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

May 15, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

  Genre lifecycle

Genres evolve over time as players discover, fall in love, grow bored and then move on to other forms of entertainment. The life cycle of a genre follows a pattern often found in other product categories throughout our capitalist landscape.

  • Introduction. Early on in the birth of a genre, the core mechanics that define the genre are introduced. Titles such as Zork contain early examples of what would evolve into the core graphic adventure mechanics. This early stage is quite fuzzy by its very nature and picking innovative seed titles that will blossom into a new genre is a difficult art.
  • Growth. Follow-up titles begin appearing on the market. They experiment with the initial formula in order to make it more marketable. Often you’ll find genre kings emerge at this time. Genre kings are breakthrough products with the right mix of setting, gameplay and marketing that generate strong mass appeal. They dominate sales and establish the genre in the eyes of the public. Kings Quest is an example of a genre king.
  • Maturity. In the maturity stage, a few genre kings dominate the market and set the standards by which all other titles are judged. You see a standardization of control schemes and genre specific conventions such as the double jump or wall jump are established. Designers can rely on the fact that most gamers will understand these common concepts and they design their gameplay around them. AAA teams from large publishers are typically the only groups with pockets deep enough to win in this highly competitive, winner-takes-all market. Companies can reap vast profits, but if they are not in the top few percent of titles released, they can also lose exorbitant amounts of money.
  • Decline. Over time the core audience burns out on existing stagnant game mechanics. This decline can be exacerbated by platform transitions or the emergence of newer, more appealing genres. At this point the genre goes into decline with fewer titles being released into the market. Existing genre kings extend the public perception of the genre’s health, but are typically only updated every several years.
  • Niche. Finally, the genre dies in the mainstream market. AAA teams actively avoid the genre and the existing audience for the genres must rely on re-releases or independent games made for love, not money.

Does this work?

The genre life cycle is useful for garnering insight but is not foolproof:

  • Some genres, such as match-3 games, experience strong resurgences when new platforms or business models arrive on the scene.
  • Others, such as console RPGs, trundle on into the maturity phase with little evidence of decline.
  • Other genres are simply hard to track because they are still in the introduction or expansion phase and there is no commonly understood definition of the genre. For example, is there yet a Katamari Damacy genre? Alternatively, the data is simply poor. “Action” or “Strategy” tells very little about the core mechanics that ground a quality genre classification.

Namco's innovative, yet difficult to classify Katamari Damacy

However, despite these edge cases, the model holds up remarkably well. Most genres including RTS, text adventures, graphical adventures, 2D platformers and others that can be identified cleanly in historical databases like MobyGames or various review sites follow the genre lifecycle pattern when you crunch the data.

An example of the genre life cycle in 2D action platformer – Genre peaks in 1991

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

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