I suspect the term ‘genre’ does not work for gaming. While genre implies the same job is being done, the different gaming types do very different things. Also, video games tend to blend so distinct genres do not truly work. As I look in the legendary consoles of the past and their business cycles, it is clear that a pattern emerges. A killer app game appears that attracts many new consumers. This consumer base wants more of that type of game. So many more games are provided for that new consumer base until they either tire of it or it is absorbed by other games. Instead of genre, it may be more accurate to describe these as gaming constituencies. An example is Super Mario Brothers release on the NES creating a massive platform constituency which radically influenced the library of the system. Another example is Blazing Lasers release on the TG16 creating a massive shmup constitutency which also radically influenced the library of the system. If Alien Crush had been as popular as Blazing Lasers, then TG 16 could have ended up as a console full of pinball games. But there is no true ‘pinball genre’ of gaming because there is no true ‘pinball game constituency’ as there is for platformers, shmups, or role playing games.
For my own purpose, I want to go through some of the ‘constituencies’ of gaming over the decades.
If you note the NES black box games, Nintendo actually classified them. With this, you got the ‘action series’. There is adventure, but we all know a platformer when we see one. But they have always been called ‘action’ games.
Look at this Pinball box art. It says ‘action series’ on it. Is it the same type of game as Super Mario Brothers? Does it reach the same constituency? Maybe. But Pinball is not very adventurous.
I am absolutely convinced that what we call ‘platformer’ genre is actually the Action-Adventure constituency. These are not pure platformers. They are heavy in adventure. Super Mario Brothers goes underworld, in the sky, in castles, underwater, and then the series goes into different worlds and more adventure.
Do the people who like platformers like them because they are platformers or because they are an action adventure? Re-defining it such as this makes more sense. The NES was dominated by the Action-Adventure constituency, and they liked many of the same games. Those who loved Super Mario Brothers also tended to love Legend of Zelda. We might put them in ‘different genres’, yet they are hitting the same exact constituency.
-Arcade Classic Series-
On every game console, we see this constituency. Someone wants these games. Pac-Man and Galaga keep selling (as well as other arcade classic games). The question we should ask is how should we define this constituency? It is easy to put Pac-Man with these people, but is this the same constituency responsible for New Super Mario Brothers sales numbers? Does this constituency grow in time or is it reflected by lapsed games of the time? In twenty years, will ‘classic series’ mean Gears of War and Halo re-releases? It might. No. It will.
Here we have the Role Playing Constituency. I remember these types of gamers (many gamers are in multiple constituencies). These like the turn based and action RPGs. The Ys games, the Phantasy Star games, they all were very distinctly different from the Action-Adventure games and have a different vibe. What was so different? One, there was a distinct overworld, an emphasis on numbers and experience gaining, and a large emphasis on story.
Zelda 2 may be the only Zelda game that applies to the role playing constituency. Zelda 2 is an Action-RPG game, is it not? I bet those who love Zelda 2 are also those who are members of the Role Playing Constituency.
The Role Playing Constituency was rapidly growing in the 8-bit generation, and exploded in the following generations.
Before Street Fighter 2, I remember people who most of their playing time was spent in games like Karate Champ. If you play it today, while still oddly fun, it is so bad. Street Fighter 2 blows it away. After Street Fighter 2, we would get many other fighting games. We saw a different type of gamer appear in the arcades for Street Fighter 2. There is definitely a constituency for fighting games.
The Sports Constituency is obvious and doesn’t need much exploration. Punchout perhaps is so memorable because it not only hit the sports constituency, it also hit the action constituency (many action-adventure gamers have embraced it despite its lack of adventure, preferring its ‘characterizations’ as the adventure).
I actually include racing into the sports constituency. By racing, I mean sports racing like Indy 500. If we look at this in genre, we go ‘racing’ and then break it down further by ‘arcade racing’ or ‘simulation racing’. Here, racing is ‘sports’. Arcade Racing is something different.
This constituency may as well be part of the Action-Adventure constituency since they overlap so consistently.
There is no way these ‘arcade racers’ are for the sports fans. They are for the adventure type fans. Super Mario Kart needs its zany locations. I believe this constituency is not distinct but part of the mega-continent constituency of action-adventure.
Can these be bunched up into the Action-Adventure constituency? Actually, no. They are very distinct. The shmup constituency was massive in the Third, Fourth, and Fifth generations and then proceeded to die out. Why this group rose and fell remains a mystery. The shmup constituency performed a coupe-tat and literally took over the Turbografx 16 (two main constituencies for TG 16 were shmup players and role playing game players. But the role playing games are mostly found on the CDs, many of them in Japan).
For whatever reason, this constituency exploded and is the dominant constituency at the moment for gaming. While Action-Adventure seems to have shrunk or be absorbed by the Soldier constituency. You could see the early rise with games such as the Contra series or perhaps even Metroid might apply. These games have the same theme: you are the soldier on a mission to take down all the bad guys. There is much shooting involved. This constituency might be what absorbed the shmup constituency.
What is the difference between the soldier and action-adventure? The soldier ones tend to stick to multiplayer based killing each other. Halo, Call of Duty, Contra, all these games are soldier constituencies. It might explain why I see players of this type reach for Contra when playing on old systems.
The strategy constituency is very real and highly prevalent on the PC. The constituency has only had small influence on the consoles, but they are there. I suspect many console makers put out these strategy games or ports of PC ones hoping to get that large strategy constituency of the PC, but they never truly came over.
While Tetris blew up this constituency, it was already there with pinball type games. You find many girls in this constituency. I included games like Skyward Sword since it is trying to be like this. While this constituency was largest during the third and fourth generation, it is still present in a consistently niche fashion.
This constituency is extinct. It was large on the PC in the 1980s and early 1990s. Myst was its zenith. I think this constituency is gone because they are the gamers who didn’t grow up with gaming. Also, the perks of these type of games can now be found in any other game today.
The ‘sim’ games such as Sim City, Sims, Harvest Moon, Animal Crossing- these are management type games. There is definitely a constituency that likes them. They used to be more prevalent on the PC. This group has decreased in recent years, though they tend to have more females in them as well.
Bomberman, Wii Sports, the Mario Party games- all of these are examples of party games. The question is, is this an actual constituency? I’d say so. The existence of the Mario Party line of games tells us there is a consistent buyer for these type of games. This is an interesting constituency and is the easiest for fast growth. For example, the TG 16 had dominant shmup and later role playing constituencies, but they had a curious ‘bomberman constituency’ which was likely the party constituency. N64 also tends to have it with their four player games at times. Gamecube also did well. But it is the Wii that is the dominant ‘party constituency’ console. If you want a console with party games, you get a Wii.
Did Wii Sports appeal to sports constituency, as Nintendo hoped, or did it appeal to a very different constituency altogether: the party constituency? I argue for the latter. People played Wii Sports to have fun with friends, not to entail deeply in the sport. While Nintendo may have wanted to get the sports constituency back on their system, they ended up instead blowing up and attracting the party constituency.
NSMB Wii and Mario Kart Wii may have sold so well on the Wii due to how well they appealed to the party constituency.
-Examining the Consoles-
If we look at genres as constituencies, the consoles become more interesting because their success is dependent on courting these constituencies.
NES– Nailed the action-adventure constituency. Has all the constituencies essentially, a total monopoly. There is no console at this time that appealed more to a constituency than the NES did aside from the PC.
TG 16- Little action-adventure. MASSIVE shmup constituency. Big role playing constituency. Some party game constituency. Little to nothing else. Failed console. (if the shmup console failed, then it might explain why console makers are no longer interested in shmups!).
Genesis- MASSIVE sports constituency. Big action-adventure. Some in everything else. A very well balanced console among the constituencies.
SNES- MASSIVE in action-adventure and role playing constituencies. Some in everything else. Weak in sports.
Neo Geo- MASSIVE fighting constituency. (Neo Geo is the fighting games console) Aside from sports and shmups, pretty weak in everything else. Weak Role playing constituency.
PS1- Dominant in everything.
Saturn- Fighting, shmups, action-adventure, some role playing. Weak in sports and in other constituencies.
N64- MASSIVE in party constituency. MASSIVE in adventure racing. WEAK in role playing. WEAK in shmups. Only soldier games are Goldeneye 64 and Perfect Dark. Weak in sports.
Dreamcast- Weak on soldier and sports games. Good on mostly everything else.
Gamecube- Is Smash Brothers a fighting game or party game? I’d say the latter. Rich in party constituency, weak on fighting, shmups, role playing, soldier.
PS2- Strong on everything.
Xbox- MASSIVE in soldier constituency. Decent on everything else.
This might explain why it feels Nintendo has changed. Before, Nintendo’s bread and butter was the action-adventure constituency. With the N64/Gamecube/Wii, it became the party constituency.
Action-Adventure is no longer the dominant constituency. It is still very large.
Role playing constituency has shrunk.
Shmup constituency is dead.
Party constituency is actually quite large but is the backbone of Nintendo’s base now.
Adventure Story is dead.
Management constituency is still there, just small but consistent. Look at how they bought Stardew Valley in mass!
Sports is still significant.
Action-Puzzle has been absorbed by the Party constituency.
Soldier constituency is definitely the largest.
If I was a console maker, I would launch with games that appealed to Action-Adventure, Party, Sports, and Soldier constituencies.