min read

Dominant video game genres – why are they so appealing?

by Nikola Vasiljevic , 17.04.2013

The gaming industry is bigger today than the movie and music industries by yearly revenue. With constant innovation it’s possible that a golden age of gaming is on the horizon. Triple A titles have budgets equivalent to Hollywood movies, along with the best writers, voice actors and designers.

However, as the industry has grown it has also been reduced to a smaller number of ‘core’ genres. There is of course the emerging field of casual gaming; however the core of the gaming market remains the super-genres: MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role playing game), FPSs (First Person Shooter), sports games, action games and somewhat declining but resilient real-time strategy games. There are some differences among the structure of these genre’s popularity on PC and consoles, but in general, these are the most viable and famous core genres of gaming.

MMORPG - massively multiplayer online role playing game
MMORPG is a genre played online with large numbers of players, where a player creates a personalized character and assumes their role in a vast interactive world. MMORPGs are seductive not as mere games, but worlds and communities. When we were kids, we improvised swords, went to epic quests with our friends and defeated monsters. MMORPGs enable this all to be relived on screen. The ability to personalize a character, discover picturesque places, quest and dive into dangerous adventures are what these games are about. However, the core of the MMORPG game is social aspects. Communities in and around MMORPGs attract not only hardcore players, but casual ones too. The most successful MMORPGs have unique characteristics to sit alongside the commonalities between them. From World of Warcraft, peaking at 12 million players in 2010, to Guild Wars, Eve Online, Star Wars, The Old Republic, Lord of The Rings Online, upcoming Elder Scrolls Online – MMORPG’s are even breaking the 4th wall, with augmented reality titles like Ingress and Map of The Dead enabling people to play in the real world.

First person shoooter*
Nothing gets gamer’s adrenaline pumping like a first person shooter. First person shooters are a weapon-based combat game played from the first-person perspective, with a camera focusing on the weapon. Increasingly these games are played online, but have retained a strong single player component. Play centers around skill and speed with teams trying to dominate each other. This dynamism is why FPS receives huge investment. Unreal Tournament, Quake, Half-Life, Counter Strike, and nowadays Call of Duty, Battlefield and Halo are all household names in the gaming community. Increasingly the social aspect of these games is being enhanced, with FPS social features focused on team coordination, tactics and lots of yelling. The ongoing trend in most popular FPSs is that single-player is secondary to the dominant multiplayer. Leading in graphic standards and being infamous among parents and wider audience for its violence and bloodshed, FPS genre remains the cool and dangerous name in the gaming world.

Sports games speak for themselves, typically simulations or arcades of various sports. These games offer lots of fun, and, with the standard online feature with a base of players around the world, this genre has never been bigger. They are also often closely tied to real world events and players, adding an authenticity which other genres struggle to offer. The real world element means that with yearly updates sports titles provide publishers with a steady income for relatively little input, and provide players with an engaging way to simulate the real world. Competition is the core of these games, which also provide a different type of socialization than other genres and this is what makes them unique compared to other genres.

Action games were one of the first popular genres. These games include lots of challenges; they are a mix of combat, jumping, solving puzzles etc., which, above all, requires reflexes. Some of them have a greater focus on storytelling or multiplayer options, but the accent is on the various spectrums of activities, like jumping, chasing, combating, solving interesting trials and trying to figure out what to do next. Maybe the greatest appeal of action games is that they are intuitive to get into, but tend to have a rising curve of difficulty over time. The best action games find perfect mixes of everything this genre has to offer and channel it into a unique experience only an action game can deliver.

Real time strategy
RTS was the back bone of the industry when at its prime. These games are based around players collecting resources, building units and commanding in-game units into combat. However, one can’t just grab a keyboard and a mouse and be a good RTS player. RTSs requires tactical thinking, planning, careful building of assets/troops and deployment. The best RTS gamers in the world are reputed to be able to undertake 300 actions every minute. Games like StarCraft, WarCraft, Dawn of War, Red Alert, gained immense popularity especially in Asia (StarCraft is a cultural phenomenon in Korea, and is considered a career, spawning national leagues and TV series similar to sporting events).  Variety of resources and fighting units give players the option to build their own specific style of play, and, in a way, assume the role of a General. Although RTS has suffered a slow decline in recent years, tablet devices offer a strong platform for this gaming type, and may start to help the genre turn a corner. The rise of sporting style “leagues” also offers hope for the RTS.

The gaming industry is in constant flux, with its own fashions and fads. Boundaries amongst genres are not that strict anymore and a good game now offers best elements from many genres. One of the most popular games of today, Bioware’s Mass Effect is a story driven action RPG third person shooter! Stronger hardware has allowed for radical changes in how games are produced and indeed played in recent years, turning them from single player limited hobbies to full blown stories which entire groups of players can simultaneously interact with. The future suggests that this trend will only deepen, with social elements brought to the fore and games becoming more and more about collaboration. Games like Ingress offer insights into what gaming might become when it overlaps with real life, something that smartphones, tablets and wearable computing might make a new norm in the future. Gamification is part of the zeitgeist now even in non-gaming fields like business, marketing, education and even medicine. So we can only really say that the game is on.

For more information on this blog, you can contact the author Nikola Vasiljevic




* Third Person Shooter is also a popular shooting genre, but still not as much as FPS. Most action shooting games are set in a third person perspective, like Gears of War and Max Payne.