Tuesday, May 15, 2007

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

My article introducing folks to the genre life cycle is up on Gamasutra.com. Woot. Gamasutra is a site that I respect quite highly, so I'm honored to see them taking an interest in these esoteric writings of mine. :-)

Let me know what you think:

take care


  1. Very insightful, as always. It is good to see you featured at Gamasutra, in fact (because "G" comes before "L" ;-)) I saw your post at the Gamasutra feed before than yours, and I was dropping here to congratulate you. Good work!

  2. Nice work, Danc! I'd be interested to know if you think that there are any "immortal" genres out there... those that simply don't experience the decline you mention?

    There seem to be some genres, like RPGs that keep reinventing themselves... for example...


  3. Good read, but I was wondering what you think about a few things. As raymond mentioned, I feel there are some genres which tend to not die. They may see graphical upgrades and a few gameplay changes, but the genre is more or less the same. Think RPGs like Final Fantasy, sports games like Madden, or racing games like Need for Speed.

    Along those lines, what I am wondering about is does the product lifecycle really apply to games? Or are genres which are susceptible to this lifecycle just...well, not fit for survivial. The "immortal genre" is one reason for me asking this, but also because I feel like the number of new genres being created is continually decreasing. It seems to me that many more new genres were created or standardized in the period of 1985 - 1995 than the last 10 years despite the fact that the size of the industry has grown at least 10X as much since then.

    While this is not something that I've fleshed out completely, I'm beginning to wonder if there are a fixed number of gameplay elements which can be mixed to create games. The most successful combinations become recognizable genres. From time to time, someone will revive a particular gameplay element (Pac-Man -> Katamari) or combine gameplay gameplay elements in a unique way (Paper Mario Wii), but in the end, the number of combinations that work are fixed.

    This doesn't mean that there will be a limited number of games to be made, but rather that genres are limited in number. Any thoughts?


  4. Danc - miss ya man. ran into some of you friends at mix & NAB. ping me when you can. firstname.hoskins@yahoo.com

  5. it kept me thinking for some time (very nice article)

    i was pointing out that there's an exception there: Sports games, they do well every year, and they doesn't even get many updates except technological ones

    Also, i believe, those genre cycles are easily restarted by sub-genre variations, like when oldschool "power-up" FPS (Quake, Unreal, Painkiller) were dying, the tactical ones came up strong (CounterStrike, COD, DOD), now looks like its "battlefield-style" turn

    Starsiege Tribes was a much better "mini-massive" FPS, but it came wrong time, while BF1942 was promptly received by a much more matured multiplayer FPS community

    sorry for my english :P

  6. Good article!

    I wonder if there is a hardware capability aspect to the curve as well. You include text adventures and 2D platformers in the mix of genres that show the lifecyle curve Did the emerging hardware power contribute to the decline (or even the ascendancy of replacement genres)?

    I'd be interested to compare the curves of text adventures and graphics adventures to test that theory.

  7. Interesting article.

    I would agree that the adventure genre is a niche genre these days.

    Although I do question your figures. There were way more than 2 adventure games publised in 2002.


  8. Lucien21: That's a good list. I was using a slightly different query on Mobygames, so that likely explains some of the differences. The important part is the overall trend, which is similar.

    As your numbers make clear, niche does not mean dead, just 'resting' :-) It is quite fascinating to see all the little games that have sprouted up during the niche stage. I'm curious how many were profitable.

    Vic: There do indeed seem to be some immortal genres in terms of racing and sports. I hesitate to completely classify RPGs in that category since they continue to evolve even today.

    You comment about genre viability and a fixed number of gameplay elements is an insightful one. I tend to think of games as teaching mechanisms for complex systems that sit on the border of our ability to understand. In the universe of systems out there, some a trivial and some are overly complex. Neither of these classes make for good games. The first is boring and the second frustrating. Over time, we as game designers, have uncovered a variety of systems that are 'fun'. It is still early in the history of games, so the number of fun system is somewhat low. We mix and mash these together in a variety of forms (much like cooking!) in order to create fresh experiences.

    Long term, however, the class of systems that games can enjoyably address encompasses any experience that people enjoy learning. That's a rather spectrum that we are just beginning to tap into.

    take care

  9. Excellent article. Another example of where you appear to be looking at the industry from the outside, but with the knowledge of in insider.