo Infinite is one of many such games. Its defining genres are shooter, action and adventure, while role playing, fighting, driving, flying and even platforming are significant genre elements. Such nuanced genre information is necessary, considering that many gamers choose a new game based on its genre: the more information developers give out about genre, the more likely they are to attract their target audience.
Halo Infinite is the first Halo game to feature a grappling hook mechanic and the hook rapidly grew popular with gamers, who found it very useful in both traversal and combat – it enabled them to move quickly, and also pull objects towards them and then hurl these objects at enemies.
This is a major element (i.e. a key feature) of the single-player campaign, but its use is restricted in multiplayer mode (it is a notable feature); it spawns randomly and is available only to the player quick enough to grab it, whereas the hook is always available to the Master Chief in single-player. In contrast, Doom Eternal’s grappling hook is a key feature in both single-player and multiplayer, and the Slayer, the unnamed hero of the games, can use it in both modes.
Breaking down the genres associated with a game, its various gameplay features, and the prevalence of features in various modes can empower game makers with an intuitive and explicit understanding of how a game works, informing their own creative choices.
Use Cases: How Taxonomy Can Inform Game Dev
Do you want to make a game that combines all the best elements of a certain genre? Do you want to see how some games went awry, and how some games flourish because they get the formula just right, creating an experience greater than the sum of its parts? Below are use cases of how our taxonomy can actually guide your design choices thanks to its nuance, depth, and breadth.
Gran Turismo vs Forza Motorsport and the Best of Both
The console wars were dominated by the platform exclusive, until recently, when both Sony and Microsoft shifted their focus from exclusives to a more open platform experience. But some exclusives still remain – like Gran Turismo (PlayStation) and Forza Motorsport (Xbox, PC), both of which are racing simulators.
It makes eminent sense, then, to see how they compare – especially if a gamer’s console buying decision rests on exclusives such as these. Offering a racing sim that combines elements of GT or Forza will appeal to a wider audience without restricting them to a platform. But if one is to compare two racing sims, one first needs to know what a racing sim is, just as one needs to know what a card game is if one is to compare poker to blackjack. The taxonomy system is more than capable of identifying all the elements that make up a racing sim, or a shooter, or even a collectible card game. Below is a look into the features that constitute a racing sim.
In terms of the four-value system, both Forza and GT are quite similar, both offer deep car customisation options, both feature real racing tracks and famous cars, both are highly replayable, giving players options to improve their records, and even collect cars.
But it’s in their differences that they stand out starkly. Forza Motorsport has a brilliant feature relating to AI. It learns from your driving style, creates an AI package out of it, and makes it a ‘drivatar’. Since the game has plenty of players, there are scores of drivatars based on real gamers. These AI clones race against you in multiplayer. Like many first-party Microsoft games, it also has multiple accessibility options, in line with the tech giant’s commitment to inclusive design. Both these features might make Forza seem very attractive – and for disabled gamers, it might well be the only choice.
But the case for GT is just as strong. For one thing, GT offers virtual reality racing, and the PSVR 2 has earned strongly positive reviews, with its OLED display featuring a 120 hz refresh rate, its eye-tracking tech, and controls with haptic feedback sensors. GT also offers 120 FPS gameplay on console and the PSVR 2, and Eurogamer’s gushing review of Gran Turismo 7 VR tells you all you need to know about the next-gen VR experience that the game offers with Sony’s latest headset. GT 7 also features the much-touted Sophy AI, which was trained using machine learning to compete on equal terms with human players.
Developers might find it impossible to combine all these enticing features into one all-encompassing racing sim. But tracking such trends – like the induction of machine-learning based AI to compete against humans – within the context of a constantly evolving taxonomy system, and a constantly changing game industry, will help them make the right decisions when comparing games, and prioritise what people are truly looking for.
Redfall: A Game That Lacks Arkane’s Distinctive Vibes
So far, we have discussed explicit, tangible features that games can offer – whether it’s Halo Infinite’s grappling hook mechanic or Gran Turismo’s 120 FPS gameplay on VR. But Gameopedia’s taxonomy even focuses on intangibles as well, like the moods and vibes that a game gives off. The moods and vibes category allows us, and developers, to understand how a game makes people feel. And Arkane’s Redfall ultimately failed because it did not evoke the sort of feelings, or achieve the sort of tone, that Arkane had become associated with.
Redfall’s developer is known for many well-received games, such as Dishonoured and its sequels, Prey, and Death Loop. None of these games are quite alike, except in certain key gameplay mechanics and the distinctive Arkane vibes they give off.
Arkane games foster a sense of discovery by rewarding exploration. They make you feel ingenious when you take out an enemy or target with guile and cunning. They make players feel liberated – offering much variety in gameplay – rather than railroaded into a repetitive set of actions. And players often ruminate on their actions and the impact they have on the game world thanks to Arkane’s deft handling of narrative and atmosphere.
So when the developer promised a true Arkane experience in Redfall’s promotional materials, expectations were not only high, but quite specific, in that gamers expected a title where gameplay, narrative and many other elements would cohere to evoke distinctive feelings. What they got was a game with repetitive missions, cookie cutter worldspaces and technical glitches packaged as a looter shooter with co-op gameplay (which was itself half-baked, with no matchmaking online at launch).
Redfall did not make you ponder – the world was too simplistic. It did not make you feel liberated – there wasn’t much choice in terms of gameplay or exploration. It certainly didn’t make you feel ingenious, because the missions didn’t need you to employ cunning or tactical thinking, like in Dishonoured or Death Loop.
In fact, Redfall’s developers have stated that the game’s development suffered due to the studio’s unclear direction and high turnover – Arkane had less than 100 employees working on Redfall, many of whom abandoned the project. Parent company ZeniMax pushed the studio into making a live-service title, and few were clear on just how the promised Arkane experience could translate into a GaaS game.
Detailed taxonomy on live-service games and data on moods and vibes could have helped the developer make the game its paymasters wanted and get the tone just right. However, Arkane lacked such data. Redfall failed as a co-op looter-shooter, and also failed at being recognizably Arkane: gamers did not feel the way they expected to feel when they played it. With our taxonomy, however, developers can experiment with new genres even as they maintain the distinctive tone they are known for.
Making a video game is such a risky venture that a company has made an AI-based tool to de-risk game development. Ludo’s market analysis tool can give studios a sense of how their game concept might perform in the market by comparing it against a vast database of games, and determining if a given idea has already been thought of before.
Imagine if this sort of de-risking tool was used with a taxonomy that covers every little aspect, every single detail of a game. With the use of taxonomy, developers can iterate on a certain game idea’s features to create either a decent clone, a worthy successor, or even an entirely new take on what the market offers.
The wider adoption of game taxonomy can inform game development, helping studios prioritise their tasks and prevent problems like buggy releases and day-one patches. Taxonomy can also help sell games when used by e-retailers – the more details there are on the store page, the sooner it will attract the fans of its genre.
But all this can be achieved only if the taxonomy is sufficiently versatile – usable by retailers, developers and publishers – and comprehensive, so that each developer has the best chance to make the game they want to make for the target audience they want. This, in essence, is the promise of Gameopedia’s taxonomy.