GP Xmas Calendar 2009 – Door 16 (Defining Genres)

In a previous post, I wrote about being a king in some area. There was 2 really interesting approach in the comments. Jake mentioned being king in “match-3” (genre) and Ronin wanted to become a king in “cyberpunk” (theme) games.

Interesting point-of-view. One comes more from a gameplay mechanism point-of-view. After all, match-3 games can have pretty much any theme. From xmas to cars to mushrooms to anything.

For cyberpunk, you have a theme – but you have to come up with the actual mechanism/genre. Adventure, RTS, match-3… whatever.

Both are valid ways to look at niches, but also tells something about how we feel about games. Some people are after a solid gameplay mechanisms or genres. Some people are after a story or certain type of world.

Which way (genre/gameplay first, or story/world first?) is a better way to find your own niche? Or do you think you should combine them? (For example, I’m working on a zombie game. If I’d want, I could continue with the zombie theme and choose another gameplay mechanism: tower defense, rts, adventure, match-3… or alternatively I could forget zombies and do more barricade games).

Which way you prefer when picking your niche? Why?

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. I totally agree that a great story etc. on top of good gameplay can make a game great. But a great story on top of mediocre or poor gameplay won’t make the game much better. Gameplay is the “must have” and the story is the “nice to have”. If you don’t get the gameplay good enough*, the story won’t do anything for you.

    *good enough for your target audience. Some people love playing a new match-3 with no innovation that has a shiny new story to go with it.

  2. I agree and disagree ;)

    Gameplay is king, it’s always the highest priority for making a game, and especially so for puzzle games and other games without a story.

    But if you want a story in your games, it’s really important to have a well defined and fleshed out background for that story. Gameplay is still king, but the story is the Queen.

    When I plan the games for Kybernesis, I use the setting I am creating as a basis for the background story. And since I’ve already decided on how the history of the setting goes, I can focus on the gameplay for each game when I decide to make them. Be it RPG/FPS/RTS/Tower Defense/3-match/tetris/pong/whatever ;)

    So having a well defined setting imho will give the devs more freedom to work on the gameplay. In a story-driven game that is ;)

  3. I agree. The story/world layer can make a big difference as well as the gameplay layer. For me it’s simply a consideration of money/time investment.

  4. Katherine: I’m similar. In fact… I was in one game design “conference” where there was both video and board game designers. When one video game designer group had finished their presentation (they had showed nice pics about ships and crew and mentioned how they had this wild story and all). After the presentation was over, one of the board game designers made a question: “but where’s the game?”

    (With video games, it’s not that black & white… but it certainly has a valid point there).

    @hermitC: sounds logical. Although… sometimes the *story* of the game can be interesting. Think about Half-life when it first was published. Sure… it was bit like all those 3D fps games out there – but it had one very interesting difference: the story (and scripted events).

    In an old genre (FPS), they were able to create something unique. (Sure, there was also those physics and stuff like that… but the fact that Gordon Freeman was a “regular sicentist type of guy” also mattered something).

  5. I choose gameplay first by looking for a stagnating supply in available genres. Gameplay should always be the first choice because it’s the core of the game. Good gameplay is the base for fun and gameplay needs testing from the very beginning. Finally fun makes the game top or flop.
    The story/world question is applied after fixing the gameplay. It’s comparable to book writing: The content comes first, format/font/cover/binding comes later. A game’s representation can be replaced more easily than its gameplay. It is a kind of risk management for me.
    Daniel Cook wrote an interesting article touching this topic: http://lostgarden.com/2005/04/practical-definition-of-innovation-in.html

  6. Can’t give a developer perspective, but from my personal perspective as a player: the gameplay is more important than the theme (my word for story/world/art/etc). Though some themes can indicate that the gameplay won’t be what I’m looking for e.g. often people pick a theme to be cool or trick more people into playing (pirates, ninjas, zombies, and a lot more). I’m not saying every game with those themes are bad, but they automatically put me on my guard. If the blurb talks about the theme more than the gameplay (this is more boardgames but it holds true everywhere) then I can guarantee you the gameplay will be fairly basic (to me: boring), and it may be aimed at young children.

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